July 04, 2003

The Chemistry has Racial Implications

Noting that we share an enjoyment of goofy campus censorship stories, esteemed comrade Aaron forwards this example. It's a pretty good one.

The facts are these: one Steve Hinkle, a Cal Poly student and member of the College Republicans, attempted to post a flier advertising a university-sponsored event, a speaking engagement featuring black conservative Mason Weaver, author of "It's OK to Leave the Plantation." The flier consisted of nothing more than the title of the book, the author's photo, and the time and place. Students at the Multicultural Center where he attempted to post the flier objected and called the police (alert: "suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature.") Hinkle was charged with "disruption of a campus event", found guilty, ordered to issue letters of apology to the offended students, and to undergo some kind of sensitivity counseling, according to this. On pain of expulsion.

Weaver's schtick is mildly provocative in itself, appropriating charged terms and images to push racially sensitive buttons as part of a challenge to what he characterizes as an entrenched orthodoxy, and obviously deliberately so. He uses "The Plantation" as a metaphor for the "culture of dependency" often bemoaned by conservatives, and his website calls for a "New Underground Railroad" to free "the slaves still trapped in a mind-set of dependency upon Uncle Sam's Plantation of self-doubt." I've heard him on the radio, and he's a pretty effective motivational speaker with not a lot of kind things to say about "black leaders."

There is an inherent provocation in the title itself, and it's not hard to see why such a flier, featuring this title and the image of its African American author, might have provoked a reaction from students who hang out at the Multicultural Center. And why am I just a teensy-weensy bit suspicious that that wasn't entirely unintentional on Mr. Hinkle's part?

That hardly matters, though. It's clearly a violation of free speech rights and plain common sense for a university to punish and threaten a student for attempting to publicize, by means of a strictly factual flier, a university-sponsored event, mischievous attitude or not. That's so obvious it hardly needs stating. Except that it does, as the lengthy letter excerpted in the article linked above indicates.

And of course, what tale of absurd campus censorship would be complete without an inane quote from a university administrator? This one does not disappoint. The prize goes to the Vice President for Student Affairs Cornel Morton, who told Hinkle at his hearing:

You are a young white male member of CPCR [Cal Poly Campus Republicans]. To students of color, this may be a collision of experience.... The chemistry has racial implications, and you are naive not to acknowledge those.

I can't quite make sense of this, though it has a vaguely unpleasant, neo-segregationist flavor. But if he's saying it was naive for a white male university student to imagine he could get away with exercising his right to free speech in a multi-racial environment without being persecuted for it, it's difficult to disagree with him. At any rate, Lord save us from educators who seek to punish students for naivety.

UPDATE: This story is starting to look like it has "legs," as they say. Glenn Reynolds has several posts including multiple links and the "contact information" for the Cal Poly president and the above-quoted Cornel Morton. (Uh oh.)

Here, via Erin O'Connor, is the flier that started the whole thing. And here's a UPI story (via the FIRE site) which suggests that, rather amazingly, during the hearing Vice President Morton also mentioned Hinkle's hair and eye color as relevant factors in assessing his guilt and appropriate punishment. Of course, the university has yet to tell its side of the story, so we'll have to see what develops. It's not at all relevant to the free speech issue (on which, if the reports are accurate, Cal Poly seems pretty clearly to be in the wrong); but if, in addition, we're going to play a round of Spot the Racist in this story, it certainly appears as though it's possible that they may have had the wrong man in the dock.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 4, 2003 01:43 AM | TrackBack

It's a Multicultural Center, except for, you know, THAT strain of our culture, the reason and debate part. It's in the small print.

Posted by: Matt from Vegas at July 4, 2003 06:46 AM

I agree that posting the flyer in the Multicultural Center sounds ever so teensily intentionally provocative. On the other hand, this is where your target audience hangs out, no?

What I don't get is why provocation is considered a Good Thing when you're calling for "a million Mogadishus" in front of thousands, and a Very Bad Thing Indeed when you're quietly posting an approved flyer for an approved talk.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at July 4, 2003 05:40 PM

naive for a white male university student

White male Republican university student. I somehow suspect that the political intimidation was at least as intended as the racial intimidation.

Posted by: jeanne a e devoto at July 6, 2003 08:33 PM

If memory serves ... Lincoln would have been described as a "young white male member of" the Republican Party. "To students of color, this SHOULD BE a collision of experience.... The chemistry has racial implications, and THE PROFESSOR IS naive not to acknowledge those."

Are college professors truly this willfully ignorant?

Maybe this young man's views will be more readily acceptable when his "group" achieves a "critical mass" at this particular university.

Posted by: TAS at July 7, 2003 01:54 AM

Please. Why is it that one race has to walk on eggshells for fear of saying something 'offensive', while another race can say almost any derogatory racial comment with no fear of reprisal?

Maybe white people had better start standing up for themselves and start standing up for "white culture". What's white culture? Heck if I know, but other groups have their own ''x' culture'.
Would it be wrong for whites to demand respect for white culture?

Posted by: eric at July 7, 2003 04:51 AM


I'm no AA rententionist--at least I would've favored a much closer specification of the SCOTUS's "holistic"--but I find your "critical mass" remark gratuitous and massively dishonest. This issue pretty plainly has zero implication for affirmative action.


As a honky, can I just stand up for free speech, or do I have to stand up for casserole and dockers as well?

Posted by: spacetoast at July 7, 2003 06:09 AM

Spacetoast wrote : "I find your "critical mass" remark gratuitous and massively dishonest. This issue pretty plainly has zero implication for affirmative action."

I disagree in part and agree in part. First, I am obliged to agree that YOU find my remark "gratuitous". I suppose that I should also agree that YOU find my remarks "massively dishonest", as opposed to "insubstantially dishonest". These are your opinions, I am obliged to accept that you might believe them.

Second, this issue plainly has implications for affirmative action. But only in a general sense. I do not allege that THIS incident is a direct result of the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy (how could I), instead I allege that the specious argument made by the U of M is disproved by this incident.

The purpose of affirmative action is to foster an exchange of ideas from all students. The U of M argued that a "critical mass", or some nebulous number, of students is required in any educational setting so that an exchange of views can take place. (Based on the theory that minorities will not honestly engage in theoretical conversations or debate until a numerical quota is fulfilled.) This incident tells ME that honest debate is not welcome or wanted ... but I do not allege that the minority students are to blame. I allege that this university itself seeks to stifle debate.

Rather than encouraging an honest debate, the university finds this student guilty. His crime - posting a flier for an upcoming university sponsored event on a public bulletin board in a public place. This public place - the "Multicultural Center".

The university should have facilitated and encouraged the debate.

(And you should lighten up)

Posted by: TAS at July 7, 2003 03:02 PM


"First, I am obliged to agree that YOU find my remark "gratuitous". I suppose that I should also agree that YOU find my remarks "massively dishonest", as opposed to "insubstantially dishonest". These are your opinions, I am obliged to accept that you might believe them."

Whatever, I'm not going to fool around with this.

"Second, this issue plainly has implications for affirmative action. But only in a general sense...I allege that the specious argument made by the U of M is disproved by this incident."

1. You can't claim only a general connection with affirmative action and also a defeat of the "critical mass" argument. You can't have both the safety of the first claim and the magnitude of the second. If you're just lazily connecting totems of minority politics, well, that's what you're doing, and I stand by my original criticism.

2. You claim that the critical mass argument is "disproved" by this incident.

On the reasonable assumption that Cal Poly would satisfy the critical mass standard, your claim is false, unless something like the following:

(a) You assert some sort of general entailment from satisfaction of the critical mass standard, i.e. "this incident, and not something else, is the paradigmatic consequence of satisfying the critical mass standard."


(b) You assume achieving critical mass is supposed to be a *sufficient* condition for achieving some sort of ideal debate community, anything short of which constitutes a falsification of the critical mass argument.

If you have in mind something like (a), then you have to be able to point to a real live research-backed defense of it, because incidents and anecdotes don't cut it. If I told you various stories about "exchanging views" with people at the multicultural center at my college, would that count as proof that a critical mass standard achieves what it's supposed to?

Also, since (a) implies that this incident is a consequence of reaching critical mass, and since that critical mass could in principle be reached with or without a quota, (a) basically complains that quantity 'x' minority students --> this kind of problem, which, waiving other issues, is inconsistent with your statement that "I do not allege that the minority students are to blame."

If you have in mind something like (b), you are still claiming that satisfying the critical mass standard doesn't deliver what it's supposed to, the acid test for which is obviously still student behavior and you are again contradicting your statement that "I do not allege that the minority students are to blame." Moreover, (b) isn't accurate. This is Payton from the Gratz orals:


"If you have the meaningful numbers of minority students, what then happens is that students will see a range of ideas, a range of viewpoints from and among those students and they will then see things that they may not have expected, similarities and differences, and those in turn will have the result of undermining stereotypes...That's the interest that the University is asserting."

I think we agree that quotas are unacceptable, so let's leave that out. Now, I think we can rightly criticize this on the grounds that it's vague, a little flowery, and makes no mention of side-effects, but even the Scalia twins recognize a basic truth here, vulnerable only when surreptitiously idealized.


"...the design is to make sure we get the critical mass of students that are, in fact, necessary for the educational benefits that we are asserting here." (*necessary*)

"We need to reach a critical mass of minority students to achieve what we want," has been that part of the diversity argument.

"Reaching a critical mass of minority students achieves everything we want," has been one of the many caricatures.

They are two different claims, and should be treated as such.

Finally, perhaps you're after some sort of cloudy connection in the "minority entitlement" vein. In other words, the flyer incident, affirmative action...it's all a part of "that stuff," in which case I think "massively dishonest" is an apt characterization indeed.

"This incident tells ME that honest debate is not welcome or wanted."

Agreed, but this doesn't speak to the rightness or wrongness of AA.

"I allege that this university itself seeks to stifle debate."

Agree 100%, but this doesn't speak to the rightness or wrongness of AA.

"(And you should lighten up)"


How's that?

Posted by: spacetoast at July 7, 2003 11:06 PM

I stand corrected ... I think.

Enjoyed the discussion.

Posted by: TAS at July 8, 2003 01:02 AM

Yeah, AA has some small personal significance for me and even though in 99 out of 100 versions I oppose it I don't like to see it lumped in with every wacky thing that comes along (like this flyer incident), but sorry if I jumped on your back.

Posted by: spacetoast at July 8, 2003 04:14 PM

I am not sure that TAS should have conceded the point so quickly.

What the CalPoly incident demonstrates (as if this point required further demonstration) is that the nominal purpose of AA, an "ideal debate community", is not really desired by those in charge of modern higher education. In fact, university administrations are hostile to such debates and are willing to punish certain participants when such a debate occurs. What occurred at the CalPoly Mulitcultural Center is exactly the type of exchange which AA (and, presumably, the "multicultural" center itself) is supposed to foster. Mr. Hinkle is now getting his accedemic experience "enriched" but good and hard.

What I find most interesting about this incident is that rather than simply admitting that Hinkle's message was objectionable the CalPoly administration contends that it was his race alone which was the source of the "disruption" for which he faces accedemic discipline. In other words, Mr. Hinkle faces expulsion because he should have known that the multicultural center was "off limits" to white students. Evidently, it is the position of the university administration that white students should realize that they ought to stay away from places such as the multicultural center least they encounter African-American students and provoke a "clash of experiences." How is that for undermining the nominal purpose of AA?

By the way, I am sure that white student visit the multicultural center all the time. If Hinkle was there to promote a lecture by Noam Chomsky there would have been no problem.

Posted by: BMcBurney at July 8, 2003 06:51 PM


I'm supposed to be doing a paper for my summer class, so I'll have to abandon this soon.

Look, for this incident to have an implication for AA--specifically, for it to have the effect of showing that it's not the case that ethnic diversity is desirable on the grounds outlined in, e.g., the quote I snagged above--and not merely an implication for one or some of the proponents of that argument, then the problem should be at the level of student behavior, rather than at the level of the administration (we've obviously decided to treat the Cal Poly administration as a proper mouthpiece for the diversity argument, which by the way is unsound and unfair). The reason for this is that otherwise we've caught the administration acting hypocritically, but that's all. If I argue against driving SUVs and you catch me driving an SUV, it means I'm a hypocrite, but it has no implication for the rightness or wrongness of driving an SUV.

Here's my gut take on the incident: The Hinkle kid new exactly what he was doing. With all the comments people are making about how college multicultural centers "are" I don't see how we can reasonably deny this kind of sophistication to Hinkle when he walked in with the flyer. Anyway, I'm not willing to smugly shake my head at the words "multicultural center" one minute, and feign naivete on Hinkle's behalf the next. I think the best inference is that he went there mainly to get "those" kids riled up. Then, "those" kids got riled up, and ran off to the administration.

Two groups are pissed off at each other and everyone's acted like a jackass. Maybe you see a problem here, I don't. This is a college campus. Everything is in order. Not to mention that this situation sort of looks like a kernel of what the diversity argument promises. Or do we now want to say that a debate or a "view exchange" must start with everyone sitting around holding hands? All I get from this is that quantity 'x' "diversity" is not a *sufficient* condition for the ideal debate community.

No doubt tattling to the administration was a pretty weak move--they could have, for instance, posted a [Buckwheat say, O’tay!] flyer next to Hinkle's, calling attention to Weaver's eccentric and hyperbolic language...of course then the college republicans would've complained to the administration about improper bulletin board use or something--but the fact that they did tattle instead of doing something more interesting doesn't count for anything. Folks go to college, theoretically, to learn how to think good, not because they already do.

I agree totally that the administration, especially the idiot vice president, fucked up hugely. I don't know how to make that more clear. The upshot is that the tattling behavior of the mc-center kids is reinforced, Hinkle gets a moral victory he probably doesn't deserve, in addition to the obvious fuckups--violation of rights, inane racial comments etc. But this has nothing to do with AA.

*This has nothing to do with AA!*

"If Hinkle was there to promote a lecture by Noam Chomsky there would have been no problem."

Until a new (no doubt exotic) piece of information develops, I won't discuss Chomsky in connection with this issue.

Posted by: spacetoast at July 9, 2003 01:22 AM


Neither TAS, nor I, claimed that this incident, by itself, proves that AA has no educational value or is morally wrong (although I believe those things). TAS' original quarrel with your post, and my additional comments, merely point out that your assertion that "this has nothing to do with AA" is over-stated. You essentially admit as much when you assert that the incident merely demonstrates that the CalPoly administration is acting in a hypocricical manner. Evidence that the nominal purpose of AA (i.e., "educational diversity") is not really desired by the university because they suppress it whenever it occurs, is far from irrelevant to the AA debate. You may contend that the CalPoly Administration is unique in its approach to "diversity". In my opinion, however, they are fairly typical.

In short, I would agree that "everything is in order" and "this looks like a kernal of what the diversity agrment promises" except that Hinkle faces expulsion unless he apologizes for the "disruption" he caused by being white and conservative. Moreover, I am not sure it is all that clear that Hinkle knew he would create a disruption by posting the flyer and I am not sure that it matters anyway.

Posted by: BMcBurney at July 11, 2003 07:32 PM


"Evidence that the nominal purpose of AA (i.e., "educational diversity") is not really desired by the university because they suppress it whenever it occurs, is far from irrelevant to the AA debate."

A. Let's keep means and aims distinct.

B. I won't deal with your phrase "whenever it occurs"...although I'll say I think it tells about a general inclination to cherry-pick and generalize on this subject.

Anyway, false. The AA debate seeks to establish a prescription--namely, it seeks to answer the question, "Should applicants from certain minority groups be granted some sort of preference in the admissions process?" If it is argued "Yes" on grounds 'x' and it is found that 'x' is inconsistent with protecting some other value 'y', then, if and only if 'y' competes with 'x' as a desirable policy grounds, then is there an implication for the argument from 'x'. In this case, 'x' would be something like the "view exchange" argument, and 'y' would be some sort of value about restricting free speech when some people are offended. If there is a consensus as to the desirability of this 'y' among proponents of this 'x', then, and only then, is there any sort of implication for this 'x'. Is that clear?

Here's an analogy:

Let's say I, Hitler, argue for some policy 'A' on the grounds that 'A' is necessary to protect Jews from persecution. Simultaneously, I carry out a program of genocide against Jews, which we'll call 'B'. Now, there's no question that the grounds I offer for 'A' are directly at odds with my policy 'B', but this is totally irrelevant to the argument for 'A' not only in principle, but also in practice unless: (1) there's a consensus among proponents of 'A' that 'B' is a legitimate rival of 'A' in normative terms (either explicitly or implicitly acknowledged), or (2) I, Hitler, am the only proponent of 'A'. Otherwise, the only thing reliably concluded here is that I, Hitler, don't really value protecting Jews from persecution--which obviously implies not a fucking thing about the real value of protecting Jews from persecution or a policy 'A' embodying that value.

I'm confident you can master this distinction.

So, if and only if the actions of the Cal Poly administration are relevantly generalizable to college administrations in general (qua AA proponents), then is there a practical, though not principled, implication for the diversity argument for AA--although this consists only in a conflict of values; there is no implication as to which, if either, of these conflicting values should be retained.

Now, as a Californian and college student, my intuitions are:

(1) The CSU's are distinctively kooky in handling issues like this.

(2) As such, CSU administrators do not typify college administrators as a group.

If you want to retreat to your opinion on these points, I'll assume you're conceding the debate. Otherwise, since it's you making the generalization here, it's your burden to support your claim. If A contends that all or most redheads have quick tempers, it falls to A to show he is correct, and not to B to show that A is incorrect. Who makes the positive claim carries the burden of proof.

I propose the following test for your claim: If, as you say, the actions of the Cal Poly administrators are typical of administrators qua AA proponents, then it's reasonable to expect a plurality of members of this latter group to defend the actions taken by Cal Poly in this matter. Since admins much more often defend than criticize actions taken by other admins, especially on this sort of issue, I think my standard is quite reasonable, if not generous. We could argue about verification, but you get the general idea...If you don't like my standard, you may suggest an alternative. Various airy opinions and speculations do not support your generalization, which I will continue to regard as entirely false in lieu of data along the lines of what I've just proposed.

"I am not sure it is all that clear that Hinkle knew he would create a disruption by posting the flyer and I am not sure that it matters anyway."

No. It's manifest that Hinkle did know, and that fact doesn't excuse the university's actions in the least, whatever you are or aren't sure of.

Posted by: spacetoast at July 12, 2003 11:49 PM

Dear Mr. Spacetoast:

The chief error in your analysis is your assumption that policy arguements, especially in a democratic context, can be entirely divorced from the circumstances in which they arise.

If, as is clearly the case with AA, the arguments presented by the advocates of a policy are inconsitent with their other behavior it is reasonable to conclude that those arguments are insincere. If so, it may be that the advocates of this policy seek, not their stated goal, but another goal which would otherwise be unacceptable politically or legally. This is clearly the case with AA.

I contend that advocates of the policy do not actually desire "diversity." Rather, they are stuck with "diversity" as a rationale for AA because the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment would forbid the practice unless justified by on some "non-invidious" ground. Thus, proof that the desire for "educational diversity" is pretextual is relevant to the debate over AA because it would tend to expose the true purposes of the policy which would otherwise be politically and legally untenable.

To take up your example of Hitler and the Jews, we might accept that protecting Jews from persecution is a worthy policy goal. But if the means selected to accomplish that goal are that Jews are being rounded up and sent to camps it is reasonable to look at the motives of the policy advocates to determine whether they are sincere. This is true even if it is possible to make perfectly rational arguments in support of the policy as a means of reaching the nominal goal.

Thus, although it may be that Jews are being rounded up to prevent their persecution by the general population it may also be that they are being rounded up to facilitate their persecution by the government. It is important, somestimes very important, to be able to tell the difference. If you are familiar with the way in which the German government has treated Jews with respect to other matters it may be possible to draw inferences concerning the true purpose of the "concentration camp" policy. Indeed, in this particular instance, some European Jews who drew the correct inferences from past government behavior went into hiding and some of those survied the war. Those who failed to draw the correct inference from past government behavior were killed in large numbers.

I am confident that you can master the distinction.

Posted by: BMcBurney at July 17, 2003 06:58 PM
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