July 30, 2003

What are They Afraid of?

In a time-honored but often ignored tradition of university management, the President of Cal-Poly has determined that if he just ignores a problem long enough, it will go away. Granted, he's got a pretty good chance of that happening, since the whole "flier posting incident" story broke during summer break. Attention to campus news disappears along with the students. That's why UNC-CH tends to announce its "stupid required reading project for the year" in May or June, after acceptance letters have gone out and students are more excited about Todd Oldham's Dorm Room Decorating collection at Target than about the fact that they're required to read politically biased puff pieces instead of useful literature or theory--oops! Wrong rant. Moving on...

My real point here is to ask why Warren J Baker, the aforementioned Cal-Poly prez, would adopt this tactic in a pretty simple, clear-cut case of First Amendment rights. I mean, okay, university administrations HATE to go back on decisions or reverse themselves or admit that they may have been hasty or in error. Even when they do, they're often petulant and whiny about it. But that's just human nature with an added dash of academic hubris, and in most cases, the fastest way to kill a scandal is to admit wrongdoing and move on. Reasonable folks will drop it at that point. Unless, of course, the case involves race.

What do university administrators REALLY hate? And by hate I mean secretly fear and panic about. Anything that has a whiff of racial tension about it, sort of like this whole Cal-Poly kerfluffle. Brief recap: white kid posts flier for black conservative's speech in the Multicultural Center, black students charge race-baiting, white liberal administration loses its freaking mind, overreacts, then finds itself in a rather awkward position. See, if Cal-Poly actually does what it says it's committed to in its Mission Statement:

Cal Poly is dedicated to complete respect for human rights and the development of the full potential of each of its individual members. Cal Poly is committed to providing an environment where all share in the common responsibility to safeguard each other's rights, encourage a mutual concern for individual growth and appreciate the benefits of a diverse campus community.

and protects a student's right to free speech about a UNIVERSITY SANCTIONED EVENT, then the forces of multicultural grievance would come to bear upon the school, and Cal-Poly would be labeled "insensitive," which REALLY freaks out a white liberal college administration. Whereas if they just ignore the first amendment, screw the white kid and shut up about it, the likelihood of Al Sharpton showing up on campus is signifigantly lessened. And while I can definitely get behind the idea of avoiding the Sharpton--because ewwww--it doesn't change the fact that Warren J Baker, as we say around here, "done screwed up reeeeeeeal good." Look, if the students at the Multicultural Center are that freaked out by the existence of a black conservative evoking the image of slavery in his arguments, perhaps they should go to the speech and address the problem through reasoned debate and exchange of ideas, you know, like you THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO DO AT AN INSTITUTE OF HIGHER LEARNING, YOU PHILISTINES! Shooting the messenger is immature, wrong, thoughtless, and an example of knee-jerk racial reaction masquerading as a "commitment to diversity." Which, come to think of it, is a really good description of the Cal-Poly administration's reaction to this whole thing.

My undergrad institution has a great motto: Alenda lux ubi orta libertas, or "Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen." Perhaps Cal-Poly should re-examine its mission statement in light of those words. Oh yeah, and re-read the Bill of Rights. Of course, first we need to get Mr. Baker out from under his desk, or whereever he's currently hiding.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 30, 2003 09:48 AM

This just in: this year's selection in the Carolina Summer Reading program is Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed.

More in the continuing series, "America Sucks".

Posted by: Angie Schultz at July 30, 2003 07:59 PM