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American University’s Rape of the First Amendment

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Posted on April 2 2010 2:25 pm

American University administrators and student editors are instituting a new policy to “edit” (read: censor) ideas and viewpoints that run afoul of its politically correct, left-wing orthodoxy.

American University in Washington, D.C. is now embroiled in a huge controversy over an opinion piece written by a 20-year-old undergraduate and NewsReal Blog contributor, Alex Knepper.

Knepper’s sin? He wrote a piece questioning the left-wing feminist orthodoxy over so-called date rape. (I say so-called because rape is rape: a heinous and evil act. The “date” modifier suggests that we’re talking about something else altogether and, in fact, we often are.) This radical dogma says that women are always the victims and are always blameless. Mr. Knepper had the audacity to disagree.

Big deal. This is a legitimate argument to have and certainly a topic worthy of vigorous discussion and dispute – especially on a college campus. You would think, after all, that if there’s a place where popular orthodoxies and the conventional wisdom ought to be challenged and contested it is on a secular college campus in Washington, D.C.

But alas, you would be wrong: Because as everyone now knows — and has well know for at least the past quarter-century — the illiberal Left now dominates American colleges and universities, and it will brook no dissent. Mr. Knepper, consequently, has become a campus pariah and a politically incorrect social outcast. This because he refuses to worship at the shrine of the Left’s immaculate feminist conception.

If social ostracism and cultural pressure were all that were involved here, that would be fine, albeit regrettable. But also at issue are the First Amendment, academic freedom, and free and open intellectual inquiry, all of which are being sacrificed on the altar of left-wing feminist orthodoxy.

Indeed, American University’s student newspaper, the Eagle, actually has apologized to its readers for Mr. Knepper’s column. The Eagle also has instituted a new editorial policy designed to weed out “offensive” columns written in a style and tone that might run afoul of the left-wing thought police.

The Eagle’s editor, moreover, pressured Mr. Knepper to resign as a newspaper columnist because, she told Alex, her life had become a nightmare. The social pressure and emotional blackmail from AU’s rabid and dominant left-wing thought police had become too much for her to bear, she earnestly told him.

Mr. Knepper, to his eternal credit, refused to resign. However, he did agree not to reapply for his position as a newspaper columnist next semester. “I simply cannot morally sanction an institution that equivocates on the principles of free-reigning discussion,” he wrote at NewsBusters, the blog of the Media Research Center.

Good for Mr. Knepper, but shame on the Eagle, shame on its editor, and shame on American University. They have been profiles in intellectual cowardice and personal and institutional pusillanimity.

Indeed, they have abandoned and jettisoned essential principles of academic freedom, which are integral to the very meaning and purpose of a college or university. And they have done this not out of allegiance to any supposedly higher principle, but rather out of devotion to a intellectually shoddy dogma, left-wing feminism, which cannot survive serious-minded scrutiny.

Worse yet, American University has enforced defacto censorship by putting future Alex Knepper’s on notice: Their heresies will not be allowed, let alone sanctioned. Heretics, in fact, quite literally will be weeded out and censored so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of AU’s easily offended student body.

The legalities of this issue are largely beside the point. Sure, because AU is a private university, and because the Eagle is a private newspaper, Mr. Knepper may have no legal redress. But so what? Free speech, free and open intellectual inquiry, and the principles that under gird the First Amendment have all been trashed by AU’s social and cultural jihad against Mr. Knepper’s heretical views.

Yet, instead of manning the social and cultural barricades on behalf of free speech and the First Amendment, AU administrators instead have warned the Eagle’s editors that

they are responsible to the community for the decision they made. The community holds the editors accountable through the complaint procedures outlined in the Eagle’s constitution. We are ensuring that those procedures are being followed.

In other words, Eagle editors, you may technically have the right to publish Mr. Knepper’s noxious views, but don’t blame us when the campus thought police come after you and try to intimidate you into intellectual submission and silence. Because we, the AU administrators, we will not stand by you. We will stand by “those [complaint] procedures,” and whatever other star chamber rules and regulations we’ve set in place to deter and punish heretics.

Nor will we defend the principles that form the basis of a university. Instead, we will invite anyone offended by Mr. Knepper’s heretical views to institute a formal complaint against him (and you, his knowing editorial accomplices). This to punish you for your heresy.

This is scary and unconscionable stuff, which ought to invite howls of outrage by anyone — left, right or center — who cares about free speech, academic freedom and free and open intellectual inquiry.

But far from being outraged at the threat this all poses to First Amendment principles, the AU campus and the outside legacy media instead have focused on so-called date rape and the supposed hurt feelings of AU’s easily offended student body. Needless to say, this is not a sign of intelletual health and vitality. Quite the opposite: it is a sign of intelletual rot and decay at one of America’s top citadels of higher learning.

To stop this rot and reverse this decay, David Horowitz has mounted a spirited but lonely push for an academic bill of rights. This to protect academic freedom, which is now under whithering assault from the academic and campus Left. American University’s latest social and cultural jihad against free speech proves that Mr. Horowitz is right: An academic bill of rights is urgently needed, and perhaps now more than ever. Bring it on and stop the fascist Left.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. As a member of Phi Beta Kappa, he believes in academic freedom and in offensive speech. You can follow him on Twitter: @Guardiano

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