Saturday, May 06, 2006

PC Mantra: Do Not Offend

When I was in college, back in the 1970s, the term politically correct was not used. It might have been around, but there certainly wasn’t a political correctness movement. We simply used common sense when referring to those who were different from the majority population.

Since the early 1980s, the terms political correctness, politically correct, or PC have been used by various political factions, both liberal and conservative, to either promote their own agendas, or to attack the agendas of their counterparts. The term’s first widespread use apparently occurred during Pres. Ronald Reagan’s first term and was described by conservatives as a political correctness movement promoted by the democrats.

It is arguable whether or not there ever has been an actual “movement.” But starting in the late 1990s, the more liberal college campuses started pushing political correctness to the point where conservatives accused them of suppressing freedom of speech. You know it’s a complex and convoluted issue when conservatives cry foul on freedom of speech concerns.

Private colleges, of course, may enforce whatever manner of doublespeak requirements they wish on their students and faculty. But public colleges and universities should not.

There are plenty of examples, some perhaps exaggerated, of public universities crossing the boundary of free speech by enforcing the use of certain terms designed not to offend any minority group. Not long after matriculation, students become indoctrinated with the use of correct terminology, and those who do not comply may be disciplined.

There are even political correctness consultants that universities can hire, for an exorbitant fee, who will come in and tell the administration what it can do to increase diversity and decrease instances of intolerant speech.

It sounds good, but ultimately setting speech standards will lead to less diversity where it counts, diversity of thought.

The most popular recruitment catchword that many public universities use these days is diversity. There’s nothing wrong with having a diverse campus. It’s a positive thing. But in their attempts not to offend ethnic groups, women, minorities, and the disabled, many institutions establish and enforce the use of certain terms in place of others.

The phrase “differently abled” replaces the term disabled, for example. African-American replaces black, even though the vast majority of blacks have never even been to Africa. And “first-year student” replaces freshman, because the latter appears not to be gender-neutral enough.

Other examples include the use of chairperson instead of chairman, line worker instead of lineman, Native American in place of Indian, and maintenance cover instead of manhole cover. Most politically correct terms tend to have more syllables and be more difficult to pronounce than their ostensibly more offensive alternatives.

There are even how-to guides that help incoming freshmen learn how to be more politically correct in college. The Web site has such a do-and-don’t list.

But compulsory political correctness on campuses tends to reduce diversity of thought by turning students into sheep who must comply with the university’s official ideological slant. On some liberal campuses, political correctness has gained an almost cult-like status.

Let’s face it; different people are offended by different things. Vegans may be offended by hamburgers; meat producers may be offended by vegans. Conservative Christians may be offended by tolerance; I’m offended by fundamentalists trying to enlighten me with the “truth.” But, especially in a place of higher learning, offending someone with intellectual discussion about taboo subjects is not always a bad thing.

College is a place of tolerance and diversity, but it is also a place for the free flow of ideas, even if those ideas may be offensive to some. People get offended all the time, but they tend to get over it.

Political correctness has become the fodder of comedians and satirists. That’s where it belongs. It deserves to be made fun of. There is no place for obligatory euphemisms on public college campuses.

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