This post has sparked some strong disagreement from Errol and Jamie. Errol writes:
Why shouldn’t that student or students like him be able to go to a school where he feels comfortable expressing his opinion on campus. This is a very widespread opinion because it’s almost uniformly ignored by liberals on college campuses around the nation. We simply ignore that while making our campuses an open forum for almost every liberal, progressive, leftist or whatever you want to call left of center opinions, that we impose an almost tyrannical speech code on our more conservative students. They’re not only often afraid of being relegated to being pariah by speaking their minds in class about what they might see as the negative effects of an encroaching welfare state, the evils of moral relativism, or the value of tradition in human interaction, but they must constantly be bombarded with propaganda with which they disagree. The implication of your post seems to be that conservative students or others that feel very much marginalized on college campuses should just suck it up. Why should they? Is it because they’re in the minority? Or is it because you have such a firm control over the truth or over what’s right and what’s wrong that you can suddenly feel comfortable excluding certain voices from discourse? Because ultimately that is what lost when people feel so uncomfortable, when people feel strongly enough about the social pressures that they feel to evoke “the Nazi button policies” as a way to explain to others the level of oppressiveness that they feel.
For sake of time, I’ll reprint here my response in the comments: I’m not clear on how it is, Errol, in your argument, that “an almost tyranical speech code” is imposed on “our more conservative students.” Is it simply by nature of disagreeing with these more conservative students that the majority is teetering on the edge of tyranny? What I labelled as immature in the piece I linked was the contention that merely being asked by peers to support a social cause that one disagrees with is oppressive. The natural end point of this argument, it seems to me, would be that no Yale Law student should ask for another Yale Law student to join a cause unless she knows that he already is aware of and supportive of it. That seems likely to translate into very few causes getting off the ground at a school which prides itself on – and attracts students through – its reputation for cultivating students concerned about their surrounding and national communities and prepared to use the law in support of social justice.
As someone who tends to come down pretty far on one side of the spectrum of opinion at Yale, I’ve often been in the position of being an ideological minority. But while I’ve certainly been critical of policies – like police seizure of leaflets in the Woolsey Rotunda – which restrict my expression of those views, I’ve never argued that my views are being stifled simply by not being widely shared. The past few years have provided endless chances to watch the same national and local figures relentlessly bemoan a “culture of victimhood” amongst historically marginalized groups while raising alarms over the supposed oppression of campus conservatives who are stuck, for example, having liberal commencement speakers. Few of them have gone so far as to compare solicitations to support a cause to Nazism.
We’re told that “there was very little opportunity to express alternative opinions at the law school,” but we get no account of any dissent that was stifled, or any attempt to express those alternative opinions. He offers no evidence that he tried to do so – or to identify himself as an intentionally “non-button wearing student” rather than someone who hadn’t had the chance to get one. Democracy is messy. Sometimes it involves being asked to do things one doesn’t want to. If he had said no and discovered as a result that his grades were being lowered or his posters were being torn down or, say, his door was being slammed with a 2 by 4, that would be more like persecution.
As for the enforcement of the non-discrimination policy, if you have evidence that it’s going unenforced in other cases, or questions about its parameters, there’s a phalanx of lawyers and futures lawyers on this campus much better equipped to respond.
Jamie also argues that I should have more sympathy for the Patrick P:
And yes, Yale is an “oppressive” place to be if you’re a conservative, er, rather, not a leftist. I often have to ask myself if those who think not being a liberal at Yale is easy live on the same planet as I do. When I ask myself this question, the answer I always come up with is, no, these people do not live on this planet. And don’t even try to tell me that you’ve felt unfairly marginalized as part of the “ideological minority.” You haven’t. For people who use the word “Nazi” and “fascist” so freely to describe your political opponents, its clear that you’ve lost any and all ability you might have once had (which probably wasn’t all that much to write home about in the first place) to recognize literary devices like facetiousness or overstatement. To act as if being one of 90 people not to sign a petition that the other 500 of your professors and peers have deemed to be a moral necessity is an easy situation to live with flies in the face of reality.
Look, it’s never easy to disagree be surrounded by people who disagree with you, as generations of college students on various parts of the political spectrum on various campuses have discovered over the past several generations. Fortunately, many choose to speak up anyway. Hopefully, all of us are at college looking to encounter articulate advocates for positions we disagree with, and hopefully we’ve each been successful. Jamie’s quick to dismiss the claim that those of us to the left of the Yale center may also have it less than easy sometimes. I think it’s worth noting that the major instance of violent response to dissent while we’ve been on campus was targeted against a girl hanging an upside-down American flag. And I think it’s worth noting that it’s been students criticizing University policy from the left who’ve been stopped or detained by the police. To read some of Jamie’s earlier posts you’d think that left-wing critics of University policy represented a tiny fringe; to read ones like this you would think that the student body was a massive cohort of far-left radicals. I’d say the truth is somewhere in between.
To argue that Yale oppresses those to the right of the left simply rings hollow. For copies of Light and Truth to be confiscated by administrators back when because they suggested skipping sex-ed lectures was certainly outrageous, although I’m not fully persuaded that can be chalked up to left-wing bias rather than a generally spotty record on protecting dissent from administration policy. Of course, it’s usually been students on the left who’ve borne the brunt of Yale’s failures in this vein. On the other hand, a student who chooses to attend a political rally supporting a candidate but claims he can’t release his name out of fear of intimidation doesn’t persuade me that it’s the liberals creating, in Jamie’s words, “an environment in which students are meant to keep their opinions to themselves.” And I’d say there’s something twisted in students arguing that professors and students who make strong criticisms of the Republican President, Republican House, or Republican Senate are responsible for othering those students who support the party running our government, or doing some other verb to them which Jamie and others don’t believe in when it’s used to describe the experience of, say, a black female student marginalized by the presence of only one black woman with tenure at Yale. I’m sure that there are situations in which professors overly antagonize students they disagree with on the right, or wrongly let disagreement affect how they grade students on the right, or in which students are rude or dismissive towards students on the right, just as all of these cases are experienced in reverse by students on the left. But that does not oppression make. And if we hear more about the marginalization of conservative students nationally, it may be in part because conservatives have been very effective in using the think tanks and media they dominate the perpetuate the idea of an oppressive liberal university to complement the supposed oppressive liberal media, and to bring accounts of said oppression to light and onto the airwaves.
The account I responded to isn’t even a borderline case. Here the supposed oppression consists simply of the articulation of a viewpoint by a majority of other students, and the appeals of some of those students that he join. It’s ridiculous to claim that as persecution. And it’s that much more ridiculous to compare it to Nazism. Contrary to Jamie’s implication, I’ve never referred here, or in any other venue I know of, to my peers as Nazis. I also haven’t called him a “homophobe” for opposing the activism of Yale Law students. If there are examples to the contrary, let me know. I do believe that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is soaked in and perpetuates bigotry in a similar manner to the racial segregation of the military not so very long ago.
Errol and Jamie are also disappointed that I and others in what Jamie sees as “Yale’s ever-so-righteous corps of lefty bloggers” haven’t gotten around to critiquing this column. What is there to say? Instead of exploring the divide Bush’s cabinet appointments have demonstrated between descriptive and substantive representation of ethnic minorities, or assessing the destructive impact of Bush’s policy on black communities, or considering the frightening implications of another four years of this foreign policy, she launches an offensive, outrageous, and useless attack on Rice as secretly being a white man. It’s a terrible column. I think we can all agree there.