The spectacle of the swift hand of injustice swatting that hapless Washington, D.C., aide who uttered the dread word "niggardly" reminds us that the PC police still are out in force, patrolling college campuses, the business world, and government offices. But can that be light at the end of the tunnel we faintly glimpse?
As Jonathan Rauch recently reported in The National Journal, the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has voted to revoke the university's speech code limiting professors' speech and to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom. You might think this would go without saying at an establishment supposedly dedicated to intellectual inquiry. But no. As Rauch observes, the University of Wisconsin has been an "epicenter of political correctness." In the 1980s, when Donna Shalala was chancellor, the university implemented one of the most wide-ranging speech codes in the country. "The university is institutionally racist," Shalala charged at the time. "American society is racist and sexist. Covert racism is just as bad today as overt racism was thirty years ago."
Of course, "institutional racism" is one of those convenient Orwellian categories that have proved so effective in the PC assault against individual liberty and free speech. After nearly 20 years of groundless charges of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and so on, the Wisconsin profs at last woke up.
Something may be stirring at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, too. Some refer to that town as "the People's Republic of Amherst," because political correctness took root there early and has flourished luxuriantly. But writing in the Boston Globe, Robert M. Costrell, a professor of economics at UMass Amherst, noted that the university is scaling back its race-based admission policies and is beginning to assess the moral and intellectual damage its embrace of education by racial preference has caused. It will be uphill work: "The culture of racial preference is woven deeply into the policies and the infrastructure" of the university, Costrell noted, "and it will not yield gracefully to the law." Nevertheless, the university's general counsel has directed the chancellor to end a quota-based admission policy.
Encouraging signs, certainly; but it would be a mistake to make too much of them. Regarding the battle against political correctness, we are more or less in the position that Winston Churchill described in 1942: "Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."