The Big Chill

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Two veteran professors from both coasts gave Campus Report radio listeners an idea of the chill on free speech of politically correct norms in academia particularly on issues relating in any way to race.

“When I came out publicly for Proposition 209 in California, I had people in the administration tell me privately that they agreed with me but could not say so publicly,” Dr. Charles Geshekter remembers of the fight over the ballot initiative in California which legally eliminated race as a consideration in college admissions to state universities. “It became very annoying.”

Dr. Geshekter is a professor emeritus of African history at California State University (CSU) at Chico. On Proposition 209 and on many other issues, Dr. Geshekter’s independence makes him virtually a minority of one.

“We have about 17,000 professors in the California state university system,” Dr. Geshekter estimates. “I would say that about 50 came out publicly for Proposition 209.”

His advocacy of 209 did not create a large fan club for Dr. Geshekter among school administration officials, faculty or student groups at CSU-Chico. Demonstrated against at public meetings and forums, Dr. Geshekter remembers that his primary opposition on campus came from feminist student groups.

“They saw that it would affect them eventually,” Dr. Geshekter says.

The reaction to Dr. Geshekter, who was deposed as a witness in the Michigan case on racial preferences, has abated somewhat on his own campus. Dr. Geshekter already had tenure when he went public with his support of 209.

“You have to be a full-time professor with tenure nearing retirement to take on a role like that,” Dr. Geshekter says. “Although I think that I would have done so even without tenure.”

As Dr. Geshekter explains it, the issue is not only one of basic fairness in not giving any ethnic group preferential treatment but with that, one of maintaining academic standards. Such standards are as important in evaluating college acceptances as they are in providing academic scholarship.

Search committees set up by colleges and universities to examine applications for teaching openings also look at everything but intellectual diversity. “They look at credentials, collegiality and ethnic diversity,” Dr. Geshekter noted. “As though we think with our skin.”

He himself rarely shies away from controversy. His questioning of AIDS statistics from Africa, based on on-the-scene research he conducted on the continent itself, has also generated much derision in the academic community.

Dr. Geshekter serves as a campus advisor to the student GOP club at CSU-Chico, an honor he finds somewhat ironic. “A lifelong liberal Democrat serving as advisor to the College Republicans,” Dr. Geshekter reflects. “That’s diversity.”

The Baltimore, Md.-native has been a minority-within-a-minority before. He did undergraduate work at Howard University in Washington, D. C., a historically black college [and/or] university.

His friend, Jay Bergman, found himself in a lonely spot when he took a very tangible step to protect academic freedom on his campus. In 1996, Dr. Bergman pasted copies of a story from Accuracy in Academia’s Campus Report, then in newspaper form, in a public spot on his campus at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU).

When an older student tore them down, Dr. Bergman put them back up, pointing out that he was well within his rights in doing so. The administration at CCSU felt differently, threatening him with legal action until press attention and the threat of legal action by Dr. Bergman made the school fathers back off.

“It cost me $7,000 in legal fees,” Dr. Bergman remembers. This was not the last time that Dr. Bergman ran afoul of the campus thought police.

In 2003, Dr. Bergman publicly criticized the school’s Africa studies program on slavery reparations as lacking balance with no speakers invited to present the case against reparations. A similar imbalance can be seen in the approach that the school takes to a host of issues including gun control and abortion.

As we have previously shown in Campus Report online, Dr. Bergman’s observations on the school’s lecture series led to denunciations of the tenured professor by faculty and students alike. Still, Dr. Bergman’s critics were unsuccessful in silencing him this time, as well.

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In another segment of the broadcast, Campus Report columnist Deborah Lambert pointed out that Harvard has appointed a “fun czar.” Paid for by university funds, the fun czar will assist Harvard students in an activity few collegiates seem to have ever had trouble figuring out for themselves—how to party. Miss Lambert writes the ‘Squeaky Chalk’ column that appears in the monthly newsletter edition of Campus Report.