Opening a window on closed campus minds(National Post February 13, 2008)

A new documentary shows how repressive university political correctness has become

Barbara Kay, National Post 

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Early 20th-century American novelist Thomas Wolfe, the subject of my grad thesis, is most famously remembered for his book, or rather its title, You Can't Go Home Again. The phrase entered the language as shorthand for the disappointment one feels in later life when revisiting the greatly changed scene of one's youthful bliss.

My youthful bliss was studying the great writers of Western civilization at the University of Toronto. I didn't know then I was witnessing a "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar": the outgoing tide of a classically liberal education.

I don't suffer from the "in-my-day" syndrome, whereby the institutions of one's formative years seem in retrospect superior to those of the next generations. I haven't lost my objectivity; academia has. In my day, the university's mission was to open minds; today it is to close them.

For proof, see Indoctrinate U, a documentary film that explores the reflexive suppression on campus of the ideologically non-compliant in its midst. The Canadian premiere takes place in Ottawa on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m., at the National Archives of the Library of Canada. (Or order Indoctrinate U at

The film focuses on American campuses, but leftist triumphalism knows no national borders. The pattern of political groupthink captured by filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney could be replicated at any number of similarly left-leaning Canadian universities.

Building on testimonials by students, faculty, alumni and critical commentators, including attempts to interview campus administrators (not a single one co-operated; several were filmed calling the police to eject Maloney from campus), the young filmmaker mounts a compelling indictment of--in George Orwell's words -- the "smelly little orthodoxies" suffocating intellectual diversity on campus.

Indoctrinate U exposes the full gamut of the PC scourge: irritations that grate, like speech codes forbidding words that may lead to "a loss of self-esteem" (Colby College) or a ban on gender-specific partner terms such as "boyfriend" (University of West Virginia); and cuts that sting: on campus after campus, conservative student journalists are reviled, their dailies trashed en masse. "The only good Republican is a dead Republican!" screams one offended student when offered a conservative broadsheet.

Diversity of opinion is squashed, sometimes with savagely hypocritical zeal. At Indian River Community College in Florida, the Christian Fellowship was refused the right to show The Passion of the Christ because it was "R rated," but a play called F--king for Jesus was permitted, featuring a girl masturbating before a picture of Jesus.

The most sympathetic victims are conservative faculty, because academia is their life, not a way station. At California Polytechnic, "outed" professor Laura Freberg was reproached by her colleagues, "We never would have hired you if we'd known you were Republican." In spite of her impeccable academic credentials and stellar teaching ratings, Freberg was removed as department chair, and a swastika burned on her lawn.

Just when you think he has plumbed its depths, Maloney finds more sickening examples of Western self-loathing. Kuwaiti student Ahmad al-Qloushi dared to write a pro-American essay at Foothill College. He was threatened with the loss of his visa by a professor; and administrators subsequently authorized the distribution of a third-party flyer calling him "as bad as Hitler" and likening him to a suicide bomber.

These examples seem sensational, but the film's tone is calm and objective. Maloney did not appear to have cherrypicked his witnesses. He toured campuses big and small, famous and humble, across the nation. It was the same "velvet-totalitarian" story everywhere. His interview subjects reflect on the problem soberly and articulately, and every case included was vetted for veracity and moral clarity.

The camera does not lie: Former centres of learning and intellectual diversity are now indoctrination sites systemically dedicated to the abbreviation of human curiosity and the alienation of students from Western civilization.

I often wonder where in Canada I could "go home again" in the 21st century. I have one simple, symbolic criterion: a learning centre that would still hold up for critical admiration the greatness in the writings of Thomas Wolfe, a hard-drinking, aggressively heterosexual white male from a racist background, whose creative inspiration was Western civilization's literary treasure trove and whose overriding theme was his passion for America.

That's a tall order nowadays. I only know one three-year arts program in Canada today I'd be glad to call my intellectual home, and I fear for its survival.