Flashback Friday: Campus political correctness in 1988

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Campus political correctness appears to be back. (Perhaps it never left.) The Kipnis kerfuffle at Northwestern is viewed by many as symbolic of a wave of illiberal attitudes sweeping college campuses. Is this the same political correctness some of us experience on campuses years (or decades) ago? Or is it something quite different?

These questions made me think about my first-ever opinion column in college: a brief piece titled "Lux et Liberal: Politically Correct Politics at Yale," published on Sept. 16, 1988, in the Yale Herald. Here it is:

Well, it's happened already, and I have only been back at Yale for a week. Once again, despite my earring, my fashion-conscious attire and my progressive music tastes, I have been reminded that I am still not PC at Yale. For those unfamiliar with the initials PC, they stand for Politically Correct, a stigma that has infested the finer universities in America since the 1960's, and all indications are that it will be here for a while.

To be PC it does not take much effort, one simply needs to wet one's finger and hold it to the political wind and follow the currents of hot air. One would then find oneself in favor of the shanties, the FMLN in El Salvador, Nuclear Disarmament, Animal Rights, Locals 34 and 35, and of course Mike Dukakis (although Lloyd Bentsen cannot be perceived as more than a necessary evil to attain the White House). On the other hand, to maintain one's PC status, one would also have to oppose Robert Bork, aid to any non-socialist Latin American government, fraternities, secret societies, the CIA, red meat and anything remotely resembling a Republican. (Lowell Weicker is summarily excused.)

You see, being PC really isn't so hard now is it? After all, this is Yale, and we are all college students who are supposed to be liberal and idealistic. Forget reality, that does not come into play until after graduation when we all become investment bankers on Wall Street. (I admit it is a scary thought.)

It does not matter that the term Liberal as used in the definition of the typical college student is supposed to refer to open-mindedness and not one's personal political beliefs. Somehow I often get the feeling that this is one part of being PC at Yale (or any university for that matter) that should be there but is not. It simply becomes too easy to contently nod one's head in agreement with the majority instead of turning against the flow to stand up for what one believes in.

A warning to all those just beginning their four year trek into the realms of enlightenment: questioning the status quo is always an appropriate course of action, especially for a college student. At Yale, PC is just another term for that status quo, and it is tremendously frightening (at least to me) to think that only a few at Yale are willing to question it. Here of all places one would expect intellectually challenging debate to flourish and truly shape the ideologies of those involved. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The PC stigma has created an intellectual laziness on this campus that permeates all but the tiniest crevices. It is this stigma more than anything else at Yale that is a threat to the true spirit of a liberal education. After all, a college experience devoid of any true challenge to one's ideology is worthless one, and as I look around Yale's campus, I realize that so many here are missing out on so much.

In some respects—the closed-minded group-think—it seems little has changed. On the other hand, in 1988 criticizing the prevailing progressive orthodoxy would not trigger a Title IX inquisition.