Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The right-wing thought police are denouncing the selection of Barbara Ehrenreich's acclaimed book, Nickel and Dimed, as the summer reading selection at the University of North Carolina. Last fall, Christian fundamentalist groups with the American Family Association filed a lawsuit to ban a book on the Qu'ran (and later sought to ban an Islamic Awareness Week). Now the conservatives are complaining about a book without religion in it (unless you count the Wal-Mart cheerleading sessions).

The complaint came in ads placed by the Committee for a Better Carolina, a "fledgling student group" that also organized a press conference of a dozen conservative state legislators denouncing the book. State Sen. Ham Horton declared the book was "not worthy of a university. It's hardly an appropriate introduction to the community of scholars that is a university. It makes you wonder if it's an indoctrination to particular views, rather than a balanced and scholarly approach to issues." State Sen. Jerry Tillman told the press, "if you're going to give one side, you should show another. When you bring in the far fringe of one group, you need to have balance by inviting the opposing side." The conservative crusade for "balance" is the latest attack on political correctness. Right-wing activist David Horowitz has called for affirmative action for conservatives on campus in hiring, arguing for "balance" as the way to keep out liberal views.

The attack on the Ehrenreich book is lead by senior Michael McKnight, who declared: "The book is made out as fact rather than this lady's opinion about what's wrong with America. Some would say there's nothing wrong with America." McKnight isn't just some noble leader of students interested in balance. He's chairman of the state Federation of College Republicans. And the $8,000 in money to buy the ads came from the generosity of the conservative, Raleigh-based John William Pope Foundation.

For years, conservative foundations and the Republican Party have sought to attack and de-fund academia whenever a dissenting idea is heard. The assault on the University of North Carolina (and the implicit threat to state funding whenever state legislators attack) is an effort to get rid of "liberal" books from the summer reading, or to cancel it altogether. Today's know-nothings would rather having college students reading nothing at all than risk having them think about new ideas.

John K. Wilson

RELATED: A guy named Ray was recently quoted on David Horowitz's blog: "My daughter was just accepted to Illinois State University.... she was given a list of books to read over the summer and all of them are leftist. My question is, why don't we as parents have any input on what kind of education our children receive in college? Can't we recommend Ann Coulter as one of the authors they should be reading over the summer. I guess it's up to us to make sure our kids know there are other opinions available."

What are these horrible left-wing books here at ISU? *My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki; *Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom; *Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez; *Longitudes & Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 by Thomas Friedman; *Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture by Douglas Rushkoff.

No Ann Coulter (whose book is so dishonest even Horowitz denounced its endorsement of McCarthyism), but hardly a bunch of left-wing ideologues. Rodriquez is a widely admired centrist critical of the left; Friedman is a pro-free trade centrist. Rushkoff is an oddball, not a left-winger. Albom is a sportswriter with no political agenda. Haven't read Ozeki, but it's hardly Chomsky.

MORE READING: Below is an article by John Hood justifying the efforts at book banning in North Carolina.

Chapel Hill Herald (North Carolina)
July 11, 2003, Friday
SECTION: Front; Pg. 2;
LENGTH: 526 words
HEADLINE: New UNC reading furor is stirring
BYLINE: JOHN HOOD Guest columnist
RALEIGH -- They'll scream "censorship" again, you just know it, they will.

The UNC thought police, I mean. They took criticism Wednesday from conservative students and state legislators who questioned why the university thought it appropriate to make the 2003 freshman reading assignment the Barbara Ehrenreich screed "Nickel and Dimed."

The group has taken out ads in The Daily Tar Heel and a Raleigh newspaper to criticize the choice, which resembles last year's pick of "Approaching the Qur'an" only in its manifest unsuitability to the task supposedly at hand: to foster meaningful and balanced discussion of a serious and topical issue.

In 2002, critics of the Michael Sells book on the Qur'an erred to the extent that they tried to make an issue of religious freedom out of it, or to invite state politicians to intervene. UNC may be governed by left-wing bigots, but its academic assignments, no matter how ill-advised, shouldn't be overruled by legislators. Instead, its lack of interest in diversity -- the real kind, the kind that matters a great deal in providing a sound educational experience -- should lead policy-makers to push for changes in leadership, and to reduce the extent to which state taxpayers are compelled to subsidize the propagation of leftist political ideology.

It looks like this year, the critics of the university have gotten it right.

Their stated goal is to question why UNC administrators thought it proper to foist Ehrenreich's ill-informed nonsense on unsuspecting freshmen. They say that other, more appropriate assignments would have allowed the students to engage in meaningful dialogue about how the economy works.

Of course, UNC defenders likely won't notice.

Some simply can't imagine departing from the well-worn script ("it all started, you may remember, with the Communist speaker ban of the 1960s and it will end with John Ashcroft's fascist takeover of ...").

Others know very well that academic freedom is the cause of the conservatives here, not the "liberals," but will try to cloud the issue to protect their own.

If freedom of thought were truly the goal of the decision-makers at UNC, they would stop doing things like making freshmen read socialist agitprop. Indeed, they'd go further. They'd take affirmative action (a usefully descriptive phrase) to rectify the gross and damaging imbalance of political views represented among the university's faculty members. They'd take affirmative action to make sure that university-sponsored forums and events include various points of view -- be it on the war, on economic issues or on social issues.

They would, in other words, act like educators -- tax-funded educators, at that.

Instead, mark my words, UNC administrators will squirt out dark and impenetrable rhetorical ink, like an octopus in fear for its life, and try to obscure the issues. Their goal will be to portray their liberty-loving critics as knuckle-dragging ogres. As gullibility in such matters is commonplace, and media connivance likely, there is a good chance their goal will be achieved.

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

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