Sunday, March 06, 2005

Back on campus...

I have to admit something ugly to you all. Back in high school, around the time of the LA Riots, around the time where "political correctness" rose to become part of the lingua franca, I was an avid opponent of affirmative action. I mean, really avid. And, I wasn't alone. As I recall, my opposition stemmed from two things: 1) a belief that people have the right to do whatever they want, even if it's stupid and racist and 2) my own self interest as a white guy about the enter the real world. Damnit, (redneck voice) I didn't want no minorities takin' my jobs!

I went to a sheltered private high school that I still think well of but that was, as I just said, sheltered. Then I went to a public university, got a taste of what people actually face in life and my views were modified.

I still think people have the right to be stupid racists, in the abstract. I'm a firm believer in freedom of thought and even in freedom of idiotic thoughts. But, I realized that "equality of opportunity" is largely a myth in the US and that it's a problem that must be rectified. Affirmative action laws, hate crimes laws and anti-discrimination laws are an imperfect, but important part of bringing people onto an equal playing field. As for my second, immature rationale... it turned out to be rather pathetic. It's easy to claim that, when you don't get something you want, you got screwed for one reason or another. But whoever looks at the things they do get but don't deserve? And, who was I, as a solidly middle class American youngster to complain in advance?

But, I was, in high school, an avid activist for the Ayn Rand "do it your damned self" view of life. And I remember one day that Jonathan Kozol, a liberal writer about education policy, came to speak to us. I mouthed off to him (don't remember what I said) and he remarked that conservatives were doing a much better job of mobilizing vociferous high schoolers than liberals were. This was in like 1991 or 1992, remember. And note who's running our government now.

While I abandoned most of my high school beliefs, everyone around me didn't. One classmate went on to college and tried to forcibly integrate an engineering society for black students. He's now a lawyer, member of the Federalist Society, and the type of guy who, if, down the road, the political stars line up, gets nominated to the Supreme Court.

I bring all this up because of this story about a fraternity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which has successfully, so far, resisted campus rules that require frats there to have a non-discrimination policy when selecting members. They seem to want to ban homosexuals and non-Christians.

The old me would have wondered why homosexuals and non-Christians would want to be part of a frat like that anyway. It is a good question. One could argue that, even with totally open membership guidelines, they'd wind up with a frat full of straight Christians because that's their culture and nobody will want to enter it just to be mistreated.

My take now is that even if that's true, a public university like UNC Chapel Hill should exist to challenge dogmas like that and inward tribalism of all sorts. No doubt, my friends who read this blog have tended to associate with more progressive types. That is how we bonded, after all. But what Kozol said in his presentation to my high school is true -- prejudice starts with the young and it grows older and then becomes institutionalized. That's why, even in 2005, with more than a century separating our country from our two worst racial attrocities, genocide against Native Americans and slavery, this is still with us.

The courts are backing the UNC frat on this one. No doubt, the judges aren't racists. They're interpreting some complex law -- there is a right to "freedom of association" that is important, no doubt. But, if the issue is a public university's right to not recognize an exclusionary and bigoted organization... then the judges got it wrong. A public university has a responsibility not to recognize such groups, because a public university is beholden to society at large.

And, for those of you in the mood for hypotheticals... what about private universities who receive no taxpayer funding at all? Well, I say they can do what they wish. But, they would pay the price with their reputations as most of academia would view them as backward and small-minded for supporting such organizations. They have their rights, sure. But we have the right to judge them.


At 5:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The UNC policy is the discriminatory thing here. While it prevents this fraternity from choosing members based on their beliefs, it doesn't prevent the PETA chapter from excluding hunters or Students for Kerry from excluding Bush supporters.

The University is preventing these student's freedom of association based on their beliefs while allowing it for other . The only difference is that UNC is deciding which beliefs have merit and which don't. Thus their constituional problem.

At 7:45 AM , Blogger Mike M. said...

Thanks for reading and for your note. I see what you're saying. In a lot of way's there'd be no point in having a "Students for Bush" club if it's going to be filled up by disrutive Kerry supporters (or vice versa).

However, if doesn't seem to me that homosexuality, banned here, in this case a "belief" -- it's probably closer, for these purposes, to an ethnicity.

And, in that sense, you know, people have the right to assemble however they choose. But, when it comes to the University "recognizing" groups, well, they have a right to recognize whoever they choose as well, don't they?


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