The Kids are Alright

Rick Santorum was on to something when he infamously called President Obama a “snob” for wanting everyone to go to college.

Of course, that was only the sound bite version of what he said. Santorum fleshed out his point like so: “There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why [Obama] wants you to go to college — he wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

Religious imagery aside, “remake you in his image,” actually describes quite well the philosophy of our Frantz Fanon enthusiast in the White House. Candidate and President Obama have often spoke of “fundamentally transforming” America. As his recent campaigning on college campuses shows, who better to do that than professors?

Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Reverend Jesse Jackson tows the line. He cites Rick Santorum’s “snob” snipe as an example of the “conservative war on the young.” From cutting Pell grants to kicking students off their parents’ health insurance, college kids are “under siege.”

 

Jackson’s solution? Hire more professors and make college free. “This is still a rich nation,” Jackson says. “We can afford to invest in our kids.”

Except, we aren’t a rich nation. We’re broke. The nationalized student loan industry is a trillion dollar financial bubble ready to pop. Jackson’s suggestions would not only bankrupt our country, they’d bankrupt the idea of a university. Sure, Jackson will encourage investment in an education of his ideas, but certainly not those with which he disagrees.

The Reverend doesn’t know me, but he once called me a racist. In January of 2006, I was a student at DePaul University in Chicago. My conservative student organization held an Affirmative Action Bake Sale that sold cookies at different prices depending on ethnicity. It was an obnoxious demonstration of racial preferences in Affirmative Action policies. Amid student protests, the University shut down our bake sale. Jesse Jackson arrived some days later with a megaphone in his hand calling us “racists” who sold “racist cookies.” He encouraged University administrators to “defund [our] racist group.”

The University took Jackson up on his suggestion. Our group was censured and suspended from applying for any student organization activities funds. President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider fanned the flames by sending out a University-wide e-mail denouncing our event as “an affront to DePaul’s values” and “blatantly offensive.”

Holtschneider anticipated questions of free speech and announced that he was forming a Free Speech and Expression Task Force to write a speech policy. I was placed on the Task Force and helped to form the first document we produced: Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression.

The language of the original document opened the doors of the University to all ideas — as it should. It promised “open discourse and robust debate” and required the University to remain “open to a broad range of ideas and opinions” as a way to “create the best conditions for discovering the truth.” Most importantly, the Principles were not patronizing and they respected the “right of listeners to respond with their own expression, or choose to turn away.”

However, before releasing the document to the University community, the Task Force voted to remove the words “God-given” from the Guiding Principles. The Task Force also removed the phrase “create the best conditions for discovering the truth.” “Truth,” I was told, was too “offensive” a word for a free speech document.

When I rejected these edits, I was removed from the Task Force.

The Task Force produced another version of the Guiding Principles without me, and the University eventually adopted it. It’s separated into four paragraphs with the headings, “We are a university,” “We are a Vincentian university,” “We are a community,” and “We are committed to an ongoing discussion about speech and expression.”

The first paragraph is almost identical to the first Task Force document, but the second paragraph concerning the make-up of a Vincentian university has a small but devastating addition. “We believe that interaction should always be conducted with civility and mutual respect.” Earlier, Father Holtschneider had criticized the Bake Sale as an event that “doesn’t rise to the level of DePaul’s commitment to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.”

Later in the third paragraph, the Task Force “insists that all speakers remember that the right of expression carries with it the equally important responsibility to exercise that right with a conscientious respect for human dignity.” This sentence surely raises more questions than answers — as did Holtschneider’s “welcoming atmosphere.”

The Task Force muddied the waters further by asserting there is a “difference between being provocative and being hurtful. Speech whose primary purpose is to wound is inconsistent with our Vincentian and Catholic values.” Instead of being concerned with welcoming ideas, the University is concerned with welcoming emotion.

This is not to say that the Task Force does not want students to be educated by ideas — only its ideas. In the last sentence of the third paragraph describing “community,” the Task Force requires that the University “must” respond to controversial or offensive speech “by reasserting our fundamental values and by fostering educational opportunities, where appropriate.” In other words, if you have the wrong ideas, the University will re-educate you with the right ones.

As it turns out, “Raving Rick” was right. But all is not lost: leading the anti-snobbery efforts is the Young America’s Foundation. The group is dedicated to equipping young campus conservatives with the tools they need to fight on their campuses, come what may. The venerable Intercollegiate Studies Institute is another organization teaching the core ideas behind the free market, the American Founding, and Western civilization, so rarely taught in the classroom.

At a recent regional conference held annually, a student asked me, “Do you miss it?” Of course, I do. It’s not everyday Rev. Jesse Jackson wields a megaphone and decries racism.

Nicholas G. Hahn III

By

Nicholas G. Hahn III is deputy editor for RealClearReligion.org.

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