I am currently attending the University of Michigan as a 3rd year student majoring in Political Science. Michigan is probably known to most these days because of the recent Supreme Court decision on racial preferences in its admission policies and for for the battles over diversity on campus. Diversity is, in fact, one of the most talked about topics on campus. It is virtually impossible to attend the University and not be confronted by the diversity issue on a regular basis.
In pursuit of diversity, the university strives to achieve a multi-ethnic student body, albeit primarily in terms of three designated “oppressed” groups covered by the racial preference quotas – blacks, Hispanics and “Native Americans.” On the other hand, there is no such concern about the one diversity that a university might be presumed to take for granted: the diversity of intellectual ideas.
I came to Michigan ready to learn and experience all of the things college has to offer. I found out very quickly, however, that having opinions different from that of the vocal majority would single me out for constant abuse both casual and not so casual. It was certainly not the kind of college experience I had been led to expect -- an intellectual atmosphere that supported the open exchange of ideas. As an outspoken conservative and Republican I soon learned that students with ideas like mine were treated as second-class citizens by the faculty and administration, and consequently by their classmates.
As a freshman living in Mary Markley Hall, a dorm composed primarily of freshmen, I found that voicing intellectual or political opinions was not openly accepted if you disagreed with the leftist consensus shared by the dorm counselors and a majority of the students alike. During my fist semester, I cut a cartoon out of the most read paper on campus, the Michigan Daily, which endorsed Affirmative Action as a progressive admissions policy for the university. I disagreed with the policy and with this cartoon, so I decided to alter it on my computer to make it reflect my own views. When I was finished, I tacked it on my dorm room door.
Immediately, I discovered I was not alone. Other students asked for a copy of my version of the cartoon to place on their doors. I should note that almost every door in the dorm had a posting of some kind or another. It took only a few minutes after several students had joined me in tacking the cartoon to their doors before I was approached by a Residence Advisor (an upper level student hired by the university to monitor activities in the dorms) demanding that the cartoon be removed. The reason given was that other residents were offended by the opinion it expressed.
I refused the demand and was immediately accosted by an Assistant Hall Director. Both the RA and the Director insisted I take down the cartoon, which the Assistant Hall Director was now calling “racist.” There was in fact nothing racist (or profane) in my cartoon as the Assistant Hall Director claimed. Nor did it contain any content prohibited by law or the university. I held my ground and continued my refusal to remove the offending document. I was then informed that I would be reprimanded and possibly kicked out of my dorm.
Sure enough, I was summed to see the Head Hall Director who also insisted on the cartoon’s removal. This time I decided to comply with the order until I had obtained legal counsel. Like the central figure of a Kafka novel I already felt I was in waters over my head. I contacted a lawyer and the only professor at the University, whom I knew to be sympathetic to my conservative my views. I also contacted the ACLU of Washtenaw County, which offered to help. After I obtained these allies, I was contacted by the Housing Director – who had been called in to the case -- and a now sheepish Residence Adviser – who told me that the attempt to censor my views (my word not theirs) was wrong and I could put the cartoon back on my door. In short, only the fact that the world outside the University of Michigan still respects the First Amendment, allowed me to express my ideas.
In my sophomore year, I encountered another level of the ideological orthodoxy at Michigan. I was sitting in my first Political Science class – a lecture hall filled with about 400 students -- when the professor, whose name was Hanes Walton Jr. entered the room five minutes late and informed us that a student had an announcement to make. I noticed the speaker just as he proceeded to launch an attack on the Coors Brewing Company to the students assembled. The core of his speech was that our class needed to boycott Coors because its owner, Joseph Coors, had donated money to the cause of eliminating racial preferences (which the speaker naturally referred to as “affirmative action”) and was thus a racist. This student speaker was not even enrolled in the class but had been invited by the professor for the express purpose of making his political statement and attempting to recruit the class to his cause.
The student activist didn’t stop with his attack on Coors but went on to say that all white male Republicans and conservatives were racist and that it was “our” duty to organize to stop them. As an obvious member of the enemy group, the twelve minutes this tirade went on seemed like an eternity to me. I also could not help wondering about my fate in a class taught by a professor who would encourage this kind of attack (or for that matter my career in the Political Science Department itself). At the end of the tirade, I raised my hand and asked Professor Walton if I should even bother coming to the lectures anymore to have my time wasted in this manner.
For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to directly confront my professor and the four hundred students, many of whom I knew would be hostile, and ask why he would invite someone into his class to insult and demonize me and the other conservative students who opposed racial preferences. In retrospect I think I was still hoping to keep my identity as a conservative out of the line of fire. I could have spared myself this effort, however, as his response to my question made clear. In a patronizing tone he referred to me as his “Republican friend,” and asked if I wanted to come down and address the class on my own topic of choice. Having been attacked as a white racist and reactionary and an enemy of the people by his guest, I didn’t think my chances of escaping further ridicule were especially promising, and declined. With all the instincts of the bullies I had encountered in my neighborhood as a youngster, Professor Walton refused to let me retreat, and continued to bait me, asking if I was afraid to speak to the class and express my views. His comments encouraged leftist students in the auditorium to start calling me names and booing me.
I guess I was cowed but I was determined not to surrender. When the class was over I went went straight to the Dean’s Office to protest. It took me several complaints and emails to get an audience with an Assistant Dean, who listened somewhat sympathetically. The Assistant Dean, as I was informed, spoke to Professor Walton who made what I felt was a partial apology. But nothing was done in terms of the class itself, whose 400 students got the clear message that there was only one decent view that one could have on an issue on which the entire country was decided. The opposing view, shared by most conservatives and Republicans was simply “racist” and unclean.
One troubling aspect of this incident is that there remains no written University policy, available to students, that would prevent this kind of political proseltyzing in the classroom. No grievance procedure for students like myself publicly humiliated for not sharing the leftwing orthodoxy of the University of Michigan classroom. Time and again I have had to listen to my professors’ tangential rants about the “stolen” election of 2000 and lunatic references to George W. Bush as “our terrorist president.” If students like myself object to these political salvos, we are subjected to ridicule by professors who can affect our grades and who think nothing of humiliating us in front of our peers.
Recently the outgoing chair of the Political Science Department gave an interview to the local Ann Arbor paper that showed how deeply embedded in the university culture this intolerant and unprofessional approach to education is at the University of Michigan. The article appeared in the September 2004 edition of the Ann Arbor Observer and was written by Lynn Waldsmith and titled the Loneliness of a College Republican. In the article, Professor Daniel Levine is described as “having little sympathy for conservative students who incur the wrath of their classmates.” His reason? “If I would’ve announced myself as [being with] students for apartheid in South Africa, I would’ve gotten a negative reaction too.” I get it. Republicans are racists and supporters of Apartheid, and should be grateful that liberals like myself tolerate their existence and don’t lynch them.
Of course Professor Levine thought nothing of the silent blacklist of conservatives at the University which prevents students like myself from having a single ideologically compatible professor in the Political Science Department for counsel. In Professor Levine’s view, “complaining about the dearth of conservatives is both ‘inappropriate’ and ‘irrelevant.’” Of course it is. Why should the university have racists on its faculty? Professor Levine’s comment shows that he is well aware (as I am sure other leftwing faculty members are too) that there is no real intellectual diversity in the University of Michigan’s Political Science Department. They just don’t care.