It's Hard to Say
Hating Speech at UT
Who was it who said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all?" A person subscribing to that theory would have hated being a student at the University of Texas this past year. While the campus has grappled with the fallout from the Hopwood decision ending UT's race-based admissions policy, students have also had to contend with the issue of free speech in all its glory and ugliness. Pro-Hopwood Law Professor Lino Graglia's not-so-nice comments last year concerning his belief that Hispanic and black students don't perform as well as whites in the classroom due to cultural differences caused even the President of the United States to disavow what his spokesman described as "that kind of talk." Immediately after Graglia spoke his mind, a group called Students for Access and Opportunity (SAO) formed to advocate the reinstatement of affirmative action and the implementation of a mandatory multicultural course at the university. After unsuccessfully calling for the head of Professor Graglia, SAO put the editors of the campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, in its cross hairs. SAO president Oscar de la Torre and fellow SAO member Toni Nelson Herrera filed racial harassment complaints against the Texan, objecting to viewpoints written by conservative editor Colby Angus Black and his associate editors Jim Dedman and Hunter Stanco. Their grievances also focused on two cartoons drawn by Eric Reel. One depicted a Mexican on a horse wearing a sombrero with the caption "Viva la Affirmative Action." The other showed a police officer asking students at the UT Law School sit-in whether they have gotten the full protest experience, since they had not yet been beaten by a cop.
In response to SAO's complaints, the Texas Student Publications (TSP) Board, made up of students, administrators, faculty, and professional journalists, passed a resolution chastising Black. Passed by a 5-1 vote, the TSP edict declares that Black "published racially insensitive cartoons on September 27 and October 7" and his "column on November 6 fell short of an acceptable apology." At the November 7 meeting at which this resolution was approved, Black made the provocative point that, had the columns and cartoons in question been directed at Jim Bob Moffett or some other favorite liberal punching bag, he would probably be lauded by the Board. More importantly, he said, TSP's meddling from above raises the serious question of whether they are unduly interfering the editorial independence of the elected editor.
Along with taking the Texan editors and Lino Graglia to task for expressing their opinions, SAO has made its presence felt at numerous forums, debates, and speeches held on campus. On November 5, former Bob Dole speechwriter and best-selling conservative author David Horowitz delivered "A Response to Jesse Jackson and Political Correctness," in which he defended Graglia and argued that racial disparities have more to do with cultural differences than white racism. Horowitz discussed the writings of leading black conservative Thomas Sowell, who is fond of pointing out that blacks from the West Indies exceed white Americans in socioeconomic and educational attainment, thereby casting doubt upon the notion that it is racism that is holding native-born minorities back.
When Horowitz mentioned Sowell, SAO's de la Torre blurted out "Uncle Tom." De la Torre continued to interrupt Horowitz throughout his speech. In the question and answer session, several SAO members also berated Horowitz, claiming that he is a "white supremacist."
Another series of outbursts made for an uncomfortable debate on November 20 between the College Republicans (CR) and SAO. About 100 students, with about half on each side and a few neutral observers, gathered to hear two students each from the CR and SAO square off in a format based on a high school debate round. Cameron Hall, a CR officer, led off by saying "There is no justice in a system that prefers the children of Michael Jordan over the children of a poor Appalachian farmer who happens to be white. My dad is a full-blooded American Indian. It is degrading and demeaning for the government to assume I'm poor and disadvantaged."
Maribel Garcia, representing SAO in the debate, responded by pronouncing that "right-wing rhetoric is a conservative and bigoted crusade against affirmative action that claims blacks and Hispanics are inferior." She continued, "My dearest colleagues, please wake up and smell the racist coffee. Please come out as the racists that you are." At this point, the moderator of the debate interrupted to remind Garcia that both sides had agreed that there would be no name-calling. This brought cries of outrage from SAO supporters in the room, who shouted out words to the effect that the moderator had no business intervening in the debate.
Once order was restored, Mark Paredes, the other debater on the CR side, said, "The purpose of a university is to advance academic excellence, not promote diversity or self-esteem. As a minority student, it is incredibly demeaning to be told that allowances must be made for us." J. Reed, the second SAO orator, retorted that "Test scores are not the only measure of what is desirable on a college campus. The creator of an SAT was an out-and-out racist. I'd rather hear my bigotry straight than hidden under loaded concepts of meritocracy, fairness, and individualism." The debate deteriorated further into name-calling and race-baiting in the question-and-answer session, when a steady stream of SAO members paraded to the microphone to denounce the "racism" of the CR speakers.
A Nov. 24 forum entitled "Is Lino Graglia Right?" - which was organized by the Student African American Brotherhood - picked up right where the student debate had left off. Opposing affirmative action were Edward Blum, leader of the Houston Civil Rights Initiative (HCRI), which unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the city's minority contracting preferences, and Dr. Daniel Bonevac, Chairman of the UT Philosophy department and a fellow with the Texas Public Policy Institute. The pro-affirmative action side was presented by Terry Wilson, Associate Director of the UT Office of Public Affairs, Dr. John Warfield, UT Professor of African American Studies, and Margarita Arellano, UT Associate Dean of Students.
Each panelist refrained from insults, with the exception of Warfield, who said "white intellectual professors at this University still hold the fundamental belief in the genetic superiority of white males." But the question-and-answer session brought an outpouring of venom. Almost all of those who came to the microphone to ask questions were SAO members. Some posed thoughtful questions, but most made long statements assailing Blum and Bonevac as "racists."
Student Government President Marlen Whitley did not let his obligation to represent all students, and the fact that the forum was co-sponsored by the SG, prevent him from unleashing a tirade against Blum. Standing beside de la Torre at the microphone, Whitley said Blum "makes a mockery of civil rights." Noting that Blum had spent $70,000 of his own money to promote HCRI, Whitley proclaimed, "Are you looking for the answer? You're sitting on your answer." Whitley continued, saying Blum "does not know what it is like to be a victim of racial injustice." Blum calmly responded that Whitley's remarks were "intellectually lazy," and asked, "Are we going to make this into a game of whose parents have suffered the most from discrimination? Well, my father walked out of a concentration camp."
Judging from these eruptions, the only person on campus who is worse off than John Mackovic is the student who seeks to organize the next forum on race. A rational debate between thoughtful people about how to eradicate these vestiges of racism would indeed be a plus on college campuses such as UT, which pride themselves on being the intellectual pillars of our nation. After all, the Tower is engraved with the phrase "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." But as we strive to achieve this lofty goal on the issue that has most haunted this country's past, each of us must ask ourselves whether we are generating more heat than light.
Marc Levin is a Plan II Honors and Government Senior at UT, President of the pro-Hopwood group Students for Equal Opportunity, a columnist for The Daily Texan, Editor-in-Chief of The Austin Review, and an applicant to UT Law School.