In response to:
Freedom & the Universities from the July 18, 1991 issue
To the Editors:
I have read with interest the review by C. Vann Woodward of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus [NYR, July 18]. While one is tempted to re-examine not only D’Souza’s work and Woodward’s review of it, I shall confine my comments to Woodward’s use of the work to expatiate on the evolution of black studies as an area of intellectual inquiry and discourse. In his discussion of Duke’s “plunge into the mainstream of academic fashions,” he said that it made a “fine start by recruiting John Hope Franklin, the best historian in his field.” Your readers should know that I was not recruited to teach black studies, if Woodward is referring to that when he calls me “the best in his field.” As the James B. Duke Professor of History I was free to teach whatever I wished. Not having taught African American history in 25 years only because I chose to “integrate” white and African American history of the South, I taught a colloquium on the History of the South and, later, the Constitutional History of the United States. I have no way of knowing how Mr. D’Souza’s view of Duke would have been affected by a discussion with me. He made an appointment with me on two different occasions and he broke both of them without explanation or apology.
One wonders what Woodward meant by describing me as the “best in his field.” It is reminiscent of the resistance to “breaking out of Negro Studies” that characterized my own efforts as well as the efforts of countless other African American scholars who preceded me. There was Charles H. Wesley who was denied the opportunity in 1924 to write a dissertation at Harvard on “The Collapse of the Confederacy.” In 1935, when I chose as my Harvard Seminar topic “Lyman Abbott and the Social Gospel,” I declined the professor’s suggestion that I might prefer to write a paper on Booker T. Washington. When I submitted a manuscript to the Harvard University Press analyzing and describing the essential paranoid bellicosity of the antebellum South, the distinguished historian who read the manuscript for the Press wondered why they would want a view of the white South by an African American historian. The Press ignored the lame complaint and published the work in 1956 as The Militant South, 1800–1860.
I mention these items to place into context Woodward’s quotation from my Race and History in his review of D’Souza’s book. In referring to the emergence of “Negro Studies,” Woodward quotes me as saying:
This was a tragedy. Negro scholarship had foundered on the rocks of racism. It had been devoured by principles of separation and segregation. It had become the victim of the view that there was some “mystique” about Negro studies, similar to the view that there was some “mystique” about Negro spirituals which required that a person possess a black skin in order to sing them. This was not scholarship; it was folklore, it was voodoo.
Since Race and History was not reviewed in The New York Review, as indeed none of my books has ever been reviewed in these pages, your readers deserve to know the context in which the statement that Woodward quoted was made. This is all the more important since it is entirely possible that your readers will make the erroneous inference from Woodward’s remarks that I was accusing black scholars of racism.
The burden of my argument in that essay in Race and History, entitled “The Dilemma of the American Negro Scholar,” that originally appeared in 1963, was that even as African American scholars sought to extend themselves into various fields, they were pushed back into “Negro studies” by white so-called scholars who would not tolerate their presence in non-Negro fields. In the paragraph following the one quoted by Woodward, I said, “The Negro scholar can hardly be held responsible for this sad turn of events. He had acted in good faith, and had proceeded in the best traditions of American scholarship…. That the field was the Negro and that the resources were also Negroes are typical irrelevancies of which objective scholarship can take no cognizance…” Thus, seeking diligently to qualify as scholars of authority and having been rebuffed by white scholars in other fields, they retreated to the study of Negroes. That is what “foundered on the rocks of racism,” and that is how most African American scholars went into so called black studies, not by choice but by the force of white racism that dictated the nature of scholarship, as it did in virtually all other aspects of American life.
John Hope Franklin
James B. Duke Professor of
Professor of Legal History
Duke Law School
Durham, North Carolina
To the Editors:
I have not read the book by Dinesh D’Souza that is the subject of C. Vann Woodward’s review, but I must take exception to the image of Stanford as an offender against freedom in the universities that Woodward conveys and apparently endorses. Having been involved in the events described, I find myself dismayed that the dean of American historians can give credence to some of the half-truths and misunderstandings that the right-wing critics of “multi-culturalism” at Stanford have been purveying. To Woodward’s credit, he qualifies the charge that Stanford gave in to pressure from minority students to overthrow Western Civilization (the course, that is) by quoting at length from John Searle’s judgment that the reformed set of courses are justifiable on educational grounds and intellectually liberating. But his other references to Stanford stand in need of similar correctives.
His statement that “the University adopted a new course on American diversity required of all entering freshmen and described as ‘focusing on the work of blacks, hispanics, feminists, and homosexuals’ ” is misleading. What was legislated was the requirement that students take one course for one quarter at some point in their college careers dealing with racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in the United States. The course may be chosen from a list of approximately twenty such courses currently offered at Stanford. These range from a course on the American Jewish community to the umbrella history course that I offer jointly with Albert Camarillo on “Race and Ethnicity in the American Experience.” In these courses, students are invited to confront the problems of American pluralism from a variety of perspectives. There is no “politically correct” line being inculcated and no surrender to student pressure on the question of what should be taught and how.
Indeed, my experience as a white male teaching courses dealing with the history of race relations is that most minority students are seeking the truth about America and their place in it rather than coming to class with their minds made up about what happened and why. I have been gently chided (with some justification) for not including enough on women, but never have I been subject to any criticism for speaking my mind on matters of race. Possibly this is because my views are perceived as “politically correct.” (I hope not, but you never know.) In my seven years at Stanford, however, I have not heard of a single incident in which a professor was harassed, threatened, or formally complained about because of what he or she said in the classroom. Such incidents may have occurred elsewhere, but not (to my knowledge) here. As for the Stanford rule “restraining offensive speech,” it is merely a ban on verbal insults directed at an individual—the equivalent of spitting in someone’s face. If I understand it correctly the rule would not prevent a public speaker from advocating extermination of the Jews or reenslavement of African-Americans, but would make punishable the shouting of “Kike” or “Nigger” in someone’s face. Perhaps such regulations are ill-advised, but I find in them no serious threat to freedom of thought or expression.
It is true that Stanford has sought to diversify its faculty and course offerings by increasing the number of minority faculty and the number of courses devoted to minority experiences. (Do we really have to apologize for this?) But in no cases of which I am aware have the usual standards for academic appointments been lowered or have courses without substantial intellectual content and rigor been authorized. The accepted method has been to make new positions available in fields in which minority scholars are likely to be found, but to make the appointments only if qualified candidates can be found. In the years I’ve been at Stanford “affirmative action” has never meant the appointment of black or other minority professors who failed to meet the general standards of the university.
I begin to wonder if I inhabit the same world as such esteemed fellow historians of America’s multi-racial past as C. Vann Woodward and Eugene Genovese. Possibly Stanford is exceptional and has been unjustly maligned by D’Souza and others, who have nevertheless reported accurately on what has occurred elsewhere. But another possibility is that the threat of a rampant coalition of militant blacks, hispanics, and feminists threatening free thought and educational standards in elite universities has been (in the words of John Searle about alarm over Stanford’s civilization course) “grossly exaggerated.” If so, liberal and radical (or ex-radical) academics like Woodward and Genovese are playing into the hands of right-wingers who wish to eliminate dissent from mainstream American ideas and values from our universities. Problems undoubtedly exist, and on some campuses civil libertarians may need to act vigorously to protect professors with unpopular views from being harassed by offended students. Free expression in the classroom must be protected at all costs. But exaggerating the extent and effectiveness of pressures for “political correctness” might turn out to be a greater threat to academic freedom than the evil against which it is directed. Everyone knows that the real power in American society does not rest with minorities, feminists, and cultural leftists. Under the banner of providing free speech for cultural conservatives, those who pay the bills for our universities might find a way to silence or deny tenure to the radicals of various kinds who currently constitute a small minority of the faculty in elite institutions. That would be a new McCarthyism indeed.
George M. Fredrickson
Department of History
To the Editors:
C. Vann Woodward’s review of Dinesh D’Souza seriously distorts the speech codes recently enacted at various universities. Relying on D’Souza, he reports that “many institutions patterned their codes of speech control” on the University of Michigan’s, which prohibited “any behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap, or Vietnam-era veteran status.”
In fact most campus speech codes, including those of Stanford, Brown, Penn State, and the Universities of California and Wisconsin, which Woodward cites, explicitly protect all public speech, no matter how offensive, and prohibit only threatening and inflammatory cases of racist, sexist, and homophobic speech in face-to-face verbal assaults on individuals. Under these rules black students must tolerate the use of racial epithets including “nigger” in speech addressed to the public: in campus lectures, in the student newspaper and on the radio station; the university will protect them only from direct, intentional, verbal attacks, where angry or hateful epithets are hurled at particular students.
Perhaps Mr. Woodward believes the First Amendment gives whites a constitutional right to call a black student a “nigger” to his or her face. The universities argue to the contrary that these regulations are constitutional under the Supreme Court’s “fighting words” doctrine, enunciated in the 1942 Chaplinsky case. Mr. Woodward writes that these campus speech codes represent “an attack on freedom… led by minorities”; he declares that they “impose conformity or silent submission.” The attack on multiculturalism rests on this kind of distortion.
Department of History
University of California, Irvine
To the Editors:
In his review of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, C. Vann Woodward says the following about I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala:
It is the transcription of an oral autobiography of an unlettered woman first published in 1983 telling how, after her parents were killed in a massacre, she turned against European culture, renounced marriage and motherhood, and became a feminist and a Marxist.
This summary leans exclusively on the four pages from Illiberal Education in which D’Souza bashes Menchú’s testimony. D’Souza’s account of her very powerful story, let it be said, is replete with mistakes—he has clearly given it little more than a superficial skimming. He seems to be totally unaware, among other things, that the volume is a translation from the Spanish. D’Souza’s relevant chapter bears as its sarcastic title, “Travels with Rigoberta” (he portrays Menchú as a kind of leftist jetsetter). For some reason, her name is omitted from D’Souza’s index.
Professor Woodward’s third-hand account in turn manages to repeat as many as three of D’Souza’s errors and misrepresentations:
- “She turned against European culture.” Menchú’s is an essentially local account of the struggles of her Mayan village against brutal Guatemalan army repression. “European culture” scarcely comes up in the course of her narrative (other than as the bastardized form it takes among Guatemala’s white upper classes). There are of course references to ladinos, whom D’Souza mistakenly refers to as latinos and apparently thinks of as Europeans, but which in reality are the mixed-breeds who wish to climb into the white strata. Menchú, on the other hand, hopes to enlist the ladinos as possible allies in her struggle.
- “She became a feminist.” If anything, Menchú defends the traditional role of women in Maya society, and is on the whole indifferent to Western feminist concepts.
- “A Marxist.” Actually, Menchú is a Christian activist, and though she includes the Marxist left among her political allies and has adopted some of its language, she has disputes with them over spiritual issues and the role of religion.
D’Souza totally falsifies both the spirit and the letter of Menchú’s autobiography. Professor Woodward ritually repeats some of those falsehoods. The reviewed and then the reviewer play fast-and-loose with what is one of the more important Latin American books of the last decade. If D’Souza can be so off the mark about one single work, then how reliable are his judgments on an entire sociocultural situation? I am a long-time admirer of Professor Woodward’s writings, but his lending support to D’Souza’s dishonesty only exemplifies everything that is currently wrong about the ultra-conservative pseudo-debate currently poisoning the intellectual life in this country.
Gene H. Bell-Villada
Professor of Romance Languages
To the Editors:
In his review of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, Professor Vann Woodward refers to Duke University’s recruitment of “superstars leading the then fashionable school of critics of the humanities who were known as deconstructionists.” Since a number of observers of the current academic scene seem to share Professor Woodward’s belief that the humanities departments here are filled with deconstructionists, I hope that you will allow me to correct this misapprehension.
So far as I know, there is not one deconstructionist in the Duke English Department or in the Program in Literature. There are persons interested in gender, sexuality, Marxism, reader-reception, new-historicism, canonicity, popular culture, and many other types of criticism and theory, but to my knowledge there is no one here who identifies him/herself as a practitioner of the kind of deconstructionist criticism associated with Jacques Derrida.
Clyde de L. Ryals
Professor of English
Durham, North Carolina
To the Editors:
C. Vann Woodward argues that academic freedom and quality education and scholarship are endangered by campus anti-harassment codes, unjust accusations of racism and sexism, affirmative action, and the agitations for curricular revision. He criticizes the American Association of University Professors for not joining the fight on his and D’Souza’s side. We agree with Professor Woodward that content-based restriction of speech is wrong, have long spoken out against the “heckler’s veto,” and believe it’s unwise to trash Western culture in the name of broadening it. However, unless we are all to lock step in some new variant of the politically correct, the complex issues raised by the multiculturalism movement will require continuing debate. Inevitably, it will be a debate that produces pain and outrage on all sides.
Professor Woodward’s presentation of the situation seems to us to leave out a lot that’s relevant. The policies he attacks—problematical as some of them may be—are attempts to deal with currently existing campus conditions that are hurtful, unfair, and inimical to the education and chances of women and minorities, as well as inimical to the truly liberal education of white male students.
In assessing the situation, one has to take account of existing racism evidenced by such incidents as the attack on black students by a mob of white students at the University of Massachusetts angered by the score of a baseball game. One has to take account of sexism on campus evidenced by the continual harassment and belittling of women faculty and students at the Stanford Medical School. One has to remember, as we do, the faculty recruitment meetings which seemed quite fair to many of the participants, but where arguments were made for the exclusion of black or female candidates that had nothing to do with their qualifications. One has to take into account a comprehensive text on the history of art, until recently widely used, that mentioned not a single woman artist.
Events and situations like these do justify a search for ways to make the campus more civil, more inclusive, and more fair. AAUP would uphold the right of faculty to require students to take courses in which they examine Professor Woodward’s account of Reconstruction, or consider the pros and cons of affirmative action. In furtherance of fairness, AAUP endorses the appropriate use of affirmative action in campus hiring and admissions. We would not rule it out merely because of assertions that it leads people (otherwise assumed to be fair) to question the competence of all blacks and women. Those who put forth that argument might ask themselves why they have never expressed similar fears for the welfare of the children of alumni who have been specially admitted to Yale.
The proper AAUP role in this debate is not at the side of those ardent for particular details of multiculturalism’s agenda, or at the side of those who equally ardently decry them. We see AAUP’s responsibility as helping in the difficult job of formulating and defending the ground rules that protect free debate, that ensure proper faculty participation in the curricular and personnel decisions that must be made, and that encourage fair inclusion of people and subject matter.
We take the position that expressions of ideas, even ideas members of minority groups or women find hurtful, cannot be officially proscribed. By the same token, AAUP has to uphold the right of those pained by particular expressions to respond verbally in kind, though we would encourage civility on both sides. If black undergraduates are to be asked to forgo official redress when they hear speech that pains them, by the same token professors must also be asked to endure non-disruptive criticism of their courses.
During the McCarthy era, to which Professor Woodward alludes, AAUP, alone among academic organizations, enunciated and stood by the principle that membership in the Communist Party was not in itself grounds for dismissal. We recognize, however, that the association failed in its duty to provide vigorous or timely defense for many campus victims of McCarthyism. We are determined not to repeat this error. We do not, however, agree with Professor Woodward that the current situation is similar. We are not now witnessing a “pall of conformity” enforced by code or by canon, much less by firings. Rather what we see are people on campus battling, sometimes intemperately, against what they see as attempts to impose conformity, whether from left, right, or complacent center. In these sometimes overheated debates, we seek to defend and promote the academic freedom which assures the right of all members of the academic community to participate fairly and fully.
Barbara R. Bergmann
American Association of University Professors
C Vann Woodward replies:
John Hope Franklin must have got up on the wrong side of the bed the day he wrote his letter. It does not sound like him. I have always counted on him as an anchor of sanity in whatever storm we happened to be caught. I have reason to expect that of him. Our relations go back more than forty years and include repeated defiance of the racial code to which we were both born when it was at its worst, he in Oklahoma, I in Arkansas. They were small victories in which I have taken some pride. In Thinking Back (page 89), I say that in those crises, political as well as professional, “John Hope invariably combined perfect intellectual and moral poise with inexhaustible good humor and a big laugh that banished any inclination to heroic posturing.”
And now here is a John Hope who “wonders what Woodward meant by describing me as the ‘best in his field,’ ” who fears that readers might infer “from Woodward’s remarks that I was accusing black scholars of racism,” and who feels impelled to assure me he was “free to teach whatever I wished” at Duke? As if it ever occurred to me that a historian of his distinction and integrity would agree to teach anything but what he wished and believed! As for what I meant by saying he is “the best in his field,” I meant precisely what I said: any field of history he cultivated. There were several, and they were by no means confined to black history. In fact, one point of my quoting his passage on the “tragedy of Negro scholarship,” which he finds so misleading, was to show, as I say, how none of the preeminent black scholars including Franklin had “wanted their work isolated or their careers and fields of study determined by race.”
Has my old friend forgotten that I wrote a review of his History and Race (The New Republic, April 30, 1990) and declared it to be “packed full of hard truths that needed saying,” truths that are said “in a voice that carried such authority.” In that review I used the same quotation about black scholarship and “voodoo,” and took pleasure in pointing out how he refused to be segregated by race into black history—an example I have often cited to my own students. In the same volume of essays is a lecture he gave twenty years ago on the trap that “ethnicity” has become for American blacks. For Europeans ethnicity was a way station to assimilation into the white man’s club of racial exclusiveness, but ethnicity “proved to be a terminal point for blacks,” the oldest of immigrants, and ” ‘cultural pluralism’ the consolation prize for those who were not and could not be assimilated…. But in 1969 even a little child would know what ethnicity had come to mean.” How I wish he would find a pulpit from which to preach that gospel to some of the current black advocates of ethnicity and Afrocentricity, with their doctrine of self-segregation, and culture and scholarship determined by race.
George Fredrickson’s letter also must be read in the light of a long and cherished personal relationship, a bond between two scholars with mutual interests in the developing history of race relations. I have learned a great deal from his work on the American side of the subject as well as from his ongoing work of comparison between the history of race relations in the American South and in South Africa, and hope I have adequately acknowledged my indebtedness publicly as well as privately. For his part, George Fredrickson has been generous in his own acknowledgments and in essays on my work in his recent book, The Arrogance of Race. But now—here we are locked into a situation in which he wonders if we “inhabit the same world.” How can such things be? I am afraid it is another illustration of the pass we have come to in this important debate and the urgent need for candor and detachment.
First off, let me acknowledge about my account of Stanford’s reforms in curriculum that Fredrickson was there on the scene and I was not, and furthermore he was teaching one of the courses involved. If there are differences between us over “the image of Stanford,” the reader is advised to lend his impressions more credence than mine. I did trust John Searle, whom I quote as calling alarmist accounts of Stanford “grossly exaggerated,” and whose favorable account I quote at length from his article of last December in these pages. Fredrickson gives me due credit for this, but then he presses on to our basic and unresolved problem of properly defining and limiting freedom of speech in the academy.
Fredrickson’s fear is that “academics like Woodward and Genovese are playing into the hands of right-wingers who wish to eliminate dissent” in universities. For one thing it is not my purpose to eliminate but to nurture, expand, foster, release, and promote dissent. I say let dissent thrive and have it out in the open rather than sweep differences under the rug with hush-hush regulations and prohibitions. As for right-wingers and free speech, it is surely not necessary to remind such an able historian as George Fredrickson—though others might need reminding—that historically it has usually been American right-wingers who have fought and suppressed freedom of speech out of fear that it would open the door to heretics, subversives, liberals, radicals, and revolutionaries. The left has been the beneficiary rather than the victim of free speech. Finally there is Fredrickson’s defense of “the Stanford rule ‘restraining offensive speech,’ ” a general subject more fully addressed in my answer to the next letter.
Again a personal relationship is involved. Jon Wiener speaks for a younger generation and another political orientation, but neither difference has prevented us from conducting a serious public controversy over the interpretations of our common field of Southern history without the slightest breach of civility, without any offense on his part and, I hope, without any on mine. That record would seem to bode well for the controversy at hand, but we would be wise to admit, alas, that the present one does not always seem to bring out the best in our breed.
Wiener charges that my account “seriously distorts the speech codes recently enacted by various universities” and modeled on the elaborate code of the University of Michigan. It would have been a somewhat clearer account of my position to have included my statement that “some of those codes, however, have been modified because of court decisions.” The important decision was an opinion of Federal Judge Avern Cohen declaring the Michigan University code unconstitutional. I am not likely to forget that opinion, the only federal court decision to my knowledge that quotes me on free speech and cites Yale rules to protect freedom. On the number and character of codes adopted, a 1989 study by the Carnegie Foundation finds that 60 percent of all American institutions of higher learning have adopted some kind of code or regulation or program having to do with race. No analysis or detailed study has been made of these hundreds of universities, each with multiple regulations (Michigan had more than a hundred programs before its Draconian, and now outlawed, code was adopted). No doubt numerous differences exist and some codes are innocuous. Acts of bigotry must be eliminated on the campus. But surely the sheer proliferation and number of these restrictions should be legitimate cause for concern to all who care about freedom in the academy.
Wiener has framed the “center of the debate” elsewhere as: “How do colleges and universities protect free speech and at the same time combat the increase of abusive language.” Here we get to the heart of the matter: Just what are the “fighting words,” the “words that wound”? How crowded must the theater be when crying “fire” becomes unconstitutional? Just where does the right to insult stop and the intent to incite start? These questions will be debated endlessly and they should be, for there are no easy answers, and terms and definitions are constantly changing. Of one thing I feel sure: prohibiting offensive speech is no solution. Judge Cohen in the Michigan case agrees with Justice Brennan that the university cannot proscribe speech “simply because it was found to be offensive, even gravely so, by large numbers of people.” The purpose of the university is not to make its members feel secure, content, or good about themselves, but to provide a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, the unorthodox, even the shocking—all of which can be profoundly offensive to many, inside as well as outside its walls.
The three remaining letters cause fewer difficulties and less pain. For one thing they lack the personal involvement that complicated reply to the others, and for another the questions they raise are simpler—like whether I was right or wrong. My answer to that question raised by Professor Bell-Villada of Williams, is that I was wrong—at least in the question asked. Having now read I, Rigoberta Menchú, unavailable when I wrote about her, I find nothing in the book to support the three statements complained of—another score as well against Mr. D’Souza. The unasked question is how to justify the attention demanded for this interview taped in Paris in one week and adapted by the writer to read like an autobiography. Ms. Menchú was then twenty-three, an illiterate Indian peasant woman from Guatemala. Her story is indeed a moving one of brutal oppression and horrors. But I am left with some unresolved doubts about the place given it in the new multi-cultural canon.
Professor Ryals assures us that “there is not one deconstructionist in the Duke English Department or in the Program in Literature.” This comes as no surprise. In fact the term deconstruction has, for various reasons, become to some at least something of an embarrassment. That is not, however, to retract my suggestion that its one-time rhetoric helped smooth the path for multicultural innovations, some of which are of doubtful value.
The president and general secretary of the American Association of University Professors have misread me. I did not blame the AAUP for “not joining the fight” on the various divisive issues they list. I did say that not much help could be expected from them, but did not specify my reasons. Their letter does that very well for me by saying “it will be a debate that produces pain and outrage on all sides.” That means that AAUP members will be sharply divided on the issues at stake. I think the officers would be quite unwise to plunge in and take sides and risk, splitting the membership disastrously. I doubt that they are authorized to do more in such matters than “defending the ground rules that protect free debate” or endorsing “the appropriate use of affirmative action”—as indeed do I most cordially, They score a valid point about “children of alumni who have been specially admitted to Yale.” I must protest their linking me with D’Souza as they do, but am pleased to see them hold that “expression of ideas, even ideas members of minority groups or women find hurtful, cannot be officially proscribed.”
These letters, sincerely and deeply felt though they be, are predominantly defensive, whether of person, institution, ideology, or organization. We desperately need to go beyond the defensive to the positive, to what we have in common. We must seek agreement on the ideals, mission, purpose, and character of the academy—what the university means. One way to say what we are is to agree on what we are not. I do not think the university is or should attempt to be a political or a philanthropic or a paternalistic or a therapeutic institution. It is not a club or a fellowship to promote harmony and civility, important as those values are. It is a place where the unthinkable can be thought, the unmentionable can be challenged. That means, in the words of Justice Holmes, “not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.”