Joseph Berger's column on education doubled as a film review. "Film Portrays Stifling of Speech, but One College's Struggle Reflects a Nuanced Reality" criticized an anti-PC documentary, "Indoctrinate U," by bringing in an incident that occurred at Vassar college that was not even featured in the movie. Berger actually defended Vassar punishing a conservative campus publication by defunding it and shutting it down for a year.
"A new documentary is making the rounds that argues, with vivid examples, that the nation's colleges are squelching freedom of expression and are no longer free marketplaces of ideas.
"The film carries the striking title 'Indoctrinate U,' and was made by Evan Coyne Maloney, who describes himself as a libertarian and is looking for a national distributor.
"The film borrows the technique of ambush interviews from an ideological opposite, Michael Moore, and tells how at California Polytechnic State University, a student underwent a daylong disciplinary hearing for posting a flier publicizing a black speaker whose talk was titled, 'It's O.K. to Leave the Plantation.' "
The Times certainly likes Moore's films more than they do Maloney's.
"Does the film offer a fair picture of campus life in 2007, or is it just a pastiche of notorious events? One answer might be found here at Vassar, which faced its own dispute over what some called hate speech and others 'political correctness,' and emerged with its integrity more or less intact."
Why is "political correctness" in quote marks and "hate speech" not?
"The Imperialist, a publication of the school's Moderate, Independent and Conservative Student Alliance, published a contributor's article in 2005 that criticized social centers for minority and gay students. The article called such centers 'ghettos' and said they turned Vassar into a 'zoological preserve.'
"Students complained that the language was insulting and called for banning The Imperialist. For weeks, the issue was debated by the student association, which finances the publication. Ultimately, the group withheld its money for one year and publication was suspended."
Berger ludicrously defended the college's censorship.
"What was notable was that Vassar, a college of 2,360 students founded in the 19th century on progressive ideals - and a place where conservatives remain a distinct minority - hashed out the matter without violence and did not trash or burn newspapers as has happened at other campuses.
"The Imperialist is publishing once again. Vassar seems to have made a distinction between forbidding publication of an idea and not allowing gratuitous racial insults to be hurled while examining that idea.
'Ultimately, free speech was respected,' said Mark Goreczny, 20, a student. 'There was a dialogue, polarized as it may have been.'"
"Most of the article was spent addressing cases that weren't in the film, rather than addressing what was in the film. The author also claims that 'professors, administrators and students say the national picture is far more complicated than that pictured in "Indoctrinate U,"' although I don't know how they could know that, because none of those people actually saw the film.
"One of the examples cited in the article (but not the film) was the case of a student paper published by Vassar's Moderate, Independent and Conservative Student Alliance. It was an odd selection of cases if the point was to argue that there's more 'nuance' to reality than what is shown in Indoctrinate U, because a close inspection of this case shows that it actually backs up the thesis of my film.
"The paper was de-funded and shut down for a year after publishing a piece criticizing the school's funding of special 'social centers' for minority and gay students. But because the paper was eventually allowed to start publishing again - the following year - the Vassar case is presented as one in which '[u]ltimately, free speech was respected.' Sorry, but shutting down a paper for a year is not a benign event, and it is certainly not one in which we can say ;free speech was respected.' If Homeland Security shut down the Times for a year after exposing ways that we track terrorist financing, I'm sure they'd understand my position on this."
"Rather than address the multiple cases in the film where people were told to see school psychologists because they had the wrong set of views, rather than address the fact that people's academic careers were put in jeopardy for things like being registered in the 'wrong' political party, this piece ignores the evidence presented in the film to set up an alternative straw man to knock down.
"And when the author finally gets around to discussing cases that are actually in the film, he minimizes them by leaving out the most vital information."
Back to Berger's criticism of "Indoctrinate U": "A spectrum of professors, administrators and students say the national picture is far more complicated than that pictured in 'Indoctrinate U,' a point the dust-up at Vassar illustrates. Yes, periodically there are embarrassing incidents, like the disruption of speakers at Columbia last October who opposed illegal immigration. But most colleges are still places where unorthodox ideas are explored and debated."
Many conservatives would settle for a place where "orthodox ideas" are debated - opposition to illegal immigration is quite mainstream and popular, as shown by today's defeat of Bush's immigration bill.