2 Crusaders Take on Political Correctness: Say Campuses Must Be Changed

By Asch, Kim | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

2 Crusaders Take on Political Correctness: Say Campuses Must Be Changed


Asch, Kim, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


To those who believe college campuses are bastions of academic freedom, individuality and open expression, Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate have three words: "The Shadow University."

Their new book, which takes the cryptic phrase for its title, is the latest salvo against political correctness in higher education.

While most "PC" critiques take aim at admissions biases or the curriculum, Mr. Kors, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer, assert that there is something more sinister afoot in academe.

Codes that prohibit "offensive" speech, university-sponsored sensitivity training and even freshman orientations are part of a "systematic" and covert assault upon students' liberty, individualism, dignity, right to due process and equality before the law, they say. Such accusations might be dismissed as the paranoid rantings of a vast right-wing conspiracy if they weren't so alarmingly well-documented in "The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses" (Free Press). There's also this niggling detail: politically, the authors are polar opposites.

When they met in fall 1960 as freshmen at Princeton University, "I found Harvey an immediately warm and wonderful guy," recalls Mr. Kors. Yet, from the beginning, they disagreed on just about every issue, he says, and "we still argue."

For starters, Mr. Silverglate opposed America's involvement in Vietnam. Mr. Kors was also a critic of the war - but from the right. "I thought we should have prevailed through superior American might," he says.

Mr. Kors details other differences between them: "I vote Reagan conservative Republican, he votes Libertarian. I favor the death penalty, he adamantly opposes it."

What this duo has in common is a commitment to defending the constitutional rights of others. They fancy themselves the shadow busters of academe, shining the light on the "tyranny that seeks to assert absolute power over the souls, the consciousness, and the individuality of our students."

The men shared the spotlight in 1993 when they became the advisers to Eden Jacobowitz, a freshman at Penn, in the infamous "water buffalo affair." They offer readers a blow-by-blow account of the case Mr. Silverglate says "radicalized us to write the book."

The case attracted much media attention after the university accused Mr. Jacobowitz of violating its policy on racial harassment when he yelled to a group of black sorority members who were singing, chanting and stomping outside his window, "Shut up, you water buffalo!"

Mr. Jacobowitz, an Orthodox Jew, the descendant of Holocaust survivors and a graduate of a prestigious Jewish parochial school, refused to accept an academic plea bargain admitting to his "inappropriate" behavior, according to the authors, because everything about his upbringing, his religious beliefs and his sense of justice reviled racism. In Hebrew, the word for "water buffalo" is used to describe someone who behaves thoughtlessly.

The authors say the administration's determination to prosecute the case was motivated by their desire to make an example of Mr. Jacobowitz.

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