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July 24, 2009

Beware the Sensitivity Gestapo

By Frederick Fico

The trajectory of my career changed in late 2006, although I could never have recognized it at the time. I am a tenured full professor of journalism at Michigan State University. I was sitting in my office when a student dropped by and identified himself as the chairman of the MSU College Republicans. They needed a faculty advisor.

I had no problem giving the young man an enthusiastic "yes" to his request. And all I had to do was sign a paper.

By the fall of 2007, I was being investigated by the campus Office for Inclusion, charged with harassment and discrimination against students because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, political persuasion and weight (!).

What happened?

Well, in April 2007, the college Republicans and the campus chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom sponsored a speech on illegal immigration by the founder of the Minutemen. Left-wing students disrupted the speech and some of them were arrested by campus police. Some of those protesting students then went to the MSU Office for Inclusion and charged the students who organized the speech - and their faculty advisors - with violating the campus Anti-Discrimination Policy.

Anti-Discrimination Policies are perfect for helping left-wing students and administrators to close down conservative speech. Such polices assume that "protected classes" are victims and that those accused of harassment or discrimination must demonstrate their innocence. Such policies make speakers responsible for any feelings of harassment or discrimination of those who choose to listen.

Sometimes these kinds of campus assaults against free speech and conservative ideas are litigated, usually with courts upholding protected First Amendment speech. Many more times, the Gestapos of political correctness on campus have their own way. University bureaucracies easily intimidate undergraduates accused of "hate speech" and subject them to "diversity training," the campus equivalent of water-boarding.

But at MSU, the advisors to the two student groups were actual conservatives. I'm both an economic and a social conservative.William Allen, my faculty colleague who was also under investigation, had equally conservative credentials.

A professor in the Department of Political Science, Allen was at that time the advisor to the Young Americans for Freedom. Earlier in his career, he headed the Commission on Civil Rights during the administrations of President Ronald Reagan then for President George Herbert Walker Bush. While at MSU, he helped organize "Toward A Fair Michigan" which played the major role in the success of the Michigan ballot initiative that outlawed affirmative action in government hiring in 2006.

The relevance of this was lost, at first, on the university administration. Following the accusations, we did not break down in tears or go begging on our knees for forgiveness, offering endless apologies. More to the point still, we did not stand aside so the Office for Inclusion could do whatever it wanted to the conservative students involved.

It was clear to Allen and me that the Anti-Discrimination Policy could and would be used against those who publicly articulated conservative positions on controversial issues. It was equally clear that the administration's ability to do so rested on the secrecy of the proceedings and on the fear of faculty to be dirtied with the taint of "racism."

So we responded with boldness and openness in every public venue we could.

We publicized the investigation thoroughly through opinion columns and letters to the editor. We proposed and began to work through university governance on an amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Policy to better protect free speech. We brought the movie Indoctrinate U to campus and leafleted students on the campus Library Bridge urging them to attend. We also began meetings with representatives in the state legislature who were becoming interested in the problem.

The defiance and vigor of our response was almost certainly a shock to the Office for Inclusion and to the university administration generally. And worse still for them was out outreach to the state legislature. In fact, the investigation (then going on six months) ended the day after Allen and I met with one of the leaders of the majority Senate Republicans in Michigan. The investigation report released in March 2008 concluded that no discrimination had taken place at a "level" that called for any action against the student groups or the advisors.

Despite this outcome, what was clear was the vulnerability of students on campus and the passivity of faculty in the face of assaults on fundamental democratic rights. To put a point to this, it was clear to us that American college campuses more emulate third-world style oppression than American democracy.

So we formed Conservative Faculty and Staff in September to respond to threats against conservative students and to take the initiative to articulate and protect core American values. We wrote a document based on the principles articulated in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: that God is the Author of our freedom, that individuals, not groups, have rights, and that the right to life enables all other rights.

More than a dozen faculty and staff met in September to approve these principles and the group's bylaws. Since then, we have advertised our presence on campus and begun inviting speakers who embrace and articulate conservative viewpoints. But the group's main focus will be to counter the intellectual damage done in classrooms by the "multiculturalism" on campus that views freedom as simply a Western peculiarity and not an especially valuable one at that.

In essence, the mission of Conservative Faculty and Staff at MSU is to protect and defend freedom. Only on our nation's campuses can this truthfully be seen as a "counter-revolution." Those of us at MSU don't imagine that we can do it all. But we've made a start.

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Frederick Fico is a Professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.



Comments (7)

Jeffrey Buehner:

You are a brave man professor. It is shameless the way that universities across our country are using speech codes under the auspices of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusiveness to trample on constitutional rights of those who don't agree with their leftist points of view. Conservatives are threatened, shouted down, assaulted and banned while leftist radicals are given tenure and invited to speak at commencements. Those few, such as yourself, who are willing to fight this hegemonic intolerance are fighting an uphill battle, but a battle that we all owe you a debt of gratitude for fighting. You are fighting for the constitutional principles of our founding fathers (is that term considered gender discrimination today?) If this incidious threat to our rights of free speech and assembly isn't stopped soon, we wil end up with diversity star chambers where non-leftists are guilty until proven innocent. (See for example Canada's Human Rights Commission) Keep up the fight.

Rand O'Leary:

Since the majority of University faculty are 'liberal', any threat to their teaching (indoctrinating) students in their 'liberal' philosophy must be shut down. They can't afford to have an opposing viewpoint presented to the students. What these profs at MSU have done to combat this gestapo type suppresion of free speech is commendable. One would only hope that this kind of effort will expand and grow over time to the rest of the Universities that practice this type of discrimination against faculty and students who don't share their liberal views. Students should hear both sides equally in order to make up their own minds as to what they think not just have one point of view drumed into their sponge-brains.

Joe:

What a commentary on American higher education that these two men have had to go through such an agonizing process just to establish their fundamental rights. What has happened to us?

Godspeed, men. Don't back down.

Deanna:

It is so refreshing to see faculty of a major university like MSU finally stand up to the university gestapo. I grew up not far from MSU and always loved the university and its beautiful campus. It is nice to know that there are still professors like you and your colleague who will stand up for free speech for EVERYONE, not just those anointed by themselves. Thank you for sharing this story.

James Hrisikos:

Thank you for your efforts. I salute you for standing up to the intolerance and tyranny that you so clearly describe. It is only by standing up to this ignorance that a culture that values the divine principle of freedom can arise.

Warm regards,
Jim Hrisikos

Philip W. Woodrow:

If there had been such gutsy professors in Germany as Hitler was seeking to take control, World War II may have been avoided.

I would encourage the development of a nationwide coalition of conservative professors who will stand up and speak out! Maybe then there will still be hope for our country.

God bless America!

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