Wednesday, August 10, 2011


"My suggestion: Everyone take a deep breath, calm down, think through the problem, and write a 15-page paper on the topic of 'legal reasoning in a world of political correctness.'”
-William Jacobson

Last week's Word Around the Net had a little bit on a college event that is worth looking into a bit more closely. A professor at Widener University named Lawrence Connell was accused of racism after he used a typical hypothetical situation in his criminal law classroom. The hypothetical was a situation in which he, the professor, had killed the Dean of the school. The Dean is black, Professor Connell is white.

Several students also accused him of sexual misconduct and the school administration went to work. Professor Connell, being a law prof, got a lawyer, got statements from students, and ended up defeating the ridiculous charges. Part of the reason he was cleared was because he was the lawyer who fought and successfully cleared a black man's name because the trial was tainted by racism against the defendant.

So, having cleared the professor's name, the school then proceeded to charge the professor with harassment and "retaliated" against the students who accused him by getting their statements and having his lawyer fight the case. They were particularly upset that he publicized the proceedings, which made Widener look idiotic.

According to the school code, the only thing they can actually find that violates the school's code were email exchanges in which the professor discussed the alleged sexism with students. Since he was cleared of all charges, his defense in the emails was proved true.

The college has suspended his pay for a year, demanded he undergo psychiatric evaluation, make a public statement repudiating his legal attempts to defend himself, and apologize to the students he contacted with subpenas.

Essentially, the man was found guilty of fighting back and letting the world know what was going on, and sentenced to reeducation. This is a common sort of ruling in a totalitarian regime of any kind, let alone Soviet: even if the case fails, you made the rulers look bad, so you still have to pay a price. That price includes statements that they were actually somehow right anyway, and you have to be reeducated so you don't repeat your mistake of questioning their authority.

"Retaliation" is a backup charge that is becoming more common in universities. Basically if you successfully fight against some asinine charge by a college, they nail you for fighting back, even if you win. Defending yourself is one of the first human rights that was ever recognized by humanity, particularly in a legal setting. The only place it is not allowed or considered wrong is, as I said, in a totalitarian setting. There, the presumption is that it is disloyal or counterrevolutionary, because the state is always right.

And this is the path of "Political Correctness" which shows its Soviet origins as a concept. You start with wanting people to be polite, then shifting into policy that shows how they can be polite, to rules which demand they be polite, to quasi-legal actions which punish them for not being what you consider polite, to full on tyranny because your efforts to purify human nature by rules continually fails. If only they had enough power, they argue, they could make everything better. And when they have the power, the still fail, and lash out at anyone who shows that.

My problem here isn't that the professor is such a great guy we should all line up to defend him, he might be a colossal jerk. My problem is that the school couldn't actually find him guilty of doing what the students said he did, despite various sometimes amusing attempts to call him racist ("He used the name Tyrone to describe a black guy in examples!"), so they found a way to punish him anyway.

And they didn't do so because he was a guilty person they couldn't legally nail, University guidelines and rules are broad enough and their committees powerful enough they can usually get someone if they want to. They did it because he made them look bad publicly and nothing is more important to a university's cash flow than its reputation.

Widener, already an unknown minor school in Delaware, now has an even lower reputation. But that wasn't Connell's fault, it is entirely on the shoulders of the university for acting like petty tyrants. And this isn't exactly unusual or isolated in America's University campuses.

Given how incredibly expensive it is to attend these, and how increasingly little impact they are having for most people's future and how lousy the education sometimes is, its difficult to justify attending one unless you want to be a profession that requires a certain degree. These organizations are driving their own obsolescence, turning into incredibly expensive trade schools for specific professions.

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