Students, please be quiet. Like now. Quiet, I said. SHUT UP! Thank you. I'm Professor Sugg, and I'd like to welcome some guests to our class -- state representatives Tom Rice, Bill Hembree, James Mills, Ron Forster and Brooks Coleman.
These fine Republicans are here to refresh their memories about free speech and Georgia history – two subjects that, as we'll see, are often at odds with each other. The learned gentlemen are sponsoring a bill to remedy what they see as a horrid lack of right-wing psychotics among university faculty members.
What's that you said under your breath, representative? That you're going to "get" those pointy-headed, liberal professors? Yes, I've heard all about House Bill 154, the, um, alleged "Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act." For you gentlemen who want to muck about with Georgia's colleges, we need to review a chapter in our textbook about the late Gov. Gene Talmadge.
Yes, I know Talmadge was a Democrat, but he was the type of Democrat we'd call a Republican today. No worry about Gene apologizing to blacks for slavery.
When it came to higher education, Gov. Talmadge in 1941 jumped headfirst into a heaping pile of doo-doo. He didn't like the fact that too many educators were "liberal" – they had the wildly insane, leftist idea that blacks, too, deserved access to universities. The gubner began firing educators, university administrators and members of the Board of Regents. A key casualty of the crusade was Walter Cocking, a dean at the University of Georgia.
Talmadge assumed the generally passive professors would crumble under his reign of intimidation. Wrong.
When 41 senior professors protested Cocking's firing, and the Regents balked at the academic pogrom, Talmadge denounced all those who advocated "communism or racial equality." He referred to an educational fund with which Cocking was associated as "Jew money for niggers." He then packed the Board of Regents, which obsequiously fired the dean.
Academe fought back. Time magazine reported on Oct. 27, 1941: "Students gaily gathered on the campus of the University of Georgia last week, marched up 'Ag' Hill shouting 'To Hell with Gene,' hanged and burned Governor Eugene Talmadge in effigy not once but twice. Women students at Lucy Cobb dormitory had a third private hanging of their own."
Educators around the nation gathered to do battle. Georgia's universities were stripped of accreditation – which sorely angered all of those families who had invested in educating their children, only to be told the degrees were worthless.
And Gov. Talmadge? Heads up, legislators, you'll want to heed this message. The guv lost re-election in 1942 to Ellis Arnall.
ACROSS THE nation, there's a deceptively named document called the "Academic Bill of Rights" that's been surfacing in state legislatures -- more than two dozen so far. We saw it here three years ago, when it was properly consigned to oblivion. But, like Dracula, this bit of corrosive legislation has arisen from its grave in the form of HB 154.
The measure is the mischief of former leftist and current neocon David Horowitz. He wants to enforce an ultraright, ultra-neoconservative, ultra-anti-Arab catechism on campus. He claims students are being muscled by professors to adopt liberal viewpoints. The remedy, he asserts, is legislation that would mandate universities to pack their staffs with those deemed politically acceptable.
Enter Ruth Malhotra. She gained brief fame in the last year by suing Georgia Tech for enforcing rules that banned students from intolerant speech. The conservative graduate student was absolutely correct, when, as she told me, "There shouldn't be rules protecting people from being offended."
But Malhotra was one of the GOP props three years ago who testified about alleged abuse at the hands of a liberal professor. Malhotra wanted to skip class so she could go to Washington, D.C., and hang out with other right-wingers. Her professor apparently thought her priority should be class. Malhotra claimed discrimination – and asserts her case is justification for the McCarthyite HB 154.
"Look, students always have a grievance process if they think there's been discrimination," says Charles Bittner, the Atlanta-based academic liaison for The Nation magazine – an unabashedly leftist journal that is the largest-circulation political magazine in America.
Malhotra did complain and – defying her own rationale for the law – was allowed to switch professors. Accusations of political pressure being put on students generally turn out to be anecdotal if not delusional.
Many, perhaps most, professors are Democrats and liberals. Maybe it's because they're smarter, and don't buy the simplistic anti-intellectualism of Fox News. Whatever, affirmative action for intellectually impaired right-wing extremists isn't a solution.
HB 154 would require universities to report on their political "diversity" – meaning professors would have to confess their leanings. You can hear the screams from the administration buildings: "Oh, please, no more waterboarding. I confess, I CONFESS, I'm a liberal."
The ramifications could be serious to the quality of Georgia's colleges; why would a professor who believes in the sacred tenet of "academic freedom" want to teach in a state where it doesn't exist? "It will become very difficult to attract top scholars," Bittner warns. "People will leave. The universities will be overwhelmed by the cost of enforcing the law, monitoring professors' beliefs." No doubt. We'd see "diversity" on campus, all right, as the Republicans demand that, for example, Bible-waving creationists be installed in biology departments.
A petition against the bill being circulated by Bittner already has been signed by more than 150 of Georgia's top professors.
Professors, journalists, unionists, human-rights activists and others have seen the dark clouds gathering in the past. As the great Princeton political scientist H.H. Wilson wrote in 1954, during one of the darkest periods for intellectual freedom: "Those who are conducting this campaign against our colleges are not misguided. ... Using words like 'freedom' and 'diversity,' but fundamentally authoritarian and anti-democratic, they have a contemptuous attitude toward education and human intelligence. Believing that students are like the children of Hamelin, ready to follow the first Pied Piper that comes along, they are determined to pick the Pied Pipers."
Of the bill's five sponsors, two are salesmen, one owns miniwarehouses, one is a "consultant" – and, yes, one works for the Gwinnett school system. Is this a group we want selecting our Pied Pipers for our universities?
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