Wednesday, November 18, 2009

(Common) Sense and Sensibility

Tunku Varadarajan

“The two pillars of 'political correctness' are: a) willful ignorance; b) a steadfast refusal to face the truth” – George MacDonald

I am fortunate to work in a business that brings me into contact with a lot of smart people. I count myself even more fortunate to count a number of these people as colleagues and – better yet – friends.

One of these people is Tunku Varadarajan.

I first got to know Tunku when he was the editor of the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal. As I got to know him and his wonderful family, I gained a real friend and good drinking buddy; got to pal around with a helluva raconteur; and witnessed – on more than one occasion – him exhibit grace and kindness (toward others).

(Full disclosure: I was a former colleague of his at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and wrote for him in his most recent stint as the opinion editor at

I throw all this out there because I’m standing up, together with a number of his other friends/colleagues/peers who see that he is joining a long line of people in this country who have been marched to the cultural guillotine known as Political Correctness for writing what was on their minds, speaking what was on their hearts or not passing a certain litmus test.

So what was his “thought crime?”

In the wake of the Fort Hood massacre a couple weeks ago, Tunku wrote a column for Forbes that dissected the acts of violence apparently rooted in extremist/militant Muslim views. Tunku, who also teaches at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has since been excoriated not just by the usual folks but also by NYU’s president as well as a rabbi at NYU's Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life.

Let me say this: Tunku’s article was not – as one protesting alumnus suggests – “hate-mongering," nor is he anything close to being a bigot. You don’t spend numerous evenings with a friend - trying to solve the world’s problems - without getting to know your drinking buddy. This man and I discussed everything from Indians (he, originally from the having Native American blood in my veins), to politics, to what makes good BBQ, to...well, let’s just say it covered the waterfront. Not once did he have a “discouraging word” for anyone because of their ethnicity, orientation, creed, gender, etc.

What’s even more maddening, as the article excerpted below points out, is that America’s universities have devolved into places where “sensitivity” has won the day over common sense.
For close to two decades, I worked in higher education – public and private – and I can tell you that while I'm surprised someone I know is now in the crosshairs of The Aggrieved, it doesn’t surprise me. There’s a reason academia is often referred to as a place of Ivory Towers...why professors and administrators are often derided by those outside of academe for having viewpoints that aren’t “real world.”

For all its wailing and gnashing of teeth about universities being havens of “academic freedom,” “tolerance” and “free expression,” the truth is a good many of these institutions of higher learning are bastions for close-mindedness, intolerance and “free speech for me, but not for thee.” I’m reminded of an experience several years ago when I had the opportunity to sit in on a session of a university’s academic senate. The “senators” were questioning a university official about a certain unit within the school – wondering why there weren’t more minorities, women, etc. What they were really incensed over, however, was that a number of the scholars within this particular unit weren’t Democrats (the fact that more than 90 percent of the rest of the large university’s faculty were Democrats didn’t seem to be up for discussion). After being repeatedly grilled for “...a lack of representation,” the leader of the unit in question asked why there weren’t more conservatives, Republicans or libertarian-leaning professors in other parts of the university. He was met with snickers, joking and sneers. (The point of all this – “diversity/sensitivity is long as it falls within my worldview.”)

I hope that NYU comes to its senses, but I’m not hopeful. If it’s one thing it seems like you can count on when it comes to the Politically Correct world of American higher education, it’s that these people who are regarded as smart probably won’t do the smart thing.


From The Best of the Web Today (Wall Street Journal online edition, Nov. 18, 2009)

The 'Diversity' Sham
At New York University, intellect gives way to ritualized emotion.


It has been 6½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court, in Grutter v. Bollinger, upheld the legality of racial discrimination in university admissions for the purpose of realizing "the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." Longstanding precedent requires the court to apply "strict scrutiny" to any claim justifying discrimination on the basis of race. Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asserted that the court's "deference" to the "expertise" of the defendant in this case was sufficiently strict to meet this test.

But there is reason to doubt whether "diversity," as practiced by American higher education today, has any educational benefits at all--never mind whether those benefits are sufficient to justify discrimination. Whatever its benefits in theory, diversity in practice is often anti-intellectual, replacing reasoned debate with ritualized expressions of phony emotion.

A kerfuffle at New York University is a case in point. Last week, as we noted, Tunku Varadarajan of wrote a column meditating on the Fort Hood massacre, which, he noted, appears to have been a religiously motivated "act of messianic violence." (Disclosure: Varadarajan is a friend and former colleague of this columnist.)

In addition to his work in journalism, Varadarajan teaches at NYU's Stern School of Business, and his column set off predictable complaints from Muslim students and alumni. One alum, Haroon Moghul, wrote an essay at in which he accused Varadarajan of "hate-mongering." He wrote that Varadarajan's column had caused him "pain" and "feelings of marginalization," and the headline and subheadline described him as "shocked" by Varadarajan's writing.

Eventually the university president, John Sexton, was compelled to respond. While he correctly noted that it would be wrong for the university "to punish faculty officially for expressing such ideas," he also issued a declaration of disapproval:

A journalist and NYU clinical faculty member has written a piece for Forbes that many Muslims find offensive. I understand how they feel--I found it offensive, too. I am teaching Muslim students now, and I have taught them in the past; the portrayal of Muslims in the Forbes piece bears no resemblance to my experience; I disagree with the Forbes piece and think it is wrong. I say all this because as president I have not foresworn the rights I have as a member of the NYU faculty to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous.

Yesterday Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of NYU's Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life sent an "URGENT Letter" to his email list:

I am writing to urge you to join me today in "A Campaign Against Hate" celebrating diversity at NYU, commemorating the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood and responding to a recent article in Forbes Magazine entitled "Going Muslim". The event, dubbed "Harmonyu," is being spearheaded by the Islamic Center at NYU. In my opinion, the article, written by an NYU professor, does not deal sensitively enough with the role and place of Muslims in America.

How's that for diversity? NYU's Jews and Muslims are ganging up on a Hindu and accusing him of promoting "hate"--an inflammatory charge anywhere, but especially on a university campus. Yet it's clear that Rabbi Sarna knows the charge is unjustified, since his actual criticism of Varadarajan's work--it "does not deal sensitively enough"--is so tepid.

Likewise, President Sexton's claim to have been offended by Varadarajan's article has no credibility. There's no doubt he was inconvenienced by it, and we expect he's none too happy with Varadarajan for that. But his statement "I found it offensive, too" is a ritualized expression of empathy, not to be mistaken for the real thing. And if you read the entire letter, you will find that in spite of Sexton's statement that he has "not foresworn" his right "to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous," he offers no substantive argument to rebut Varadarajan's column.

This is how "diversity" works in practice: Intellectual contention is drowned out in a sea of emotion, much of it phony. Members of designated victim groups respond to a serious argument with "pain" and "shock" and accusations of "hate," and university administrators make a show of pretending to care.

At some campuses, administrators and faculty members actually do practice censorship. NYU, at least in this instance, is not the worst offender in this respect. But this sort of emotional frenzy is nonetheless inimical to the spirit of rational inquiry that universities are supposed to encourage. Every incident of this sort makes it clearer how the University of Michigan played Justice O'Connor and her colleagues for fools.

What exactly are they teaching at NYU?

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