Freedom & the Universities

Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus

by Dinesh D’Souza
Free Press, 319 pp., $19.95

Defending freedom under attack in universities invariably gets defenders into a variety of trouble. The attackers almost always profess devotion to free speech themselves—except when it is carried to extremes, or is used by fanatics to discredit a cause they believe to be of greater or nobler or more urgent importance, or when it gives offense or pain or distress to people with enough troubles already. Resort to one or another, if not several, of these exceptions will be made in almost any dispute over the limits of free speech. After all, it is only in such instances, at least as perceived by those who resort to these exceptions, that the issue of free speech is likely to arise.

Another embarrassment to champions of the free-speech principle is that they often share sympathy for the cause, the idea, or the oppressed minority presented as the exception to justify violations of the cherished principle. How can just causes be defended without injury to inviolable principle? The awkwardness can be increased when the advocate of free speech finds himself thrust into alliance with those who do not share his sympathies for the exceptional cause and urge freedom for quite different reasons. Under these circumstances the politics of academic freedom can become a bit complicated.

In a commencement address at the University of Michigan on May 4, President Bush spoke out for freedom—freedom “to think and speak one’s mind,” perhaps “the most fundamental and deeply revered of all our liberties,” yet one now under assault “on some college campuses.” But two years earlier the President had proposed an amendment to the Bill of Rights against flag burning.

Dinesh D’Souza makes the word “politics” conspicuous in the title of his book Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. His own political identifications have been and will undoubtedly be used to discredit his position on restriction of freedom and political abuses in the academy. Mr. D’Souza lines up on the right wing with a record of service to Reagan’s White House, a fellowship in the American Enterprise Institute, early service on the unsavory Dartmouth Review, and later as a contributor to other journals on the right. Yet his book comes with enthusiastic endorsements on the jacket by Eugene Genovese as well as Robert H. Bork, and praise from all points across the political spectrum, along with censure from the Village Voice, The Nation, and others. Negative reviews stressing the author’s politics seem to predominate and are sometimes used to dismiss his findings. But one need not be a right winger to be concerned about the problems D’Souza raises, however welcome he may be as an ally.

One charge that cannot be used against the author of Illiberal Education is that he is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. He is in fact an immigrant from India with a secondary schooling in Bombay who did not arrive on these shores until 1978 and finds he “can still …

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Letters

Illiberal Education’: An Exchange September 26, 1991