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Diversity of 'Provocation' By: Jon Sanders
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, September 19, 2002


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser recently told the National Press Club in Washington that the university would continue to pick "provocative" books for its infamous Summer Reading Program. No one asked, "Provocative to whom?"

A survey conducted this year of several departments at UNC-CH by the student independent magazine Carolina Review found that more than four-fifths of faculty are registered Democrats. A similar survey conducted in 1996 by The Daily Tar Heel found 91 percent registered Democrats. In his "State of the University" address last year, Moeser said "We must have the courage and the fortitude to stand by our beliefs and act upon them," suggesting an alignment rather than a diversity of beliefs, and shortly thereafter followed with, "Is it not time that we reclaimed the words 'character' and 'values' from the extreme right and put them back into the mainstream of secular, public higher education?"

Moeser "spoke of 'we,' presumably meaning the left-leaning academic community, as opposed to an undefined 'extremist right,'" wrote a former UNC-CH vice-chancellor for development and public relations, Arch T. Allen, in the October 2001 Carolina Journal, "While invoking the political spectrum in the context of free speech, he ignored the consensus of opinion outside of the academy, ranging from liberals like Nat Hentoff to conservatives like David Horowitz, that the threat to free speech on our campuses comes not from the right but from the academic left itself."

UNC-CH has "a moral responsibility to our state and our nation to bring to the public square the great issues of our day," Moeser said then. Having "provocation" as a goal of the Summer Reading Program provides UNC-CH one good way to meet that responsibility. Moeser also said, "Diversity is a vital component of our vision." If that's so, then surely UNC-CH should value the diversity of ideas by provoking "our convictions" inside the university as well.

It would not be too difficult to compile a reading list provocative to those inside UNC-CH. After all, what the university community finds provocative makes headlines. Here are a few suggestions to further diversity in the reading program's provocation:

  • Militant Islam Reaches America, by Daniel Pipes (Norton), a book that goes exactly and uncompromisingly where this year's reading-program provocation doesn't.

  • First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas, by Scott Douglas Gerber (New York University), a dispassionate analysis of Thomas' judicial opinions. Thomas' speech at UNC-CH last March was publicly boycotted by five members of UNC-CH's law faculty.

  • What's So Great About America, by Dinesh D'Souza (Regnery), an intellectual case for American patriotism. UNC-CH held several "teach-ins" alleging America's complicity in, and perhaps direct cause of, the terrorist attacks.

  • Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences, by Ward Connerly (Encounter). Connerly's visits to UNC-CH have caused large, loud protests.

  • To Be a Man: Letters to My Grandson, by Charlton Heston (Simon & Schuster), about doing your best, keeping your promises, being fair, being moral, being steadfast, etc. When conservatives tried to bring Heston to speak at UNC-CH just a few years ago, Student Congress repeatedly withheld funding for the event until Heston cancelled.

  • Uncivil Wars: The Controversy over Reparations for Slavery, by David Horowitz (Encounter). Horowitz's op-ed in The Daily Tar Heel on that topic last year provoked a storm of controversy, as did his subsequent campus visit (with public boycott).

  • Gianna: Aborted ... and Lived to Tell About it, by Jessica Shaver (Focus on the Family), a biography of a teenaged abortion survivor who, despite her cerebral palsy, travels the country as an advocate for the rights of the unborn. Last year's anti-abortion exhibit on the UNC-CH campus by the Genocide Awareness Project created great anger in many campus circles.

  • Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sport Is Crippling Undergraduate Education, by Murray Sperber (Holt), also criticizes universities' publish-or-perish mentality, little interaction between professors and students, and overreliance on adjuncts and teaching assistants. In Washington, Moeser joked that "Carolina's religion remains basketball."

  • Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, by Ann H. Coulter (Crown). Possibly the most provocative of the lot, this book would be especially valuable to journalism students.

The above suggestions are made on the assumption that the mores and values of the great "we" of Moeser's speech are not above provocation. After all, no truly "great university" would fear the light of its own critical inquiry. How refreshing it would be if UNC-CH examined all "the great issues of our day," and not just the ones that don't upset the mortarboards within.


Jon Sanders (jsanders@johnlocke.org) is a research editor at the John Locke Foundation.


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