At Wright State, we have “Garcetti language” in our contract, protecting criticism of the administration as an aspect of academic freedom. We don’t abuse this right, but if our administration endorsed the sort of policy just approved by the Kansas Board of Regents for the public universities across that state, we would lambaste them on campus and off.
But what makes what is going on in Kansas all the more egregious is, of course, that it actually has nothing to do with criticism of a university administration or university policies–or, in fact, with anything directly related to campus life. It is all in response to a political comment made by a faculty member in a tweet.
Yes, in a tweet–the rhetorical equivalent of a small burp or a mere whisper of a fart.
Given that the ideological divisions across our country have become much more pronounced, is the Kansas Board of Regents intending to forbid any and all political comment on and off campus by university employees (including administrators?), or is the Board intending to censor political opinion selectively?
And if the censorship is to be selective, are they going to establish some sort of committee to review political comments for their acceptability? Will that committee be called a “ministry”? Will colleagues as well as students be recruited to monitor faculty opinion and to report clandestinely on what they overhear?
What is the next step, air-brushing “disgraced” faculty from the photos on the universities’ websites and their Facebook pages?
How will anyone teach political science, history–or any of the social sciences–in such an environment? There is an old comedian’s truism about how long it took for a joke about the Lincoln assassination to be viewed as anything but abhorrent. One wonders if, in such a restrictive atmosphere, any sort of historical observation might not be construed as offending current political sensibilities.
Beyond legal responses to this sort of administrative and political overreach, the most likely alternative will be to scrutinize every statement made by the individual members of the Board of Regents, by university administrators enforcing the policy, and by the Far-Right ideologues who are obviously behind this draconian restriction on not just on academic freedom but freedom of speech. (Academic freedom and freedom of speech are not the same thing, but this policy clearly abrogates both rights.)
I suspect that this policy will lead to someone who is not employed by the state of Kansas being recruited to post every dubious statement made by the Regents, by university administrators, and by the Far-Right ideologues behind the policy, along with pithy expressions of outrage at the profound offensiveness and un-American implications of each and every posted statement.
What the Regents and the political ideologues with whom they have aligned themselves don’t seem to realize is that state lines do not run across the Internet. They are trying to constrain free expression on the Internet much as the regime in China restricts it. But they have none of the controls over access points or content that the regime in China has.
Coincidentally, this afternoon, the cable news channels keep coming back around to A&E’s suspension of Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch, for making patently offensive remarks about gays in a GQ interview. After categorizing homosexuality with bestiality, Robertson asserted the following: “‘Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.’”
And, as if to insure that he would offend more than just the LGBT community, Robertson added that he thinks that African-Americans may have been much more content with their circumstances before they achieved Civil Rights than they have been afterwards.
Predictably, Sarah Palin has been one of the first to jump to Robertson’s defense–in her characteristically illiterate style—in a post added to her Facebook page: “‘Free speech is endangered species; those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all.”
Yes, those who condemn intolerance are themselves guilty of being intolerant of intolerance.
How many times are those on the Far Right going to use this sort of rhetorical gimmick as a last resort to avoid having to admit that something ignorant does, in fact, demonstrate ignorance.
If that makes me an ignorance-hater, so be it.
(And before any of my Right-wing readers rush to assert that I am, in effect, stereotyping Phil Robertson as an ignorant hillbilly, let me remind them that he has been making millions of dollars not by providing an alternative to that stereotype but simply by giving it some charmingly idiosyncratic turns.)
Not to be outdone by anyone else on the Far Right, Rush Limbaugh dismissed the reaction to Robertson’s remarks as “mock outrage” and asked his listeners rhetorically, ”If there is no God, who cares about what some backwoods hick on a duck show says?” (See, Rush called Robertson a “hillbilly hick”; so what I said must be okay—in fact, what I said has the advantage of not being redundant.)
Limbaugh then employed the same rhetorical gimmick as Palin used, asking, “Who is being discriminated against except Phil Robertson, who just lost a job because of his religious beliefs? Nothing happened to anybody at GLADD . . . or to any homosexual people. . . . Phil Robertson didn’t make the choice of being heterosexual so why attack him for talking like one? If you turn this stuff around, it’s an interesting perspective.”
Limbaugh next opined that “’the majority of people are going to get fed up with being lectured to and controlled by such a minority of the population . . . who use weapons like political correctness, censorship, intimidation and everything else in order to shut up people who say things they don’t want to hear.”
Finally, Limbaugh suggested that if the Duck Dynasty audience would “go to bat” for Robertson, “if that kind of relationship exists, then there could be an effervescing tipping point out there. . . . Maybe Phil Robertson’s opened the door, but it’s too soon to say.”
Rush, I think that it is actually you who are “effervescing,” like the bubbly stuff in Mountain Dew (the diet version of which I am, sadly, almost addicted to; pardon the digression, but a friend once watched me downing a can of the sugar-free, caffeine-free version and asked, “What exactly is the point of that?”).
In any case, consider those who have denounced Martin Bashir for momentarily losing his mind in trying to encapsulate his outrage over the persistent offensiveness of Palin’s stupidity and those who have called for David Guth’s head for his tweet suggesting that the gun lobby might be less sanguine about gun massacres if it were their own kids being massacred. I suspect that many, if not most, of the people fit to be tied about what Martin Bashir and David Guth dared to say are now jumping just as eagerly as Palin and Limbaugh to Phil Robertson’s defense.
So I cannot help but wonder if, in Sam Brownback’s Kansas, both Robertson’s comments and Palin’s and Limbaugh’s defenses of those comments would have been acceptable coming from someone employed by the public universities.
If that would, indeed, be the case, then perhaps the Kansas Board of Regents should decree that the Obama Rodeo Clown (conveniently based just across the state line in Missouri) be invited to deliver the keynote address at the spring commencement exercises at each public university in the state. I don’t know if the Obama Rodeo Clown actually speaks, but perhaps he can just stand there at the podium while they run, on the Jumbotron, a series of clips of Robertson, Palin, and Limbaugh philosophizing about the current, degraded state of American values. And then someone dressed as a bull can gore him in the butt, and a truly grand and inspiring time will have been had by all.