The Ugly Face of Political Correctness

From Heterodoxy magazine

By Wendy McElroy

The third issue of a student newspaper, The Spartan Spectator, hit the campus of Michigan State University (MSU) on October 9th. On October 19th, a press release from the publisher and founder Jason L. Van Dyke stated, "At approximately 12:30 am October 19, 2000 I was assaulted by an unknown individual. At the time I was in a study lounge reading for a midterm. When I returned to my room at approximately 1:05 am, the place had been completely trashed." In addition, someone had urinated in Van Dyke's mattress and written "die" on the loft with a magic marker. Because that word constitutes a threat, the police reported the incident as a case of both vandalism and assault. A second press release, dated October 30th, added, "The perpetrators also stole Van Dyke's credit card number and ordered large amounts of electronic equipment to Van Dyke's house. The bill for this equipment, according to Daniel Van Dyke (Jason's father), is so far in excess of $6500, putting the theft into the range of felony credit card fraud and grand theft."

The trashing came on the heels of another attack: earlier that same week, an unidentified female destroyed the press run of Issue #3 by tearing up copies and throwing the tatters all over the third floor of Case Hall, which is Van Dyke's place of residence. Investigation into this matter has been suspended due to the stress of the subsequent criminal assault. In an e-mail update to Heterodoxy, Van Dyke explained, "We plan to start distributing under the doors of dorm rooms, increasing our press run, and varying the days that we put out issues. This should make it much harder to steal at least large quantities of the paper." Indeed, the theft of papers was a problem Van Dyke had anticipated. The first issue of The Spartan Spectator warned, "it is illegal to steal a free newspaper" and offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone doing so with the intention of stopping distribution.

Why does The Spartan Spectator inspire such rage? Its Mission Statement reads, "To promote conservative journalism at Michigan State University through the publication and distribution of The Spartan Spectator." To many, the word "conservative" is a red flag and virtually a synonym for "racist" or "anti-feminist." Moreover, Van Dyke has been an outspoken critic of political correctness on campus. For example, last October, he was told not to use the elevator and various other public areas of Case Hall, because a university-sanctioned campaign of racial and sexual discrimination was underway. Signs posted throughout the Hall indicated which restrooms and cafeteria tables were for "blacks" or "gays only." The discrimination against white heterosexuals was part of a program called ‘Our Divided Reality,’ which was organized by Case Hall Black Caucus, the Department of Residence Life, and MSU Prism – a support group for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered students. The voluntary program was meant to heighten students' awareness of how it felt to be a victim of discrimination. Figuring that his tuition gave him the right to access public areas within his own residence, Van Dyke refused to obey the program's "monitors" who were strategically stationed to pressure anyone who did not obey.

Instead of obeying, Van Dyke filed a complaint with MSU’s Judicial Affairs Office claiming that the discrimination -- voluntary or not -- violated MSU’s much-vaunted Anti-Discrimination Policy. Article II of the Policy reads, in part, "Thus, even if not illegal, acts are prohibited...if they: 1. Discriminate against any University community member(s) through inappropriate limitation of employment opportunity, access to University residential facilities...on the basis of age, color, gender, handicapper status, height, marital status, national origin." Judicial Affairs did not address Van Dyke’s complaint but the student body did. One female student wrote in The State News, MSU's student newspaper (11/01/99), "Mr. Van Dyke, my message for you is short and brief....Please stop whining about how hard it is to get respect for being a white, Christian man. If you can’t, please do the rest of us a favor and find another place to receive your education." Apparently, ASMSU -- MSU’s undergraduate student government -- agrees. ASMSU's Funding Board declined to finance The Spartan Spectator, as it funds other student endeavors, because the conservative paper was not considered "beneficial to students."

Van Dyke's reaction was pugilistic. In the October issue of The Spartan Spectator, he declared, "As a result of this, we have decided that we are going to launch a campaign against liberalism at MSU unlike one that has ever been launched before. It starts with ASMSU." He announced that his monthly publication would now issue bi-weekly under the editorship of Andrew Abramczyk. It would maintain its regular columnists, including the satirical jabs of "the raging lesbian" Jane Q. Liberal whom the paper claims it was forced to hire due to affirmative action.

Van Dyke is one of a growing class of students on American campuses today: he is a white heterosexual male who demands that universities apply their own anti-discrimination policies without bias. It is a battle he's been fighting for over a year now, ever since he began publishing in the MSU The State News, which used to be the only student paper on campus. As early as September 15th, 1999, Van Dyke commented in a letter to the editor on the hypocrisy with which MSU policies were being administered. "Apparently... it is only racism if it is directed at minorities. If discrimination is directed at white heterosexual males, it is called ‘diversity.’" Van Dyke’s words seemed carefully chosen. The home page at MSU’s site proudly declares one of the university’s "Guiding Principles" to be: "Advance Diversity within Community." In a speech delivered before C-SPAN, Van Dyke observed, "[F]or all the huffing and puffing these groups do about diversity - apparently they have never heard about the most important kind of diversity: diversity of opinion."

Van Dyke is not alone in voicing this concern. In their book, The Shadow University: the Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses, Harvey Silvergate and Alan Charles Kors concluded that American universities had become "the enemy of a free society." Through speech codes, the intimidation inherent in some sexual harassment policies, pressure from PC student groups, feminist politics... freedom of speech has been under full frontal assault. In response, Silvergate and Kors founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to assist students and professors whose First Amendment rights had been violated. Thor Halvorssen, executive director of FIRE, commented, "It has never been as bad as it has been today....Whereas these incidents [suppression of free speech] used to be isolated and infrequent, they tended to draw a lot of outrage before. But now it is seen as acceptable to silence those groups that are deemed politically incorrect, and that feeling is pervasive all across the country."

In January 2000, Van Dyke was hired by the State News to write bi-weekly columns, only five of which appeared. He became one of the most controversial columnists in the student paper's history, attracting a total of fifteen letters-to-the-editor, thirteen of which were negative. Van Dyke’s first column for The State News was entitled "The Racism of Affirmative Action." It opened with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous lines, "I have a dream four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Then, Van Dyke proceeded to break the monopoly ownership claim on King that advocates of political correctness have staked. Van Dyke "honored" him by tearing apart "one of many programs our government has instituted that is keeping" King’s dream "from becoming a reality," namely, affirmative action. Calling the policy "racist and discriminatory," Van Dyke ended with the comment, "I think Dr. King would agree."

On Monday, April 3rd, his last column -- entitled "Movement Preaches Tolerance Hypocritically" -- opened with the words, "I can see it now. By about 9 a.m. today, everybody will be talking about how a bigot at MSU dared attack homosexual rights during Pride Week 2000. I say good." Van Dyke then launched into a full frontal assault on the hypocrisy of the gay Pride Week that had been kicked off a week before (03/23) with a presentation by the radical feminist Mary Daly.

Professor Daly was an interesting choice of speaker for a week supposedly devoted to tolerance. She is notorious for refusing to admit males into her classes at Boston College. Yet Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments prohibits dual-sex universities that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of gender: this measure has often been cited by feminists to their advantage. A male student who had been refused admission into one of Daly’s classes demanded that the College apply Title IX equally to women and men. When the Center for Individual Rights [CIR] threatened a lawsuit on his behalf, the College suddenly decided to comply. Daly was pressured into retirement. The ensuing write-up in "Accuracy in Academia" was titled "Radical Feminist, Victim of Right-Wing Conspiracy?" Daly commented on the conspiracy, "It is very clear that I’m a target. CIR has Boston College as a willing collaborator and no doubt the Vatican."

The bitter irony of Daly as a spokeswoman for gender sensitivity and broad-mindedness was not lost on Van Dyke. The April 3rd article commented, "Daly is among the most intolerant people in the United States. She is an advocate of segregation and openly promotes women’s-only space." He asked, "[H]ow tolerant is the gay rights movement?" He concluded, "Gay rights activists who claim to be teaching tolerance and ridding the world of ignorance are actually some of the most bigoted and intolerant people.... In this day and age, you only have free speech when you agree with the liberal establishment. The day you begin to disagree, speech is no longer free."

The next day (04/04/00), The State News printed a letter from Blake Spear, vice-president of MSU Prism, a gay rights advocacy group. He threatened to bring MSU Judicial action against Van Dyke for violating the MSU Anti-Discrimination Policy. Van Dyke e-mailed Spear to inform him that any frivolous prosecution would result in a lawsuit. In an interview with Heterodoxy, Van Dyke explained what happened next. "This person [Spear] forwarded my response to the Opinion Editor of The State News, Dan Macklin, and demanded that I be fired or the gay rights group on campus 'might have to do something.' I know this because when Macklin sent me the letter announcing my dismissal, he inadvertently sent the original letter and his response." Spear demanded that the unrepentant columnist be ousted. Two days after his fifth column, Van Dyke was abruptly fired.

While I was doing research on Van Dyke's dismissal, from one hour to the next, a standard search on his columns in The State News archives no longer yielded results. In a phone conversation with Opinions Editor Dan Macklin, I inquired about access to one article in particular -- "Movement Preaches Tolerance Hypocritically" -- which I had neglected to download after reading it a few hours prior. He assured me that if the article existed – and he would not confirm that it did – then it would be in the archives. In an e-mail, Van Dyke explained why I could not longer access it. "That is because they took the URL offline," he stated. "However, I have the URL [<>] because they did not actually delete the file from their webspace.". A promised call from the main editor of The State News never materialized. Although Macklin claims that Van Dyke was fired because of his "bad" attitude and unprofessionalism, it is difficult to understand why articles that had been acceptable for publication were purged.

A central theme of George Orwell’s classical novel about a dystopian future, 1984, is the authoritarian control of history largely by deleting unacceptable aspects of it from the archives. Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, falsifies history as part of his job at the Ministry of Truth. People who have said or done the wrong thing are written out of recorded existence. They go down "the memory hole." Orwell commented on the consequences of such dis-history upon real truth, "One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources."

Van Dyke responded to The State News' Orwellian Memory Hole by establishing a website called ThePotatoe [<>], which declares, "The mission of ThePotatoe.Com is to promote Conservative and Christian political thought on the World Wide Web and beyond." He explained, "I started ThePotatoe.Com with my friend, Bill Barnwell, who just happened to have been fired a week or two earlier under highly similar circumstances [by The South End, Wayne State University's Student Newspaper].

Why the strange spelling of such a strange name? True to the in-your-face iconoclasm of the two founders, ThePotatoe is named in honor of former Vice-President Dan Quayle. Van Dyke explains, "'ThePotatoe.Com' is spelled exactly the way Mr. Quayle read it" in the famous television news clip that was played over and over again by the liberal media in order to ridicule him. Perhaps embracing the ridicule aimed at conservatives is a sound strategic move, given how difficult it can be to take the PC critiques seriously. Barnwell describes the sort of incident that causes fellow students to label him "racist" or "Nazi." It occurred while he attended an officially sponsored discussion of race relations at Wayne State. The audience was asked a question: if you were the principal of a school that received complaints about racial discrimination, what would you do? Among the solutions offered: students would be forced to sit at integrated tables in the cafeteria; the parking lot and lockers would be similarly integrated. When Barnwell's turn to speak arrived, he opened with, "for one thing, I would honor the right to free association."

ThePotatoe is a place where college conservatives who are denied the right to associate and speak freely can have their work published. One such writer is Chris Lilik, Editor-in-Chief of a student newspaper called The Conservative Column at Villanova University. In the early months of this year, Lilik's paper was confiscated by the school's administration. He received a voice mail message from the school's director of student development who expressed concern about a parody advertisement directed at a local bank that provided Villanova's ATM services. Expressing concern, the message informed Lilik that "I will be removing all the issues of The Conservative Column that I see." The paper was de facto banned from campus. He now writes for ThePotatoe, where The Spartan Spectator is also available online.

Are the opinions expressed in The Spartan Spectator offensive to the "average student?" Perhaps. Certainly feminists will be outraged by the strong pro-life stand that calls abortion "slaughter." Blacks will be insulted by the controversial Confederate Flag of Georgia that was proudly displayed on the front page of the second issue. Liberals should be appalled by The Spartan Spectacle's photo contest: "Could you use an extra $20? In our ever-growing quest to rid the world of liberals, The Spartan Spectator is acting as the positive voice for change by offering this photo contest. Do you have a picture of a liberal that may lead them to premature retirement, divorce, or even criminal proceedings? Why not send those photos to The Spartan Spectator? Our staff will vote on the winning entry, print it on the front page, and send the person submitting it $20. Double pay if the photo actually lands them in jail!" Anti-gun zealots will be horrified by the Nazi photograph of the bodies of Jewish women in a mass grave with the text, "On May 14, 2000, the so-called Million Moms marched to stop civilians from owning guns. Here's what happens when they get their wish."

And what of the most common complaint about -- namely, that it is anti-gay? Van Dyke explained to Heterodoxy, "The site is not designed to be a distinctively 'anti-gay' site. ThePotatoe.Com is designed to bring to light a variety of issues (gun control, affirmative action, taxation, censorship, and racism have been popular choices among our staff). The homosexual rights movement just happens to be the topic that has gained our website the most recognition and notoriety."

He then offered a detailed account of his personal position. "Homosexuality is unnatural as homosexual sex has no biological function. I believe homosexual conduct to be a sin against God, just the same as murder, adultery, and theft are sins, although I don't believe homosexuality is somehow a more grievous sin than others in the eyes of God." For Van Dyke, homosexuality is more than a personal choice. It has political and social consequences such as the "spread of dangerous STDs" [sexually transmitted diseases] and a general increase in promiscuity.

Van Dyke intends to go to law school, undoubtedly because he will have to legally defend the right to be political incorrect over and over again. Heterodoxy asked why he was willing to spend so much time and effort on The Spartan Spectator when it led to incidents such as the trashing of his room. Van Dyke answered simply, "I think that conservatives need to have a voice on campus." Then, he added, "We will not be silenced or scared off by a bunch of bleeding hearts. I see this simply as evidence that they are scared and that they want me to stop publishing. If they think they will stop me, they have another guess coming."

MSU has become a campus to watch in the accelerating conflict between political correctness and freedom of speech.

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