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CURVE:Assemblyman's campus criticism flawed

THE BELL

June 28, 2007|By JOSEPH N. BELL

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore does no service for good government with his recent commentary in the Pilot demonizing college professors and adding to, rather than clarifying, the divisive usage of "liberal" and "conservative."

DeVore properly defined the ideal academic environment as "encouraging vigorous debate and building reasoning skills," which I found to be very much the case at UC Irvine during the 21 years I taught in the English department there. But DeVore and I parted company when he switched to the opposite tack by using the recent brouhaha with the Muslim Student Union as evidence that the UCI faculty is "too concerned with tolerance to criticize speech that crossed the line from commentary to hate."

From this springboard, he went on to charge humanities and social science faculties in general with "liberal groupthink," citing as evidence, for example, a study finding that 58% of humanities faculties "believe U.S. policies in the Middle East have created the problems we face in the region" — a figure that would seem to parallel rather closely current public attitudes toward our activities in Iraq. The same study concluded "social science faculty voted for John Kerry over George Bush in 2004 by more than a 4-to-1 ratio." This, according to DeVore — who offered no examples — has forced conservative professors underground. If the study dealt with the ratio of corporate executives voting for Bush so we might have a little perspective on these numbers, Devore didn't mention it.

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Nor did he mention that "crossing the line from commentary to hate" wasn't confined to the Muslim students. By way of perspective, he might well have noted that a Republican student group brought "three ex-terrorists" to the UCI campus who — according to Pilot reporters on the scene — compared Muslims with the Nazis, combined terrorism with Islam, and proudly admitted to embracing hate speech when dealing with what they determined were terrorists.

Defining the parameters of free speech is a debatable issue. Strong arguments can be made from both sides.

But it doesn't help that debate, indeed destroys it, when it is offered from the position that it is only the other guy who needs to be silenced.

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