The Roots of PC on Campus

By Terry Hulsey

An enforced “political correctness” is an unfortunate fact on many of today’s college campuses. Sophomoric groups possessed of a misplaced idealism, abetted most often by junior faculty who hope to secure their jobs by intimidation rather than by scholarly production, have on various occasions physically assaulted1 those with whom they disagree and burned their publications.2 Membership in a “politically correct” group protects the perpetrators of these crimes, while students who defend a uniform application of the law are threatened with the destruction of their reputations and with expulsion.

Objective law can punish these crimes against property and persons, even when the school’s administration actively obstructs justice. But worse than any particular crime, in respect of its insidious and pervasive deadening of the spirit of free inquiry, is an abiding climate of ostracism and persecution against any who question the often unstated party line.

What is the politically correct party line?

In many cases, the politically correct canon is a blatant Marxism. Whether its proponents are authentically Marxist is not as important as their great theme of oppression especially in the absence of any feeling of oppression in the supposed victims. The much smarter elite has the duty of awakening the victims from their slumber of oppression into the painful political consciousness of their victimhood. Kenneth Minogue’s study of ideology finds that every mass political movement begins with just this “suffering situation,” or victimhood.3 And whether they are unconsciousness proponents or not, the leaders of this movement employ the archetypical tactics described by Minogue. Whatever the variety, the Marxism most often espoused is not from the political science departments, where its notions can be easily routed in a free discussion of ideas, but rather from English departments. As John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, points out:

The most congenial home left for Marxism, now that it has been largely discredited as a theory of economics and politics, is in departments of literary criticism.4

English departments that have been captured by such political militants do not have any great reverence for a canon of literature from the past. For them, there is no objectively great literature that can appeal to humanity everywhere. The act of teaching such an idea is itself political oppression. Or as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of Harvard’s African and African American Studies department, puts it:

The teaching of literature [has become] the teaching of an aesthetic and political order, in which no women and people of color were ever able to discover the reflection or representation of their images, or hear the resonance of their cultural voices. The return of “the” canon, the high canon of Western masterpieces, represents the return of an order in which my people were the subjugated, the voiceless, the invisible, the unrepresented, and the unrepresentable. Who would return us to that medieval never-never land?5

Another department that most often suffers from the current wave of political correctness, under the rubric of “Afrocentricity,” is the African-American department. Molefi Kete Asante is the chief purveyor of this idea, as chairman of the African-American Studies department at Temple University and as author of Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. It seems clear from his following statement that his aim is not the teaching of a distinct discipline but rather a system-wide indoctrination of particular attitudes:

We do not seek segments or modules [of Afrocentricity] in the classroom but rather the infusion of African-American studies in every segment and in every module.6

Nor do these systematic African studies have the purpose of raising self-esteem among blacks. Rather, their purpose is the reshaping of racial attitudes among whites by means of historical revisionism. He believes, for example, “the Hudenosaunee Confederation [to be] an inspiration for the United States Constitution alongside the Enlightenment” and that the ancient Egyptians were black Africans.7

One has only to imagine advocating by contrast a more plausible agenda for dead white European males, who after all gave us the great ideas of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology, to see the implied racism in Mr. Asante’s proposals.

The double standard in the use of the term “racism” is explicit in the book Racism and Sexism, which, until a campaign by American literature scholar Alan Gribben, was required reading at the University of Texas for all students in English 306. The book claims that “a nonwhite ‘may discriminate against white people or even hate them’ but cannot be called ‘racist.’ ”8 Nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will calls this kind of encouragement of ethnic double standards “the Balkanization of campus life.”9

Women’s Studies departments are equally virulent advocates of political correctness. Lynda Bundtzen, chair of the Women’s Studies Program at Williams College, complains that the canon of what was accepted as great literature up until recently is “the list of the white men who have created Western culture” and its attachment to “their problems, their desires, what they love and they think is important....”10 As Roger Kimball puts it, she rejects out of hand “[t]he possibility that there might be something human in these aspirations and achievements, something that transcended the contingency of gender.”11 Indeed, she is “very reluctant” to use the phrase “transcendent truths” at all.12

Elaine Showalter, recently retired chair of the English department at Princeton University, advocates “a transformation of the curriculum” that defines “gender as a fundamental category of literary analysis” in the revolutionary hope that “literary knowledge itself will be redefined.”13

These views are not a lurid exception, but from the politically correct point of view are rather ordinary mainstream opinions, as anyone can clearly see by reading Diacritics, Critical Inquiry, Tel Quel, New Literary History, Representations, Yale French Studies, and other organs of the new canon.

Ms. Bundtzen is typical also of the current trend’s ascription of political bias to a group, based on the group’s membership in an economic class, or on its race, or on its gender. This is a common and refuted Marxist notion. When an individual departs from these preconceptions, as for example the Eastern Indian Dinesh D’Souza14 or the black Thomas Sowell,15 he is denounced in racist terms as an “Oreo” (the cookie dark on the outside, white on the inside) or an “Uncle Tom.” Like that of the advocate of politically correct dogmas, Marx’s well-documented racism is a logical counterpart of a facile referencing of the individual to the group.16 17

The assault on the concept of a common human nature and the definition of groups that is based not in sociology or statistics but in a racist mentality are two leitmotifs of the movement. But the Marxist, racist, and sexist themes all flow easily one into the other, as the quotes offered here should indicate. Menacing under all of them is a basso sostenuto of hatred for logic and language hated because they are the inescapable political instruments of the oppressing culture. Consider the following collection of words from Luce Irigaray, director of philosophic research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and “one of the most important women writers of contemporary France,” according to Anna Otten in Antioch Review:

Turn everything upside down, inside out, back to front.... Insist also upon those blanks in discourse which recall the places of her [woman’s] exclusion.... Reinscribe them ... as divergences, in ellipses and eclipses... that deconstruct the logical grid of the reader-writer, drive him out of his mind. Overthrow syntax....18

Or consider the words of Mary Daly, advocate of gendericide, who was deconstructionist professor of Theology at Boston College until being sued out of her chair for not allowing males into her classes:

Overcoming the man-made pseudopresences requires continuing Leaping through Realms of Reality beyond the banal boundaries set by foolish deadfellows. This implies nothing less than Dis-covering and Re-weaving strands of the X-factor, that ever convergence of Strange, Variable, and Diverse Qualities that characterize Questing women.19

Or consider the words of Jacques Derrida, principal author of deconstructionism:

A written sign is proffered in the absence of the receiver. How to style this absence? One could say that at the moment when I am writing, the receiver may be absent from my field of present perception. But is not this absence merely a distant presence, one which is delayed or which, in one form or another, is idealized in its representation? This does not seem to be the case, or at least this distance, divergence, delay, this deferral must be capable of being carried to a certain absoluteness of absence if the structure of writing, assuming that writing exists, is to constitute itself. It is at that point that the différence as writing could no longer (be) an (ontological) modification of presence.20

Three tactics, the least of which is physical destruction
The “politically correct” ideas described above reign in the humanities departments in most of today’s universities. The movement pressing these ideas has conquered by three tactics, although of course not out of any concerted action but out of logical consistency. Members of the movement are not afraid of using the lowest level Brown Shirt Sturmabteilung tactics, as property destruction at Dartmouth21 and Penn State22 and elsewhere, and physical assaults at Wellesley23, Northwestern24, Harvard25, and elsewhere demonstrate. However, in most cases such tactics are strategically less than otiose, since they create martyrs of their opponents.

A middle level tactic is to rewrite the rules of acceptable behavior for each university. Virtually every university has always had such standards, published in the student handbook for the university. In the past these codes have been chiefly concerned with drinking on campus and puerile manifestations of one sort or another. All across the United States these handbooks have been rewritten. Whether as a sop thrown to the more perfervid ideologues, as a dodge against possible litigation, or as a shapeless statement of good intent placed in a book that supposedly no one reads anyhow, the effect of such rewritings is a capitulation to politically correct principles and the creation of a weapon for the enemies of the humane university. For example, consider the following statement from Nadine Strossen, New York Law School professor and ACLU president, who opposes hate speech codes. To understand her remarks you must suspend the use of words as instruments of thought and instead use them as code words for conditioned political reflexes. That is, all hate speech is not hate speech: only politically incorrect speech is hate speech, while politically correct speech, however hateful by common sense standards, is “protected speech.”

I just think of the resources that have gone into crafting the precise, tiny subsections of all the hate-speech codes. I wish we could take that time and devote it to affirmative-action measures, to orientation programs, to educational programs on racism, to multicultural education. I am so convinced the appropriate response is education and not discipline.26

In other words Ms. Strossen would not create a litigious stalag but rather a comfortably funded re-education camp. The fact that the above citation passes for moderation is a further demonstration of the ascendency of the movement on today’s campuses.

The most sophisticated tactic, and the one which has yielded the success enjoyed by the movement to date, is that of boring from within, especially from within special studies departments and from within English departments. As Roger Kimball says:

The truth is that when the children of the sixties received their professorships and deanships they did not abandon the dream of radical cultural transformation; they set out to implement it. Now, instead of disrupting classes, they are teaching them; instead of attempting to destroy our educational institutions physically, they are subverting them from within.27

Which colleges and universities are most severely affected?
It would not be completely fair to provide a fixed list of those schools most tightly in the grip of the movement. Administrators and teachers most responsible for the influence of politically correct ideas on a given campus do change jobs,28 and occasionally a courageous governing board will temporarily restrain the movement.

The best way to find out whether your prospective campus is in the grip of politically correct ideas is first to buy or borrow titles in the “further readings” suggested below. Although this article has attempted to supply as much original material as possible, reading the details of those who have been attacked by the movement should make clear its determination and its threat to any notion of a humane university. Second, for the most current information about a particular campus, contact the organization below:

Accuracy in Academia 4455 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 330, Washington, DC 20008 • 202 364-3085 (voice) or 202 364-4098 (fax) (email)

If you have been victimized by someone with this political agenda, don’t bother contacting the ACLU. As Alan Dershowitz, the liberal attorney and former member of the ACLU board has said, “The ACLU is caught in a tug of war between civil liberties and the politics of the left. And the politics of the left is winning. The ACLU today is ready to sacrifice principle for expediency.” Contact the organization below:29 30

Individual Rights Foundation, P.O. 361269, Los Angeles, CA 90036-9828


1 The Heterodoxy Handbook, edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, ISBN 0-89526-731- 4, Regnery Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 1994, p152.

2 Ibid., pp155-157.

3 Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology, Kenneth Minogue, ISBN 0312018606, St. Martin's Press, Inc., October, 1985, 288 pages.

4 Debating P.C.: The Controversy over Political Correctness on College Campuses, edited by Paul Berman, ISBN 038531533, Doubleday and Co., Inc., February, 1995, 336 pages, p105.

5 Ibid., p91.

6 Ibid., p306.

7 Ibid., p310.

8 Ibid., p259.

9 Ibid., p260.

10 Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, Roger Kimball, ISBN: 0060920491, HarperCollins, April 1991, p171.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p179.

13 Ibid., p16.

14 Author of Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, ISBN: 0679738576, Vintage Books, March, 1992, 319 pages.

15 Author of Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, ISBN: 0029303303, The Free Press, November, 1992, 368 pages.

16 Karl Marx: Racist, Nathaniel Weyl, ISBN: 0870004484, Crown, January, 1979.

17 Nat Hentoff (columnist at The Village Voice and staff writer at The New Yorker) laments the letter appearing in the Stanford Daily (a campus student paper), signed by the African-American Law Students Association, the Asian-American Law Student Association, and the Jewish Law Students Association calling for a harsh code restricting free speech. (Op. cit., Berman, p216.) He reports the words of a black Harvard law school student during a debate on whether student speech should be restricted. “The black student ... looked at his white colleague and said that it was condescending to say that blacks have to be ‘protected’ from racist speech. ‘It is more racist and insulting,’ he emphasized, ‘to say that to me than to call me a nigger.’ ” (Op. cit., Berman, p219.)

18 Op. cit., Horowitz and Collier, p137.

19 Surviving the PC University, Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors, Second Thoughts Books and The Center for the Study of Popular Culture (1-800-752-6562), 1993, p135, quoting from Mary Daly’s Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary.

20 Op. cit., Kimball, pp150-151, quoting Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Limited Inc., translated by Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1988, p7.

21 Op. cit., Horowitz and Collier, p155.

22 Ibid., p157.

23 Ibid., p152.

24 Choosing a College: A Guide for Parents and Students, Thomas Sowell, ISBN 0-06-096354-9, Harper & Row, New York, 1989, p109.

25 Ibid.

26 Robin Wilson, “She Goes Wherever Civil Rights Are Threatened,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 25 (Feb. 26, 1992), pA5.

27 Op. cit., Kimball, pp166-7.

28 For example, Donna Shalala left the chancellorship of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a move that eased elements of the politically correct agenda that she installed there. And Johnnetta Cole, president of Spelman College, and another purveyor of the agenda, almost won a cabinet post in the current central government administration before the Jewish Forward exposed her past. She had been a member of the Venceremos Brigade that cut sugar cane for the dictatorship of Cuba before entering service in the DGI, Castro’s intelligence service, and had been president of the U.S.-Grenada Friendship Society, fronting for Marxist dictator Maurice Bishop.

29 The Individual Rights Foundation counted among its supporters Tom Clancy, R.W. Bradford (late editor of Liberty Magazine), Henry Holzer (Professor of Constitutional Law), and James Huffman (Acting Dean of the Lewis & Clark Law School).

30 The founder of The Individual Rights Foundation, David Horowitz, in the June 15, 1998 edition of the online Salon Magazine described the legal efforts of the Foundation on behalf of Michael Savage, a frankly rather low-brow writer. Nevertheless, although having superior albeit conservative credentials he was denied a post at University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. In the article he also cites the report in the Wall Street Journal that “the number of registered Democrats on the faculty of the University of Colorado exceeded the registered Republicans by 31-1. There was not a single Republican or conservative at Colorado in the English, psychology, journalism, philosophy, women’s studies, ethnic studies and lesbian and gay studies departments. This in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 100,000 voters and account for six of the eight members of its congressional delegation.” This disparity, which he describes as typical, is “the result of calculated political hiring practices, systematic exclusion and an atmosphere of political intimidation to a degree seen only in communist, fascist and theocratic dictatorships.”

Further readings:

Beyond Political Correctness: Are There Limits to This Lunacy?, David Thibodaux, ISBN: 1563840669, Vital Issues Press, August, 1994, 224 pages.

The Heterodoxy Handbook, edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, ISBN 0-89526-731-4, Regnery Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 1994, 269 pages.

The Hollow Men: Politics and Corruption in Higher Education, Charles J. Sykes, ISBN: 0895265397, Regnery Publishing, Inc., October, 1990, 356 pages.

How Professors Play the Cat Guarding the Cream: Why We’re Paying More and Getting Less in Higher Education, Richard M. Huber, ISBN: 0913969435, George Mason University Press, July 1992.

Illiberal Education : The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, Dinesh D’Souza, ISBN: 0679738576, Vintage Books, March, 1992, 319 pages.

Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, Thomas Sowell, ISBN: 0029303303, The Free Press, November, 1992, 368 pages.

Speaking Freely: The Case Against Speech Codes, Henry Mark Holzer, ed., ISBN: 1886442002, Center for the Study of Popular Culture, July 1995, 277 pages.

Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, Roger Kimball, ISBN: 0060920491, HarperCollins, April 1991.

The Voice of Liberal Learning: Michael Oakeshott on Education, Timothy Fuller (Editor), ISBN: 0300047533, Yale University Press, September 1990.

April 23, 2006