Combating intolerance at Connecticut’s colleges

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What should be done about the increased intolerance of differing points of view at residential and community colleges within the Connecticut State university system? There should be the free exchange of ideas at a public university. If private universities wish to depart from free intellectual inquiry and recede into enforced intellectual conformity, that may be their right, so long as civil rights such as due process are respected and no Connecticut state dollars are involved.

Connecticut values can be found in our constitution.

Article 1, section 3: The exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever be free to all persons in the state.

Article 1, section 4: Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his [and her] sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

Article 1, section 5: No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press.

Article 1, section 9: No person shall be arrested, detained or punished, except in cases clearly warranted by law.

Article 1, section 14: The citizens have a right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble for their common good, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government, for redress of grievances or other proper purposes, by petition, address or remonstrance.

Article 1, section 20: No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law nor be subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her civil or political rights because of religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex or physical or mental disability.

Responsibility for maintaining our civil rights at our Connecticut state institutions rests with the president, faculty and students of the public institution. It may be too involved for the legislature to divine rules for the free exchange of ideas in the pursuit of truth. It should be the responsibility of the president and his or her first two deputies to design and enforce rules to ensure intellectual diversity and open discussion on campus.

If a professor, student or administrator silences or penalizes students, professors or administrators for their freedom of speech, then it is up to the president and his or her two designated deputies to retrain and perhaps reassign such recalcitrant professor, student or staff member. Should there be a pattern of intolerance by professors and/or staff, it would seem reasonable to dismiss the president, his or her two deputies, such professors and/or such staff member for failure to ensure freedom of speech and academic inquiry on the particular campus.

And why should Connecticut citizens care? An examination of the concept of “micro-aggressions” will show the extreme to which intolerant elements are silencing professors, students and speakers. Show me a person who claims to have suffered a micro-aggression and I will show you an intolerant person. When dealing with people, one is dealing with imperfect beings. To expect perfection is unrealistic. But the proponents of micro-aggressions push on in the hopes of silencing people that cause them displeasure. And what is the historical record of such politics? Not good.

Our common humanity is that we are all brothers and sisters. To expect another man or woman to be perfect and offend no one is an unrealistic expectation. What is the perfectibility of men or women? You can try but you will never get there, nor should we hope to get there, as we will lose our humanity. Wouldn’t we all be the same then? Where’s the diversity in that?

When you pick friends or wish for certain types of colleagues at work, what do you wish for? If your friends are perfect and never at fault, they will never offend anyone nor say anything inappropriate. They will be perfectly mannered at all times. They can rarely laugh at their own or other’s expense. They tend to be scolds whenever you step out of the lines of political correctness. Can you really tell a joke around them, without risking condemnation?

Consider the record of ideologies that were claiming to achieve the perfect man or woman. There were the National Socialists of Germany of the 1930s and 1940s. They had an ideology that extolled the Aryan Man and Aryan Woman as the ideal and that justified eliminating those that did not fit their ideal. Millions of citizens were exterminated.

Then there was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that extolled the new Soviet Man and new Soviet Woman. They were models of physical fitness and socialist values. Vladimir Lenin created concentration camps in 1919 in pursuit of this socialist ideal, 14 years before Adolf Hitler, and Lenin perfected the police state for Joseph Stalin’s purges, show trials, mass expulsions, planned starvations and arbitrary arrests and torture.

Twenty million souls were starved, tortured, shot and exterminated. If you said the wrong thing or were denounced as not sufficiently enthusiastic for the socialist cause, one could be executed within hours or herded off to the prison labor camps or the vast expanses of Siberia never to return. Whole races were evicted just for being part of a race, such as Manchurian Koreans, Volga Germans, the Greeks of the Caucuses and many more nationalities exiled without trial. Only to be part of the race merited expulsion and expropriation.

Mao Tse Tung of communist China arrested, tortured, starved and executed over 40 million citizens in pursuit of a better citizen loyal to his brand of socialism. Today, Xi Jinping, the dictator of Communist China, will put a citizen in jail for the wrong text or Internet post for five days. The citizen’s social score is lowered which negatively impacts their ability to get housing and work. All of these were or are atheist efforts to achieve the ideal citizen, who conforms to approved sensitivities.

There is a better way and that is to embrace our common humanity, to accept our fellow brothers and sisters with their imperfections and faults. We are all human. It is impressive what good works imperfect human beings can accomplish.

Consider that the company of a comedian is much more humane than the company of the politically correct who claim to be the victim of micro-aggressions. The honesty and humor of comedians such as Kevin Hart, “Puffy” Iglesia, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock are to be emulated. Each can speak openly about different ethnic groups, races, genders and sexual orientations in a humane fashion that lets us laugh at ourselves and our neighbors, to remind us all of our faults and propensities.

If you had to live with and work with the politically correct, on the one hand, or the people who are in the audiences for each of these comedians, on the other hand, the decision is not even close. The audiences represent our common humanity. These people are our neighbors and colleagues. They are much more interesting than the scolds and bullies of political correctness. In fact, a test for tolerance on a college campus is whether comedians could actually go there and tell jokes without being pilloried for insensitivity. The tyranny of enforced conformity on college campuses is an intellectual dead zone.

So beware when someone complains of a micro-aggression and their expectation of perfection. The historical record of the politically correct is grim!

We must be grateful for every day that we have together and revel in our common humanity. Connecticut state campuses must be open for human discourse. In the words of W.E.B. DuBois: “as a student of science, I want to be fair, objective and judicial, to let no searing of the memory by intolerable insult and cruelty make me fail to sympathize with human frailties and contradiction, in the eternal paradox of good and evil.” “[Writing the history of the Reconstruction] is simply to establish the Truth, on which Right in the future may be built.” He went further to say that he loved Abraham Lincoln “not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.” Imperfect human beings can accomplish some pretty positive things.

So here is an outline of proposed legislation for Connecticut to ensure that civil rights enshrined in our State Constitution are honored at our Connecticut state colleges and universities:

Whereas, the Connecticut State Constitution guarantees a myriad of civil rights to the citizens of our state:

Whereas, all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority;

Whereas, academic freedom to accumulate and test knowledge and facts in the pursuit of truth is the object of our education system;

Whereas, only an open and diverse discussion of ideas can safeguard the foundation and principles of our democracy;

Whereas, intolerant elements have attempted to enforce an intellectual dead zone on our campuses to the detriment of free inquiry;

Whereas, the president of the college or university is responsible to set the tone for academic, intellectual and civic freedoms;

Now Therefore; if at any time, whether it be in a classroom, public area, public square or organized debate or discussion, a person or people attempt to suppress the thoughts, speeches, prayers, petitions for redress of grievances or other peaceful means of discussion, then such person or people will be removed, if they do not cease their disruption or leave voluntarily. If a student, then such conduct will be duly noted in the event like efforts to suppress speech are repeated and would reflect on their ability to remain a student at an institution dedicated to free inquiry;

The President will designate two deputies who are jointly responsible for supporting a campus for the free exchange of ideas. These deputies should be the top two officials at the school after the president.

If it becomes apparent that there is a pattern of the administration failing to safeguard the free exchange of ideas inside and outside of the classroom then the president and the two deputies are to be dismissed at the end of the academic semester, without further salary, but retaining what health and employment benefits they had vested to that point, provided their failure was not willful.

Peter Thalheim is a candidate for governor.


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