- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
It's been going on for quite awhile:
LIBERTY VERSUS EQUALITY:
by Robert Brustein
The latest conflict in the academy between freedom of expression and ethnic and sexual diversity took place at Vassar College recently when minority students called for the banning of a school newspaper called "The Imperialist" because it criticized the creation of special social centers for minority and gay students. (The students were upset by the magazine's "insulting" comparison of these centers with a "ghetto" and a "zoological preserve.") The matter was resolved when the student association that financed "The Imperialist" withheld funds from the publication for one year.
Tocqueville was among the first to observe that there was a basic tension in our system--if not a basic disagreement--between the constitutional guarantees of liberty and of equality. Equal under the law, Americans were conspicuously unequal in many other ways, the most obvious being inequality of income. But there has also been a continuing tension between the need to speak what is perceived as the truth and the need to protect minority feelings--between the need to achieve excellence (now known as "elitism") and the need to maintain an illusion of egalitarianism (now known as "political correctness")--and this has inevitably led to some kind of speech suppression.
It is sometimes forgotten that freedom of expression was an afterthought to the Constitution, and that freedom of the press, of religion, and of assembly were only guaranteed later under the First Amendment. The reason these freedoms (religion excepted) are so easily abrogated these days is that they don't really mean that much to ordinary citizens. They were designed for artists, journalists, writers, dissidents, radicals, and other such atypical Americans. Given the history of dissent in the academy, one would have expected that university students and university professors would also have cherished these freedoms, and would also have fought to protect them, but that seems to be less and less the case. In the fifties, the liberties of many universities were suspended under pressure of McCarthyism. Today, they are under siege from their own faculties, administrations, and student bodies.