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Jewish World Review May 11, 2000/ 6 Iyar, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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'The Human Stain' on campus -- A FULL-TIME PROFESSOR at a small college in Massachusetts is six weeks into the second semester of his course in the classics when he notices that two names on his roll have never spoken up in class. In fact, he doesn't remember ever seeing them in class.

He opens the class one morning with a question: "Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?''

Uh, oh. The two missing students who have never attended class are real enough. When they hear of the professor's question they do what post-modern, up-to-date, politically correct students do. They file a complaint charging racism.

The professor, a man who is precise with the language, learned in Latin and Greek and who had never laid eyes on the two students, speaks with the nonchalance of an educated man citing the primary definition of spooks to be found in any library: a ghost, a spirit, a specter.

Naturally that doesn't wash with either his colleagues on the faculty or with students who know he meant the second definition which is disparaging for "Negro.'' He is quickly branded a racist and every person who might have defended him against the false accusation runs for the nearest cover. The professor resigns from the college with his name forever dishonored.

This is fiction, and is the pivotal event in the new novel "The Human Stain'' by Philip Roth. But this is fiction that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of political correctness and the "righteous idiocy'' that passes for morality and education at some of our finest universities, where stupid people are rewarded for being victims of their own stupidity.

Students talk about their "lack of self-worth'' while they actually believe "they're entitled to everything.'' Incapacity becomes privilege. Innocence redeems ruthlessness. Propriety begets tyranny. When a professor says he'll flunk any student who uses the trendy cliche "closure,'' the reader cheers.

The reader cheers again when a character, a black high school teacher, recalls her childhood when every student who completed high school in New Jersey got two things at graduation: a diploma and a copy of the Constitution. "What ever happened to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America?'' she asks. Her students don't even know what it means.

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I read this novel the day after I discovered the Web page of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Inc., based in Philadelphia, which investigates speech codes on college campuses everywhere, codes that not only deprive students and professors of free expression, but ruin lives of those who dare to believe in the First Amendment.

The posted examples of FIRE are not as neat and tidy or as dramatic as those of Philip Roth, but they're alarm bells in the night to everyone concerned that our universities are often making a sham of academic and religious freedom and due process on campuses:

  • An undergraduate student at St. Cloud University in Minnesota was sentenced to "sensitivity training'' when the PC police disapproved of his analogy in defense of allowing credit card companies to solicit on campus. The student said it would be illegal not to allow such persons on campus, just as "not allowing blacks on campus'' would be illegal. Suzanne Williams, president of the university said "the statement -- intentional or not -- (is) demeaning and totally inappropriate.''

    Says FIRE: Suzanne Williams "suppressed free expression'' and instituted "thought reform'' at a public university.

  • The Tufts Community Union Judiciary, an elected student group, voted to "de-recognize'' the Tufts Christian Fellowship for refusing to allow a lesbian to have a leadership position.

Says FIRE: What's at stake in this case is the fundamental concept of voluntary organization, especially for religious groups. "You can't expect a Christian fundamentalist group, or an Islamic group or a Catholic group not to follow their deeply held religious beliefs,'' says Thor Halvorssen, executive director of FIRE. "The very idea of American pluralism depends on voluntary associations based upon chosen religious and secular goals.''

In this atmosphere, Philip Roth can expect a shower of stones. A reviewer for the New York Times says his novel "indulges in the sort of tirade against political correctness that is far drearier and more intellectually constricted than political correctness itself.'' The intellectually constricted reviewer should take a look at Pretty dreary reading, but very important.


05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate