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 Free Speech, Anyone? 

February 6, 2007 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, September 18, 1997]
paragraph indentProfessor Lino Graglia, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Texas, is known for his provocative opinions. This week he has been the target of demonstrations and demands for his dismissal. University officials and many of his colleagues have repudiated his views. Jesse Jackson has made a special trip to Austin to accuse him of “racist, fascist, inaccurate speech” and to recommend that he be treated as a “moral and social pariah.” The university is investigating him.

Today's column is "Free Speech, Anyone?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.speech taboosSounds serious. Just what did Professor Graglia say?

speech taboosWell, he said that blacks and Hispanics “are not academically competitive with whites” because they belong to “a culture that seems not to encourage achievement” and in which “failure is not looked upon with disgrace.”

speech taboosMr. Graglia made his remarks at a news conference for a group that opposes affirmative action. He was trying to explain the sharply reduced numbers of black and Mexican students at the university in the wake of a court ruling banning race as a criterion for admission.

speech taboosActually, Mr. Graglia thought his was the “least controversial” explanation of the low minority numbers. He was proposing a “cultural factor,” as opposed to a racial or genetic one. “It appears to be the case that somehow, some races see to it that their kids are more serious about school,” he told the New York Times. “They cut less and they study more.”

speech taboosYou don’t say! Well, you’d better not say. From now on the party line is that all cultures instill identical ambitions and standards into their young ’uns. That is, all cultures are the same.

speech taboosMr. Graglia’s phrasing was a little unfortunate, but his point is sound. All cultures encourage achievement. But they encourage very different kinds of achievement. Some set a premium on physical prowess, some on musical skill, some on intellectual achievement, and so on. Why should we expect Mexicans to have the same eagerness as “Anglos” to succeed in such an Anglo-Saxon pursuit as the study of Anglo-Saxon law?

speech taboosThe typical black kid would rather be a major-league athlete than a lawyer. That’s a terribly racist thing to say, of course — except that it’s also true of the typical white kid. But the typical white kid is more likely to have a father who will eventually channel his interest to law or some other profession.

[Breaker quote for Free Speech, Anyone?: Staying in safe limits]speech taboosThe white kid headed for law school is still an exception among whites, but not as much as a black kid in the same situation. Furthermore, the increasing illegitimacy rate among blacks — that is, the absence of black fathers — makes it all the harder and more unusual for young blacks to aspire to a traditionally Anglo-Saxon profession.

speech taboosAnyway, Professor Graglia could have saved himself a lot of trouble by blaming the low black and Mexican enrollment on white racism. That stupid, facile, but safe explanation would excite no controversy in an institution of higher learning.

speech taboosOther young academics will get the message. The mob fury Mr. Graglia encountered, abetted by university officials, ensures that free speech will stay within safe limits in the future.

speech taboosUntil fairly recently, a university was a place where you could find more diversity of opinion than in the rest of society. Professors were famous for saying unconventional, radical, or risqué things that might have been taboo elsewhere. The prospect of intellectual freedom and adventure was one of the features that made college life so exciting.

speech taboosToday, though, ideological conformity is becoming one of the marks of the university. You can get more real debate by turning on your car radio than by living on a campus, where Lino Graglia belongs to an endangered species: the independent thinker.

speech taboosSeveral black students have actually filed a charge of “racial harassment” against Mr. Graglia on grounds that his views have caused them “severe emotional distress.” It recalls the old story of the co-ed who tearfully told her professor, “This semester you have destroyed everything I ever believed in, without giving me anything to replace it.” The professor replied, “Young lady, you will recall that Hercules was required only to cleanse the Augean stables. He was not asked to refill them.”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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