Are Colleges Drowning in Political Correctness? | Conversations in the Digital Age

Are Colleges Drowning in Political Correctness? | Conversations in the Digital Age

September 8, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


♪♪ [THEME MUSIC] ♪♪>>>JIM ZIRIN: Hi
there. I’m Jim Zirin. Welcome back to more
Conversations in the Digital Age. Many have found themselves
appalled in recent months by events at some of our
leading campuses seeking to shut down what appears
to be the perfectly reasonable exercise of
academic freedom. Whether it is University
issued placemats in the Harvard dining halls
seeking to give students politically correct
talking points as to how to speak to their families
about controversial issues or uncivil student attacks
on faculty members at Yale who had expressed
opposition to administration edicts on
appropriate Halloween costumes or students
taking over the president’s office at
Princeton to demand that the name of Woodrow Wilson
be removed from venerable university institutions
because in their view our twenty eighth president
was a racist. Here to help us understand what is going on
is Anne-Marie Slaughter. Anne-Marie Slaughter is
president and C.E.O. of New America, a
Washington think tank. She was the first woman to
hold the post of director of policy planning in the
U.S. State Department. She was formerly the dean
of Princeton’s prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of
Public and International Affairs and she is the
author of the best selling and widely discussed book. Unfinished Business,
Women, Men, Work, Family. About women’s and men’s
wrenching conflicts as they make difficult work
life choices. Anne-Marie Slaughter we
are delighted to have you back on the program.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Delighted to be here.>>>JIM ZIRIN: Now what is
going on in our universities? When I went to college, as
did you, I thought students were there to learn and teachers
were there to teach.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Well so I think a lot of different things are going
on and I have to say when I was there we
demonstrated against Princeton’s investing in
South Africa so I did my time marching around in
front of Nassau Hall holding a placard telling
the university to divest and of course ten years before I
was there maybe closer to when you were there there
were all the protests about the Vietnam War so protest
on campus is not new. I think part of what’s
happening here is a sense on the part of minority
students in what are venerable old white
largely male traditionally institutions that they’re
not being heard. That there are things in
the way the university is named or is conducting its
business that are offensive and their voices
are not being heard and I’m all for their voices
being heard I guess the question is then what
follows from that.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So the way
to be heard is to take over the president’s
office for a couple of days.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
It did get his attention.>>>JIM ZIRIN: He comes to
work and he sees this.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
That’s true although to be fair yeah having been Dean
of the Woodrow Wilson School there been
complaints for many years on the part of minority
students that Woodrow Wilson was a racist and he
was. You know part of this
debate has reminded people that he re-segregated the
federal government. He wasn’t just you know a
passive racist, he actually acted on his
views and that yes for a minority student to be in
a school named for somebody who thought you
were inferior to whites is attention I would say you
know as a woman I’m certainly there are plenty
of people who Princeton buildings are named for
who did not ever think women should be at
Princeton so I am sympathetic to the need to
be heard and I understand you know the sort of need
to really make a statement. I think the question is
how then do you respond?>>>JIM ZIRIN: Well let’s
talk about Wilson for a minute. I mean, Wilson had a special
relationship to Princeton. I mean they didn’t name
the Woodrow Wilson School after Wilson simply because he was
someone who held political power. They named it after
Wilson because he was the first place a graduate of
Princeton, he was the president of Princeton, he
started the Preceptorial system, he coined the term
which is the watchword of Princeton’s faith Princeton
in the nation’s service and so really it was someone
who merited recognition.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I
agree with you. I agree on all those points and indeed without
Woodrow Wilson Princeton could still be a gentleman’s
country club. I mean he has a particular
role at Princeton and yes Princeton in the nation’s
service is what many of us who went to Princeton are
proudest of. He also conceived of the
Woodrow Wilson School. He had a vision around
1900 of a school of law in government that would be
for undergraduates so it isn’t just being named for
a president. That said I would not
change the name of the school. I do think that we could
present a much more nuanced version of who
Woodrow Wilson was and I would use example of
Thomas Jefferson because I grew up in Charlottesville
and when I used to go to Monticello it was all
about the great Jefferson who wrote the Declaration
of Independence and founded the University of Virginia just
all the wonderful things. No one ever mentioned that
he had slaves. No one ever mentioned that
he fathered children with one of those slaves nor
that he did not free his slaves when he died, the
man who wrote all men are created equal but now when
you go to Monticello those stories are told. Right? So you see the whole man
and you see a man who was a great man but also a
flawed man and I think we could do much more of that
at Princeton.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So would you
take down the mural at Princeton of Woodrow Wilson in the
hall? It’s a beautiful. It’s where people dine
like the way people took down the statue of Lenin
in Moscow.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
No. I mean, so you know I
think there really is a question about how do you
do this? You could imagine having a
permanent exhibit in the atrium when you walk in about
Woodrow Wilson as president or Woodrow Wilson and race
something that said very prominently this you know
this man whose name graces the school this is
another part of his legacy. Now you know we have come
way beyond that so that today we can debate it, so
we can criticize it, we can condemn it, we can
understand that yes he was a man of his times but
there were men of his times who were not as
racist as he was but something that makes clear
that the university understands that and
respects the feelings of those who he thought were
inferior. Although I have to say he also thought
women were inferior. He finally did support the
19th amendment but under duress.>>>JIM ZIRIN: Well it’s
hard really to imagine Wilson as a racist
although our attitudes toward race in this
country have evolved overtime and another
Princeton graduate James Madison after whom a
building is named at Princeton, went to
Princeton and had a distinguished career and
was one of the founding fathers and wrote the
Constitution. So long with Hamilton and
John Jay and these founding fathers many of
them were slaveholders. Washington freed his
slaves but the others did not and are we to take
their names off all buildings at the
institution despite the fact that they really
bring honor and luster to the institution because
they were founding fathers of our country?>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Yes. They were and I would
argue that the words they wrote have been the words
that successive generations of citizens
have been able to hold our government and our society
to so that all men are created equal really meant
all white men of property. That’s really the men that
the founding fathers thought about but over
time you know first men who didn’t have property,
then African-American men, then women then different
classes, all citizens have been able to do that. I don’t, I would not
support taking the name off. I mean, there’s some cases
in which I would. I remember in Cambridge
Massachusetts when my son was going to a local
elementary school it was named for Louis Agassi who
was really a pretty vicious racist and that
was renamed the Baldwin School and that was fine
because it was a school that belonged to the
people now. Great institutions like
our great universities I think instead of taking
away we should add. It should be more. It should. It should foster debate
about how somebody could be very good in some ways
and bad in others. That’s also part of a
liberal arts education. Is to teach people to take
the simple and make it complex. Right? To question.
To challenge. And in that sense I would
say that I think a lot of these African-Americans
students have complicated what is sometimes too easy
a picture.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So if you
would rename the Woodrow Wilson School the Martin
Luther King School of Public and International
Affairs I mean that would be problematic too for
many. First place he didn’t have
that much to do with international affairs and
secondly he had a complicated personal life
and we would we be honoring his sins as well
as his virtues?>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Well I mean again we have holidays, we have- I mean,
there is no founding father that I can think
of, maybe George Washington but I probably
don’t know enough about him, who does not have a
complicated life in some way and many of our great
presidents, many of our great figures, absolutely
and again that’s the point. That you don’t just put
them in sort of two dimensions you see them as
a whole. I would not rename the Woodrow Wilson School
the Martin Luther King School. I could imagine naming a
lecture hall in it or some part of it for Martin
Luther King or probably better for some Princeton
graduate who had played a really progressive role on
race. To again to add to the
picture. But what I think is
important is- I watched the videos at Yale where
lots of people were appalled that this young African-American
woman was screaming at the->>>JIM ZIRIN: Erika
Christakis.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Right. But she was actually
screaming at Nick Christakis, the husband
and you know when you look looked at it you thought
wait a minute this, as you said, this isn’t civil
debate but what I saw was a young woman who felt she
really just wasn’t being heard and her scream was
just the frustration of why can’t you hear me and
she was saying and I thought, with some
justice, my college needs to be if place where I
feel safe. It is my home. You know it is my dorm. And I have to feel safe
here and you’re not hearing me. And I think she was right
that to simply respond with a classic well this
is a haven for free speech was not taking account of
someone’s lived experience that you know frankly he
had never gone through.>>>JIM ZIRIN: But don’t we
all feel unsafe to some degree in a free society? We read things in the
paper every day and we hear things in the
political campaign that the micro aggressions that
make us feel uneasy. At Harvard students,
Harvard Law School, your alma mater, they said the
students shouldn’t be taught the law of rape
because it was disturbing and students felt unsafe. But who is going to
administer the law of rape, execute the law, make the
law, find nuance in the law? Some lawyers and how are
they going to do it if they’re not taught about
the law of rape?>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
So to shift ground to my other alma mater, I have
many alma mater’s- >>>JIM ZIRIN: You can tell
us what’s going on.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
So with respect I think that white men suffer many
fewer microaggressions than others in this
society. I would agree with you
that there’s some places all of us feel unsafe but
I do think the experience of an African-American
woman or a woman generally or an African-American man
is materially different. Right? That until you have and
you can’t really put yourself in their shoes
and I will just say as a woman I certainly have
been on the other end of what I would regard as
gross insensitivity when the man didn’t realize he
was being grossly insensitive. So I think we have to
listen hard and again my response would be yes of
course you have to teach the law of rape but let’s
think really hard about how to do this because I
remember learning it and you know I honestly pity
the man who was teaching it and you know maybe you
bring in a visiting professor at that point. Maybe you know maybe you
really think this is something a woman’s going
to handle better and because only, I mean, men
can be raped too but in general we’re thinking
more about women. So I don’t think the
answer ever or almost never is to erase, to
silence, to you know white wash, I think this
particular choice of words but I do think we need to
hear and think hard about being as inclusive as
possible and you know a university is also a
community. Right? The university does not
abide by the First Amendment certainly
Princeton doesn’t. There is a norm of
civility and universities have speech codes where
there are things you can say that you would be
perfectly legal that are deemed, I mean, really
beyond the pale. So I think you want to
foster free speech but you want to foster respect and
civility. That still means you ought
to be able to say tough things but you ought to
understand the context in which they’ll be received.>>>JIM ZIRIN: Well even in
the study of the evolution of those contexts, of
those concepts, because certainly you were at
Princeton professors were to refer to, were able to
refer to homosexuals in the 1960s in ways far
different from what would be acceptable now.
So the ideas evolve themself as to what you can say
and what’s decent to say but the same time
intellectually you have to be able to
understand the evolution. That’s an academic pursuit
in of itself.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Absolutely. Well and then think about you know
reading Huckleberry Finn. One of the great works of
American literature but by today’s standards, I mean, the
N word is all over the place. I mean all sorts of things
are there you would never want to stop reading
Huckleberry Finn but our understanding of
Huckleberry Finn has evolved over the
centuries.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So then if
you can read Huckleberry Finn for fun why can’t you
on Halloween at Yale wear an Indian headdress and
why should the university be suggesting to students how they
should appear on Halloween? Can you dress as Snow
White or as one of the Seven Dwarves or does that
diminish short people? Where is this going to
end?>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I
think, I do think there, so here, I think it’s
perfectly legitimate when you’re in a university to
sensitize students to how other people will perceive
them. So I mean I just remember
freshman, when I was a senior, I was a
residential advisor and I had a class of freshman
and they showed up and a young man from South
Carolina immediately put a Confederate flag up over
his bed and one of his roommates was an
African-American from Richmond and my first job
was to say to this young man you are not in South
Carolina anymore. You are in a wider world
and in that wider world what you just did will cause
great pain to somebody else. Now you can still choose
to do that but you know it’s not that great a cost
to you to take it down and it’s an enormous benefit
to him to not have to look at a symbol of slavery
every day in his own room so the way I would have
handled the Halloween would be I think it’s
perfectly fine to say be aware that this really can
cause real offense to others. If you choose to do it
knowing that that’s your choice. We’re not going to tell
you you can’t but honestly there are a million
costumes you can choose and most of us would not
knowingly give offense to others if we could avoid
it unless something bigger, some you know
higher principle were at stake.>>>JIM ZIRIN: But on the
university campus given that you don’t have unfettered free
speech you don’t even have unfettered free speech
under the First Amendment.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Well yeah, but we go pretty far.>>>JIM ZIRIN: We go pretty
far and we have no laws against hate speech for
example. But isn’t it our national
commitment that the answer to bad speech is better
speech or different speech and not to suppress it. So at Yale they were seeking
to suppress a form of speech. And what was the speech? Wearing an Indian
headdress is funny on Halloween. Well so I mean I don’t
recall exactly but I didn’t think they were
banning those headdresses I thought they were
issuing guidelines.>>>JIM ZIRIN: While the
guidelines were that you should think long and hard
when you wear costumes at Halloween, either turbans
or feathers or black face or red face and anything,
any costume that may be offensive to other people.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Well so again what I would say is and it depends a
lot I mean there’s a big difference you know we
often say it’s political correctness another way to talk
about is civility and respect. But I would say it is
perfectly fine to have a conversation about how
other people understand it. Actually it’s a great way
of raising these issues and having people talk
about it and not all you know not all women, not
all minorities, take things the same way right? There are plenty of people
who are fine you know you take it that way but there
are others who are not and then talk about what the
norms of civility and respect are and then let
people choose what they want. I mean that because again
you can choose to give offense, that’s fine.
You can choose it but then you should know
what you’re doing. You shouldn’t do it
unintentionally.>>>JIM ZIRIN: Well at
Harvard they took a different tack and the
administration issued placemats in the freshman
dining halls that had various topics and they
were kind of talking points for students to
talk to their parents when they went home on
vacation. So you know you were a
student, your father was a lawyer, you went home, did
you need coaching from the administration as to how
you should talk to your father about issues like
what’s going on at Yale. Should we be admitting
Syrian refugees? All the other contemporary
issues. As a matter of fact I think many students
would have enjoyed the vigorous debate over the dinner
table at home.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I
remember very clearly saying to my father that
it was a good thing that I was starting where I was
because if I started where he was, as young, I was going
to end up as a reactionary. I was so mad at him you
know? And now I’m his age then and I certainly
understand his positions. That one, I have to say
does strike me as very inconsistent with the mission
of a great university. I mean the point is to teach students
to debate and to think critically and to think you
know to think independently->>>JIM ZIRIN: Form your
own ideas.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Exactly. So there that surprises
me. There’s no code here. And I do think as I said
before I think part of the point is to take something
that seems simple and look at it from different
angles and understand it isn’t so simple but I
would have left students to their own devices when
they went home.>>>JIM ZIRIN: Well and
it’s illustrated by what actually happened at
Harvard because the student Republican Club
published a placemat with different talking points
and different answers and they sought to distribute
those and then the university said well they were going
to withdraw all placemats. They apologized to
everyone and they said the whole idea was ridiculous.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
But you know I will say something else we talked
about the Vietnam War and you know lots of students occupied
the administration buildings. That was never going to
stop the Vietnam War but that’s what they were
really frustrated about. I think many
African-American students what they’re really
frustrated about is that they are living in a country
where they’re seeing videos of African-American men
being gunned down by police officers and
they feel how can this be? How can it be 2016 and you
can still see someone who is unarmed being shot in
the back. And that it happens to whites
but far, far, far, less often. So I think part of this
what’s going on here is kind of displaced anger
and it’s coming out on the things they can affect
like the naming of a building or a protest
where what we should really be doing is
channeling that anger into productive protests on the
real issues of the day, which are very important
issues.>>>JIM ZIRIN: And have the
students who want to rename at Princeton delete
the name Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow Wilson School,
have they really considered the many
distinguished black graduates of the Woodrow
Wilson School who are using that cache to advance
their professional careers? So we’re going to change
the name so we’re going to say formerly a graduate of
the Woodrow Wilson School? Now I’m a graduate of who
knows what.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
Well I don’t know. There are places that have
changed their name so I don’t know what they
actually do about that but I you know this is also
youth versus age. I think if you take a poll
of the graduates there is very little support for
changing the name among African-Americans or
anybody else. The students often feel
differently and I think the undergraduates feel differently
than the graduate students. After all the graduate
students chose to come to the Woodrow Wilson School
knowing that’s what it was named. The undergraduates choose
to come to Princeton and they don’t have the same
attachment. These aren’t necessarily
Woodrow Wilson School majors who are making this
argument.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So was
President Eisgruber wrong in your view to say that
he was going to consider the point and refer it to
the commission of educators and trustees and
academics.>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
You know initially I was very surprised but on
reflection I think he was right. I think what he was doing
and of course you know President Eisgruber is a
constitutional law scholar, he’s written on
the First Amendment and I think what he was saying
is I hear you. I hear you and I’m not going to dismiss you out
of hand. I’m not going to say, oh you’re young or oh
you don’t understand. I hear that this is
important to you and I’m going to take it seriously
and so we’re going to deliberate, which is again
that’s part of what we teach people do, we’re
going to deliberate, we’re going to have multiple
perspectives and we will make a considered
decision. I think that was the right
choice.>>>JIM ZIRIN: So we’re
going to deliberate and we’ve run out of time and
Anne-Marie Slaughter I have a question for you. Marvelous and the question
is, has political correctness run riot at
our universities?>>>ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER:
And I would say no.>>>JIM ZIRIN: You’d say
no. Thank you so much for
coming by. The lady said no. And thank you for coming
by. Tune in next week for more
Conversations in the Digital Age. I’m Jim Zirin.
All the best and take care. ♪♪ [THEME MUSIC] ♪♪