Unfortunately, powerful campus groups did not find any humor (much less understand, apparently, the parodic point) in that article, and successfully lobbied the student government to issue a series of demands, including “diversity training” sessions for the malefactors. (“Diversity training,” is a thinly-veiled form of Orwellian thought-reform becoming increasingly common in higher education, as well as in the world of commerce.) The editors of Gravity capitulated to most of the demands of the student government, even though an unscientific online poll conducted by the Justice, the undergraduate newspaper, showed the silent majority of students thought that the sanctions were too strict. All but one of the editors have since resigned, with the remaining editor pledging to implement “a more effective editorial hierarchy” in the future.
Of course, casual disregard for free speech is not a new development at Tufts or Brandeis; both universities have a history of failing to protect free speech and academic freedom. In fact, in 1989, a male sophomore at Tufts who produced and sold T-shirts with the slogan WHY BEER IS BETTER THAN WOMEN AT TUFTS prompted administrators to adopt a “speech zones” plan, which divided the campus into areas where speech was restricted. The censorship plan was ultimately abandoned when students protested this attack on their freedom (and when the student protests gained prominent notice in the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Village Voice). Similarly, Brandeis came under scrutiny this past year for removing a student art exhibit that featured paintings by children in a West Bank youth center, arguing, rather incoherently, that the exhibit did not evenly present both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The alarming difference between those past incidents of campus censorship and what happened to the Primary Source and Gravity is that last week’s purges were almost entirely student-engineered. This past week’s disciplinary proceedings demonstrate that the students, far from protesting encroachments on their academic freedom and free-speech rights as they have in the past, are now enabling their own repression. The Tufts and Brandeis administrations, for a number of years engaged in a war with students’ fighting for their freedom, have finally prevailed. The students might now proudly boast, to quote the late Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip popular with an earlier generation of students, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”
Harvey Silverglate is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, and FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has publicly protested these incidents. Jan Wolfe was an editor of the Heights, Boston College’s student newspaper in 2003 and 2004.