Late last year, someone bought the rabidly right-wing Las Vegas Review Journal. The interesting thing was, nobody knew the identity of the buyer. In a mad farce, the newspaper’s own reporters had to engage in an award-winning investigation to determine that the buyer was in fact the notorious plutocrat, Sheldon Adelson who has set himself the goal of purchasing candidates for the political right. Many Democrats in my adopted city doubted that even contamination by Adelson could significantly lower the editorial standard of the paper.
But yesterday, as though signaling to naysayers that there were deeper depths to plumb, the R-J published an utterly uninformed editorial, blasting the University of California system for making “college more stilted, more politically correct and generally less fun.”
The editorial referred to UC’s new efforts to crack down on “intolerance” and to police speech and advocacy on campus. I share the R-J’s disdain for the UC administration’s efforts to ensure that all speech is “civil”, thereby diluting debate. “Civility” is increasingly a weapon wielded by campus administrators against their critics, whether the debate in question involves tuition, race, sexuality, or other matters.
But when the R-J attempts to pin this initiative on lefty academics and California’s liberalism, it is either letting on its total ignorance about the circumstances of this assault on campus speech, or else is reflecting the propaganda needs of its new owner.
There are two impetuses behind UC’s ill-advised move.
The first is the new managerial mentality that exists on campus. The instrumentalization and commercialization of higher education is in part an affirmative project by neo-liberal elites who aspire to transform universities from institutions dedicated to thinking, teaching, and public service into businesses more concerned with their bottom line. It is this new class of administrators, many of whom have never spent a day in a classroom, who are behind the initiative, not faculty.
But it is important to note that this commercialization of higher education is itself driven and enabled by decades of divestment by the states from public higher education. States like California, even as its population has expanded in size and demographic complexity, have been spending less per student on higher education, leaving universities to raise tuition and fees to make up the shortfall.
Both the affirmative new market approach to higher education and the defensive contributions to it by under-funded public institutions are the product of conservative forces, not the liberals the R-J would like to deride. Right-wingers are behind the push to commercialize education, and they are behind the push to cut funding for public institutions in California and elsewhere.
But the other impetus, equally un-acknowledged by the R-J editorial team, is the lobby for Israeli colonialism that is so strong in California. Students on UC campuses had begun to push for campus- and system-wide divestment from any interests that contributed to Israeli colonialism (and in the same bill, divestment from any Palestinian organs associated with attacks on Israel). UC campuses had this fight when students pushed a grudging administration to divest from apartheid South Africa. They have carried on that fight today against Israel’s self-destructive and violent colonialism.
Threatened by campus activism and free speech, the lobby for Israeli colonialism marshalled its resources. This lobby has historically worked hard on campuses. One group gave Berkeley’s student body president a free trip to Israel. The same group seeks to target “opinion makers” in the U.S., including various elected figures, individuals from the business world, campus media, California student leaders, and University presidents. For more detail on campus lobbying at Berkeley, see here.
The lobby’s latest effort has been to target speech on campus that it regards as Anti-Semitic. However, its definition of anti-Semitism is absurd, and includes any criticism of the Israeli government’s colonialism and terrorism.
The “political correctness” that the R-J imagines to be a product of lefty campus conspiracies is actually a product of colonial, neo-conservative lobbying. That lobbying will not only prevent students on campuses around the country from taking a moral stand against regressive forces in our world. It also helps to silence critics of U.S. support for one of the world’s last colonial regimes.
Israeli colonialism not only punishes Palestinians, but is self-destructive, endangering the lives of Israeli citizens and the health of Israel’s democracy, always deeply compromised by its treatment of Palestinians.
It is disappointing that the R-J would pen such a sloppy editorial, attacking UC’s policy on campus speech and so wildly misattributing the motives behind it. It looks all the worse because their new owner is dedicated to defending Israeli colonialism and terror, and is therefore a commander within the lobby that has pressured UC to misconstrue free speech, urging the campus to condemn any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
Such attacks on critics of violence and colonialism are themselves assaults on free speech. The R-J should avoid becoming complicit, in this case through the spread of misinformation, in such assaults.