SUNY-Potsdam’s War on Frats
Cops Sicced on Greeks for Giving Out Cocoa, Wearing Letters
Faternities at the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY-Potsdam) are crying foul after their member were threatened with arrest by school officials for giving out free cocoa and for wearing the sweatshirts of their suspended fraternities near a Greek function. In an educational institution, it’s hard to see why the school wouldn’t uphold constitutional rights,” notes Michael Inzerillo, a frat-member who was threatened with arrest for giving out hot chocolate to other students and for wearing his fraternity’s letters near a Greek function after he was told not to do so. Inzerillo and other Greeks contend that overzealous administrators are violating their freedoms of association and expression, guaranteed under New York’s constitution.
Hot Cocoa, Cold Reception
On February 4th, members of SUNY-Potsdam’s All-Greek Council were threatened with arrest for manning a table in the student union that distributed hot cocoa to students coming in from the cold. Although the group received permission from the school to have the table, some school officials argued that the table could serve as a backdoor method for suspended organizations to recruit new members.
“They weren’t just distributing free cocoa out of the goodness of their heart,” school spokesman Scott Shewell told Campus Report.
“We were informed that we would be arrested if we sat at the table,” Inzerillo, a member of the All-Greek Council and the suspended Psi Phi Delta said. “We sat there and told them to get the cops.” The police arrived and a confrontation then ensued resulting in the fraternity members eventually leaving the table.
Stefan Hyman, a member of Delta
They weren’t just distributing free cocoa out of the goodness of their heart. Kappa Theta, told the student paper, The Racquette, that he was at the table having a conversation with a sorority sister “just as a student” when an administrator “said that if I didn’t get up, he would arrest me.”
Christine Strong, dean of student affairs, informed the school’s student paper that although she had no evidence that members of the suspended fraternities were engaged in the recruitment of pledges, her gut feeling was that they were. She informed them in advance that they would be arrested if they sat at the table.
Police detained no fraternity members, but the following week the All-Greek Council was stopped from giving out hot chocolate.
In addition to being prevented from giving out cocoa, brothers from the suspended fraternities faced incarceration for wearing their fraternity sweatshirts while sitting on the steps of the student union.
“A gang would call it their colors,” opined Director of Campus Life Chip Morris. “Fraternities and sororities call it their letters.”
“They said we couldn’t wear our own shirts and sit in the student union at the same time,” Inzerillo of Psi Phi Delta told Campus Report. According to Inzerillo, Christine Strong, dean of student affairs, gave the order. “Christine Strong said that as long as we were sitting on the steps with our letters on we could be arrested,” he attested.
“It is true,” Strong replied when asked if she threatened to arrest the students if they didn’t leave or remove the offending articles of clothing. “I did ask them to leave that particular area of the union. The reason that I did that is that we were in the process of our campus rushing—the beginning of the pledge process.” The members of excluded organizations, therefore, couldn’t wear their letters near areas where recruitment was taking place.
“Because of the sanctions against this particular fraternity, they can’t take part in the rushing and pledging process,” Strong maintained. “A group sitting there in the midst of this particular activity was a violation of their sanction.” In late March school officials informed members of the suspended organizations of new prohibitions against two or more students wearing “letters” of disfavored fraternities to gather in the student union.
Although fraternity members were faced with the choice of taking off their “letters,” leaving the area, or being arrested, school spokesman Scott Shewell maintains that neither this set of choices nor the threats over the free cocoa table violated students’ rights to assembly and free expression on their own campus. “Students may assemble wherever,” Shewell contended. “They can certainly wear their letters wherever. But they cannot assemble to use the facility as a member of a suspended organization.”
The Abolition of Greek Life?
Although school administrators admit that members of suspended fraternities were allowed to participate in All-Greek Council activities, they changed the policy after the controversy over the sweatshirts and hot cocoa.
“Since that time,” spokesman Shewell said, “they have now been notified that they are not permitted to participate in All-Greek Council activities.” The members of the temporarily outlawed organizations were using the All-Greek Council as a way to promote their barred frats, school officials claim.
Greek members opine that many administrators are seeking to find a backdoor method to abolish fraternities and sororities altogether. If the groups were banned, SUNY-Potsdam would not be the first school to eliminate Greek life. Colby, Williams, and Bowdoin have all eliminated fraternities and sororities, with Dartmouth announcing a plan to do the same last year.
SUNY-Potsdam administrators contend that it’s not necessarily fraternities and sororities they’re crusading against, but illegal activity.
“I don’t believe these fraternities can continue to exist the way they are,” Christine Strong insisted. Underage drinking and hazing are two reasons why SUNY-Potsdam’s administrators have gone after Greeks with such vehemence.
Chip Morris added, “Organizations that as a regular course of business violate the law—I’d like to think that no one supports that.”
When the first collegiate fraternities were formed, Morris explained, their purpose was “to promote academics, community service, and leadership….what we have today may not in some instances be predicated on these lofty goals.”
“There’s a distinction between an academic fraternity and a social fraternity,” he continued. “A lot of concern relative to behavior emanate from that distinction.”
Greeks point out that in recent months they have raised money for Christmas presents for needy children, donated 180 gallons of heating oil to poor families, provided tutoring services for elementary school children, and constituted a great portion of the volunteer workforce to make the school’s homecoming a success.
“This year there’s been a couple of school officials that are in the right position that are very anti-Greek,” Inzerillo maintains, citing Strong and Morris specifically. Both Morris and Strong deny that they ultimately seek to eliminate fraternities and sororities at the upstate New York campus. Last semester five out of the school’s six fraternities were suspended.
Harsh punishments for seemingly benign activities—like giving out cocoa and wearing certain sweatshirts—is bad, frat members complain, but the quasi-judicial process that the school administers is what really angers them. The inability to confront accusers, double and sometimes triple jeopardy, and the acceptance of unsubstantiated allegations as proof of wrongdoing are among the flaws in the school’s judicial system, the Greeks say.
An agreement between the school and fraternities and sororities, which Greek organizations are forced to sign, maintains that the school in consultation with the All-Greek Council may decide disciplinary action. After the administration brought a recent wave of charges against the fraternities, Michael Inzerillo points out, “All-Greek Council voted not to suspend the fraternities because there was not enough evidence.” Not finding the verdict it sought in this venue, the school brought charges against the groups in another of the campus’s judicial bodies. While such a system of double jeopardy may seem foreign to most Americans, it is actually quite common on many campuses. The system of multiple jeopardy is made clear within the agreement between Greeks and SUNY Potsdam, which spells out that if the school is not satisfied with an All-Greek Council-administration decision, “The College may bring charges independently of this committee.” Additionally, real legal charges may be filed against the organizations and their members as well.
Inzerillo alleged that “hearsay is good enough as far as evidence is concerned” in these school hearings. An example of this, Inzerillo states, was a recent allegation of hazing against Delta Kappa Theta. “Chip Morris and two university police went to the door and demanded to be let in,” Inzerillo states. “When they said, ‘no,’ Chip Morris wrote them up for not listening to a college official. These are fraternities that are not even on school grounds. We own our own fraternities.” Despite having only an allegation of a crime and no authority to enter a private home, Morris admits that this incident was the “final straw” and the organization was suspended for three years shortly thereafter. Although Morris contends a student’s mother made these complaints, the fraternity was unable to confront their anonymous accuser or to know for sure if there really was one.
“Anyone who knows anything about Greek life knows that revoking a charter for three years can only have one intent and that is to destroy a Greek organization,” observed Bob Fuhr, an advisor to DK.
Fuhr, a 1988 graduate of the college who served as the adviser to Delta Kappa Theta during the “hazing” proceedings, labeled the hearing a “kangaroo court.” The DK alumnus observed that the hearing was closed to all members of the public except one DK brother and one adviser, in violation of the school’s rules against a “closed” hearing for such cases. The fraternity, he says, was denied access to the audio recordings of the proceeding. Finally, there was only one student and one faculty member on the board; the school’s rules, he points out, require two each. Fuhr wonders how there was a finding of guilt when there was no accuser, no specific offense cited, and no specific fraternity member accused.
“It’s pretty clear that their agenda is to eliminate Greek life on the Potsdam campus,” Fuhr said of the administration.
Although the fraternities have had difficulty gaining a sympathetic ear amongst administrators, they have had some success by taking their battle off campus. Several lawsuits are being planned. Greeks are contacting alumni and are asking them to withhold donations to the school. Later this month during an alumni weekend, past graduates will meet with school officials and ask for a more tolerant stance towards fraternities and sororities.
Although the fight between the fraternities and school administrators has engendered bitterness on both sides, the Greeks do have some school employees pulling for them.
“It seems an important source of genuine diversity is not being fully appreciated,” offered Potsdam Professor Miles Wolpin. “Can we believe that such ‘liberal’ values as tolerance and inclusiveness have minimal operational significance for the Greeks? If so, do such double standards flow from multiculturalist ideology? And do they constitute a clear and present danger to freedom of association.”
Brandeis Issues ‘Ridiculous’ Commandments for Heston Speech
bomb-sniffing dog, two full-body metal detectors, two hand-held metal detector wands, at least ten security guards, and four units of the guest’s blood type are all that Brandeis University’s administration is requiring of student organizers to keep the March 28 Charlton Heston speech from being canceled.
Citing the president of the National Rifle Association’s “controversial views” as the reason behind their actions, Brandeis University proceeded to require the series of security requirements that Heston’s publicists and seasoned security personnel have labeled “ridiculous,” and have made the group of students bringing the famous actor to campus wonder if the administration is accepting a form of the heckler’s veto of the event.
“Once we leap one hurdle, we have to leap another,” Bryan Rudnick, editor of the event’s sponsor, Freedom Magazine, explained.
Those hurdles are not cheap. Estimates place rental of the dog at $1000, the ten to fifteen police officers from Brandeis’
Office of Public Safety and the Town of Waltham, Massachusetts Police Department at $2500, and the two full-body metal detectors to be placed at the auditorium entrance doors at $2500.
The administration, though, vehemently denies an attempt at censorship of Heston’s conservative views and disputes the claim that they requested his blood type.
“We are not putting roadblocks in this kid’s way,” protested Vice-President of Public Affairs Michal Reagunberg. “If he wants to lie about it, that’s fine, but I don’t have to play his game.”
Yet Rudnick holds that Ed Callahan, the Director of Public Safety at Brandeis, did in fact state that they would require Heston’s blood type along with the paramedic team the school says it usually keeps ready for large public events. According to Rudnick, Callahan made this demand during a meeting on March 8 in his office with Stephanie Ruark from the Office of Campus Life, Roman Cermak from the Office of Conferences and Events, and Reagunberg all present.
All involved, however, refused to answer direct questions from Campus Report, instead referring all inquiries to Dennis Nealon, the Director of Media Relations, who did not attend the meeting but nonetheless has taken the role of “official” voice for Brandeis University.
Nealon claimed he made no directive for a media blackout by employees of the University, despite the unwillingness of those interviewed to answer direct questions surrounding the March 8 meeting on the blood charge and the school’s reasoning behind the heavy security requirements. “I frankly don’t give a damn what you write,” swore Nealon in response to a question regarding this.
“That’s why we have media relations here,” offered Cermak in defense of his refusal to answer questions. Still, when pressed about the March 8 meeting, Cermak retorted, “How do you know I was at that meeting?” though he neither confirmed nor denied his presence there.
Callahan, too, swore silence when questioned, deferring all inquiries to the “official spokesman” for the University, Dennis Nealon. Callahan, however, would neither confirm nor deny that he requested Heston’s blood type.
Nealon, for his part, terms the claim “nonsense,” saying, “[Rudnick] is the only one with that impression on the whole campus.”
A spokesman at Waltham Deaconess Hospital said that he was not aware of any contact with the University regarding blood supplies, and Heston’s publicist has also not been contacted by the University regarding Heston’s blood type, leading some to surmise that officials at the school chose to drop the demand soon after it was announced.
Regardless, the other security precautions are not in dispute. What is in dispute, though, is whether they are the “standard security measures” Nealon contends “would be adopted in the event of anyone of [Heston's] stature.”
“First of all, they are not extreme,” Nealon told Campus Report. “They are the cautions the University deems appropriate to ensure as best it can the safety of a very prominent figure who is an international celebrity, as well as a representative of some very controversial views.”
It is this sentiment that has Rudnick worried the Brandeis Administration is trying to silence his group and force the cancellation of Heston’s speech. “Instead of saying his ideas spark controversy, they say Heston has ‘controversial views,’”
Rudnick pointed out. “Who is the arbiter of what’s controversial and what’s not?”
Nealon stated that this is not the first time similar security precautions have been instituted on student-sponsored events at least partially at student expense. However, despite claiming they have been used a “few times” in the past, he could only name one: Meir Kahane.
Students invited Rabbi Meir Kahane, the radical founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, to the campus in the late eighties. Unlike Heston, though, Kahane came amid very public threats of assassination against him by Muslim fanatics. In fact, Kahane was assassinated shortly after his speech at Brandeis by Arab terrorist El Sayyid Nosair, known now for his involvement in the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.
In the case of Charlton Heston, on the other hand, the school has received no death threats and none have been publicly made against him.
What they do point to is a protest Heston witnessed when he recently traveled to Northwestern University—the school he attended more than four decades ago. The extent of the distraction: two students were escorted away from Heston’s speech for refusing to put down their placards inside the auditorium. The two students were cited—not arrested, as Nealon claimed—for disorderly conduct after ignoring repeated warnings to lower their signs so they would not be a distraction to other audience members’ ability to see the event. Security at Northwestern and at recent Heston events at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and American University have consisted of, on average, two security personnel inside and two outside the respective auditoriums. Only common sense guidelines like prohibitions on bringing backpacks into the event were issued. In the case of Penn State, over 2500 people attended Heston’s speech with no incidents reported, even though bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors were not present.
“They do security different” than we do, answered Nealon when asked about this.
Nealon also claims that Rudnick’s group has greatly exaggerated the cost imposed upon them, saying the cost is “more like $3500.”
“That’s because he can’t do simple math,” Rudnick retorted, pointing to a sum total of at least $6000, and possibly much more when the additional cost of chairs, placed upon them when they were forced to change locales for the speech, and even more so for the two hand-held metal detector wands mandated by the University.
“If there is a political agenda at work here, it has nothing to do with the University,” Nealon asserted, adding that Brandeis has picked up some of the direct costs for the event through certain departments like the Office of Public Safety, though Rudnick says he’ll believe it when he sees it, and that these concession have followed media pressure. Dean of Student Affairs Rod Crafts has also relented and agreed to pay for one of the metal detectors. In addition, the student government has chipped in $5000, though that money comes not from tuition or the administration, but from the mandatory student activities fee.
This is not the first time that Rudnick has had run-ins with the Brandeis Administration. Last school year, the administration looked the other way after hundreds of issues of his publication, Freedom Magazine, were trashed on separate occasions by objecting student senators. The lack of condemnation by the administration of the destruction of property and the censorship of conservative views was seen by many as tacit approval of the vandals’ actions. The same student senators later lead the charge to de-fund and de-charter the conservative student publication.
Over the course of Rudnick’s four years at Brandeis, conservative speakers have been almost non-existent. Only conservative lawyer and columnist Ann Coulter, grassroots organizer for the NRA Glen Caroline, and author Dinesh D’Souza have been brought to campus to speak, and then only due to the efforts of Rudnick. Meanwhile, liberal activists, like former White House spokesman George Stephanopoulis and feminist Gloria Steinem, have regularly appeared on campus, with Robert Reich, Anita Hill, Ann Richards, and Ed Koch all taking at least temporary spots on the Brandeis faculty. Hill just had her contract renewed for three more years.
As for the Heston event, the speech is scheduled to proceed as scheduled, but the whole fiasco surrounding security at the event has left a sour taste in many mouths.
Villanova Official Steals Press Run of Student Mag Over Content
A Villanova administrator confiscated an entire press run of a conservative student publication because of its content. The cause of the March 15 theft of the Conservative Column is widely believed to be the result of a feature in the periodical which outlines the exclusive banking agreement between Villanova, a Catholic institution, and First Union, a bank that supports pro-abortion causes.
In a message left on Conservative Column editor Chris Lilik’s voice mail, Villanova’s Tom Mogan said, “We obviously have some serious concerns about the content of the Conservative Column.” The director of student development continued, “Therefore, I will be removing all the issues of the Conservative Column that I see.”
After his statement was made public Mogan changed his story and claimed he removed copies of the Conservative Column because the paper didn’t have an adviser. The uproar over his actions sparked the university to return the papers one week later.
Mogan refused to respond to Campus Report‘s request for an interview, but did tell the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Officially, we were upholding university policy that says student groups must have faculty advisers,” adding that “the tone of the Conservative Column might be alleviated if they had a full-time adviser.”
The offending item in the paper is believed to be a graphic feature with the headline “First Union Bank,” appearing above a sub-headline which reads, “A proud sponsor of Planned Parenthood and CHOICE.” In between is a picture of an aborted baby. “Turn Your Catholic Cash into Blood Money,” the ad concludes. Lilik contends that two different sources told him of Mogan’s rage over the ad.
This is not the first time that Mogan has interfered with the publication of the student journal. “He’s done a lot of shady things,” Lilik remarked. For instance, last month Mogan called the publication’s printer and told them not to print the magazine after the it had been sent to them. This was done without the knowledge of the publication’s editors. Lilik asked, “He has the nerve to cancel our paper when I’ve got advertisers? When I have people paying money to advertise in my paper?”
When the paper offered up a faculty member as an adviser, Mogan rejected the choice because the professor would be retiring soon. “They just don’t want to give us a conservative advisor,” Lilik reasoned. “What they want to do is for an advisor to act as a surrogate censor….They want to give us an advisor who is going to crack down on what we’re doing, censor our voice, tone everything down, and make everything politically correct.” Lilik added, “We have several people who want to be our advisor but they don’t have tenure and they won’t get tenure if they act as our advisor.” The controversy provoked Chemistry Professor Oliver Ludwig to come forward and agree to serve as the embattled magazine’s advisor.
The Conservative Column hasn’t been the only paper that Mogan has deemed too dangerous to be read by students. Lilik reports that Mogan has removed copies of the publication you are reading, Campus Report, the only other anti-PC publication distributed on the suburban Philadelphia campus, as well. Lilik claims that Mogan told him that if his paper didn’t receive his approval, it would suffer the same fate as Campus Report, a paper that he had been collecting and trashing. At the time of the conversation Mogan did not know that Lilik was Campus Report‘s distributor at Villanova.
Releasing their first issue at the outset of this school year, the Conservative Column has sparked debate at Villanova by taking the school to task for failing to live up to its Catholic mission. The publication has grabbed the attention of the campus community by opposing a course, “Constructing and Deconstructing Homosexuality,” which promotes lifestyles inimical to the teachings of the Church, criticizing the school for inviting National Abortion Rights Action League board member Anna Quindlen to give last year’s commencement address, and wondering why bigoted comments comparing priests to pedophiles appeared in the school’s newspaper. The paper’s editors say it provides a viewpoint that is lacking in Villanova’s marketplace of ideas.
No apology has been issued to the student journalists by administrators. Stealing free newspapers, courts have consistently ruled, is illegal.
“If we want to give a Catholic conservative viewpoint at a Catholic conservative college there really shouldn’t be any qualms,” Lilik explained, concluding that if people disagree with his magazine they should start their own publication, not steal copies of his.
Public Sex–Really Sick Public Sex–for Class Credit
At the San Francisco Art Institute 24 year-old Jonathan Yegge put on a 10 minute piece of “performance art” more suited for San Francisco’s red light district than an open-air stage on campus. Entitled “Art Piece N. 1,” Yegge’s performance has sent shockwaves across the Institute since its first and only showing on January 25.
In the February 23-29 issue of the SF Weekly, Yegge offered this description of how a male classmate who volunteered for his piece was set up for the performance: “He was tied up. He had a blind fold and a gag, but he could see and talk through it. He had freedom of movement of his pelvis.” Yegge then told what happened during the performance: “I engaged in oral sex with him and he engaged in oral sex with me. I had given him an enema, and I had taken a s*** and stuffed it in his a**. That goes on, he s***s all over me, I s*** in him. There was a security guard present. There was an instructor from the school present. It was videoed, and the piece was over.”
Founded in 1871 and with an enrollment of around 650 students, the Chestnut Street SFAI has long been the home for artists searching for new and radical forms of art. Today the school is headed by Ella King Torrey, who also sits on the Board of Directors for The National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, “an educational and advocacy network” whose mission is “to protect and extend freedom of artistic expression and fight censorship throughout the United States.”
According to Quill, “the SFAI has more than a century long history of pushing the boundaries of fine art, standing behind very, very, progressive artists that are on the cutting edge, that are creating works that [are] pushing new boundaries.” She added that the school “fully supports freedom of expression.”
Yegge’s piece, though, may have been too much for even Torrey.
Though the man had volunteered to participate in Yegge’s performance, and had even signed a hastily drawn-up consent form just prior to the start of the performance, he has since had misgivings about his participation in an “artwork” that left his rectum coated and stuffed with feces. The man, whose name has not been revealed, has not publicly commented on the incident.
“I haven’t talked to him since,” the former art student offered, “but the impression is that he is treating it as if he is a rape victim even though he consented. They’re treating me as though I committed a crime which I didn’t because he consented and could have said stop at any point.”
The man eventually complained to the school administration, leaving Yegge bewildered. According to Yegge, everything was normal after the performance. The classmate, according to Yegge, even smiled when he asked to be cut from the ropes that held him nearly immobile for the duration of the class project.
School officials, though, were not smiling when they called Yegge in for consultation and placed him on academic probation. They advised him to get counseling and an AIDS test, and make the results known to his sex partners.
School officials also talked with Yegge’s professor Tony Labat about the dangers of allowing the performance to take place in a supervised course. Labat, an SFAI alumnus and an associate professor in the New Genres Department, has taught at the school since 1985. Labat said, after meeting with school officials for several hours behind closed doors, that Yegge’s piece was simply bad art that was done irresponsibly and that he could not understand why anyone would be interested.
After being told to create a project that would push the limits of art, Yegge claims that he outlined the project to Labat and got his OK. “I did a piece, I stayed within the rules, and then I got in trouble for it,” Yegge laments. “I got put on probation. Then they created a rule after that got distributed to all the teachers about no more using bodily fluids in art and such…. They told me I can’t have unprotected or protected sex on campus anymore.”
“Two professors, a security guard, and a whole class of students” were present, Yegge notes, “and any one of them could have jumped in and stopped it too if it looked like something was going wrong. Nobody did anything. Nobody complained afterwards. Nobody.”
Labat has not been disciplined by the school, and administrators have not given any indication that they will do so.
SFAI Dean of Academic Affairs Larry Thomas released a statement saying, “It is considered a serious violation for you or any individual to participate in any activity, sexual or not, which involves exposing yourself or others to any bodily fluids or excretions including but not limited to feces, urine, semen, saliva, and blood.”
Quill claims that the issue over the performance is one of “health and safety” and that “it is not a matter of freedom of expression. It is a matter of safety [and] responsibility. [Yegge] created something very unsafe, that is what the issue is absolutely. It is a health and safety issue and we are not in any way censoring him.” If, as the school claims, it is a health and safety issue, why haven’t officials taken disciplinary action against the two professors who attended the performance, one of them being Labat?
Yegge claims that he spent several months planning the performance, reading over the school handbook as well as the mission statement of the “New Genres Department,” which encourages students to “work outside of the more traditional practices of painting and sculpture.”
Yegge goes on to say that Labat had asked him to produce the piece for the class. Labat, in a seeming attempt to protect not only himself but also the school, said that he was unaware of Yegge’s intentions. However, Labat not only allowed the performance, he did not even attempt to stop the piece while it was taking place in front of a mixed audience of about twenty students. One of Labat’s female students who was present at the show was so upset that she planned a protest performance piece. Others agree that Yegge’s “artwork” was an outrage, and had no place on a college campus even in liberal-minded San Francisco.
While people in the area are talking about what happened on the campus, the SFAI has barricaded itself behind a wall of silence, refusing to speak of the incident (several attempts were made to talk with officials about what happened but they refused to talk about the incident). In the near future, though, it may be necessary for the SFAI to talk very publicly of Yegge’s exhibition. The volunteer’s mother is said to be a judge and that the anonymous volunteer may decide to sue the school, though no criminal charges have been filed yet.
Although his time at the San Francisco Art Institute is finished, Yegge says he is “intending to get a degree in theology or philosophy.”
More Discrimination a Poisonous Cure for Discrimination
Reviewed by Eric Langborgh
A few weeks ago, a disgruntled black man named Ronald Taylor went on a shooting rampage in a town just outside of Pittsburgh, eventually shooting five white men and killing three of them. Letters were found in his apartment containing invectives aimed at whites, Jews, Asians, Italians, police, and the media, all of whom he blamed for his lot in life.
Several years ago, massive riots took place in Los Angeles and other cities around the United States following the acquittal of four L.A. police officers from charges that they had used unnecessary force in arresting Rodney King. Hundreds of blacks and Hispanics took to the streets causing over $900 million in property losses as they destroyed and looted downtown businesses.
No crimes had been committed against Taylor or the rioters by their victims, but the “white devil” of “institutional racism,” as many on the Left have spun the incidences, somehow legitimized their rage.
Institutional racism is also behind the supposed need for government interference in the lives of its citizens for the cause of “civil rights.” This shadowy phenomenon is theoretically behind the lagging economic status and poor schoolwork of many members of underrepresented groups. The results of this regulatory state as a cure, however, are no less destructive to society than the above criminal acts.
A Cure Worse than the Disease: Fighting Discrimination Through Government Control is M. Lester O’Shea’s admirable effort to empirically and logically show the faulty premises behind, and the ramifications of, using unequal laws to rectify perceived unjust discrimination in society.
“In a stunningly brief time,” O’Shea begins his work, “the dominant view in public discussion has come to be that the prominent group of white males, in particular, have such animosity toward women, darker-skinned people, older people, and people of every type of handicap, physical or mental, that only if government and courts have ultimate authority over individuals’ advancement can such centuries-old oppression be overthrown.”
O’Shea contends the very notion that America is racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, etc. is fundamentally implausible. That some invisible hand of oppression is holding all people down who are not heterosexual white males is not feasible in a land where Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is at work. The author reminds readers of Booker T. Washington’s advice that, an “individual who can do something that the world wants, will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race.”
Consumers care little about the ethnicity of those who make the products they desire, as Detroit found out when Japanese cars became popular. An entrepreneur knows he can make windfall profits by making use of neglected human resources. A company cannot compete within its own country, much less the world market, if it insists on hiring less-qualified white males at the cost of better qualified women and minorites working for its competitors. The prisoner’s dilemma which breaks down all cartels in the end through the incentive to “cheat” also makes ludicrous the notion that some conspiracy of racists and bigots would work together to hold whole portions of the population down, therefore costing themselves customers and money.
The idea that America remains hopelessly bigoted is implausible, the author explains. For decades Americans have been exposed to education, speeches, films, television, and books denouncing bigotry of all sorts. Recent studies show that 95% of Americans surveyed agree that merit, rather than characteristics unrelated to work ability, should be the basis for hiring and promotion decisions. Even in 1972, 97% of whites surveyed called for equal opportunity for blacks to get any job.
Far from revealing their “true selves” in the privacy of the voting booth, Americans have been more than willing to support candidates and issues that support “affirmative action” for women and minorities. And that well-intentioned sentiment is just the problem, writes the author.
“Even if there is significant discrimination,” he argues, “it doesn’t automatically follow that free choice in this area should be replaced by government control.”
O’Shea points this out in his description of how socialists impute villainy to the successful. “[T]he Nazis, unwilling to attribute the success of Jews in Germany in so many areas…to ability or effort, attributed it instead to trickery and clannishness.”
Likewise, for today’s unsuccessful groups the explanation for the white man’s success is “institutional racism” and the exploitation of minorities and women. “All this nonsense proves is that the relatively unsuccessful are relatively unsuccessful: that is, they are relatively scarce at the top,” says the author, “which proves nothing whatsoever about racism.”
It does, though, raise questions as to why certain groups are more successful than others. The achievements of Asians and Jews as groups, and the abundance of individuals from “under-performing” minority groups—people like Oprah Winfrey, who had to make her way in the free market absent any affirmative action—certainly belies racism as an excuse. Irish and Italians, as well as various Asian groups suffered much discrimination upon immigration to the U.S. The Japanese suffered in internment camps during World War II. Yet all perform very well in America today both scholastically and career-wise.
Blacks point to slavery and Jim Crow (another example of government discrimination and racial preferences), but the former has been abolished for over 130 years and Jim Crow has long since passed, as well. What is forgotten is that the West was the first civilization to end slavery, as tragic a practice it was, because Westerners slowly came to realize that the abrogation of another man’s right to the liberty of his will was antithetical to Western values. Conversely, slavery is still practiced in parts of Africa, and is the underlying practical principle of communism, such as seen in Red China.
For the purveyors of multiculturalism, this is anathema to even mention. So writes O’Shea,
The current vogue for ‘multi-culturalism’ in practice amounts largely to denigration of Western civilization, uncritical enthusiasm for anything from primitive cultures, and an insistence that Western Europeans are the villains of the world…. a consistent and honest multi-culturalist would take note, say, of the position of women throughout the non-Western world, in Africa, in the Moslem world, in India, and suggest, ‘We must be open to the wisdom of the rest of the world and should think twice about the desirability of women’s possessing the status and freedoms they enjoy in the West.’
The normal response of man is to flee oppression—that is, genuine oppression that can’t be borne without relief. Where are the flocks of oppressed fleeing our shores? Why would boatloads of Haitians and Vietnamese and Cubans flee into oppression? Obviously, oppression cannot be an explanation for group failure.
O’Shea dares to tread some very politically incorrect waters here in explaining relative group success, which is refreshing in one sense and sure to challenge the reader even as he may not agree with all the conclusions. He brings up The Bell Curve and the “simplest” explanation that differences may in fact be genetic. He enters some dangerous territory here, but his thoughts ultimately emphasize the triumph of individualism over group dynamics. “No one hires, or otherwise deals with averages, but rather specific individuals, and, regardless of averages, all races are found at all points on the IQ spectrum.”
Even leaving intelligence aside, behavioral problems go a long way toward explaining group differences. The illegitimacy rate among blacks is much higher than among whites, soaring in recent years to over two-thirds of all black births, and over 80% in some slum areas. “Growing up in a single-parent home, much more likely than the average to be dependant on welfare, very possibly in an environment pervaded by drugs, alcohol, gangs, and violence,” the author concludes, “is not likely to encourage good study habits.”
Most alarming is a recent study by university anthropologists of Washington, D.C. schools that concluded, “many black students may perform poorly in high school because of a shared sense that academic success is a sellout to the white world.” Among the taboos: speaking standard English, studying in the library, and being on time. Stories abound of good students being ostracized by their classmates when their scholastic achievements are recognized. One San Francisco student wrote, “I remember hearing words like ‘Oreo’ and ‘wanna-be-white girl’ all through my school days and the taunts continue to a lesser degree in college.” Large numbers of black students drop out of high school.
“Not helpful is the common practice of ignoring family and community conditions and attitudes and instead denouncing the schools,” writes O’Shea.
Up to this point, the response has been to throw more money at these schools, even though per capita spending in “inner-city” schools is often much higher than schools with better performing students. The response has also been to institute racial preferences in college admissions, thereby excluding qualified whites and Asians while rewarding those with bad study habits.
In the marketplace, the response has been equally as grave. Frivolous litigation pervades our courtrooms with huge settlements going to discrimination claimants. Racial quotas are instituted in large corporations for fear of government reprisals. A Cure Worse than the Disease does an excellent job in empirically showing the damage of multiculturalism and political correctness.
This is not to say the book doesn’t have its weaknesses. The strident tone and assumption of a conclusion in the beginning of the work threatens to turn off fence-stradlers before they reach the meat of O’Shea’s argument. The author’s heavy use of personal experiences, especially in the first few chapters, subtracts from the analytical quality of his book. Though his memory of race relations in a better time may be enduring to him, more first hand accounts and statistics from earlier times in America’s history would have served his case better. Personal perceptions are not as persuasive as the abundance of statistics, headlines, facts, and logic weaved throughout the rest of the book.
And though this reviewer appreciates the wide-sweeping take on the whole issue of the anti-discrimination regulatory state and its quasi-religious underpinning, a fair and deeper treatment of the statist Jim Crow Laws would have added much to this otherwise very good book. The almost dismissive tone of previous state-sanctioned discrimination against minorities puts somewhat of a hole in what would have been an almost airtight case against governmental reverse discrimination.