October 30, 2003

SOCIAL JUSTICE: I guess today

SOCIAL JUSTICE: I guess today was the day the Passner story really broke through in the Blogosphere, with Romenesko and others taking notice; could a certain professor be far behind? Anyway, thanks and welcome to everyone who's found this site through Google searches on the subject or however other means; traffic's been insanely high the last few days so I guess quite a few people are searching around for news on what's going on up at Brandeis...
(And if you don't care at all about this and you'd rather read about other stuff, feel free to click down to the next post, or through to the next blog as it were. Last week it was baseball, this week it's this; I can already tell you next week I'll be blogging every day about the Strokes.)
I thought I'd take this opportunity to clarify a few things I've said previously, in response to a couple of the e-mails I've gotten on the subject in the last two days. I want to preface by saying that like anyone else, I come into the situation with my own opinions and personal prejudices, and I don't pretend to speak for anyone other than myself.
And no, I'm not at Brandeis right now. But then I wasn't in Iraq either, and that didn't stop me from blogging about it:
-First of all, I want to make clear that I have not and do not in any way seek to minimize the hatefulness of what Passner wrote, and am in no way urging the African-Americans at Brandeis to "get over it" or "not make such a big deal." Clearly, they have more than a legitimate grievance, and as someone who is not black I don't feel as though it's my place to tell them how they should or should not react to blatantly racist material appearing in the student newspaper.
-At the same time, I certainly feel as though certain people who don't deserve it are being tarred with the racism brush- and even the justifiable anger of Brandeis' black community doesn't make such a tarring fair.
I guess as a former staffer for the paper, I feel a natural identification with the Justice editors, who made a horrible mistake but are now collectively being accused of doing much worse. There are likely people on the current Justice Editorial Board who have wanted to pursue journalism careers for their entire lives, and now may have to abandon that dream because their names will forever be associated with a racially charged scandal- even though most of them had nothing personally to do with the mistake.
Three years out of Brandeis, I right now have a semi-successful professional career as a journalist. Had I not gained experience from having been a writer and editor on the Justice I probably wouldn't have that career, and I can't help but think that if when I was on the board one of the other editors had let a column like Passner's slip into the paper, my name would've been dragged into it, and as a result I may have had to find myself a new career before I even finished college.
Yes, the Justice editors made a horrible, horrible mistake. But nobody likes being the subject of the vitriol of an entire campus, or being subjected to non-negotiable demands, or being told by university higher-ups that their recent editor-in-chief election is nullified because they can't publish until that editor quits... just something to keep in mind.
-So the entire brain trust of a newspaper has been brought down by their failure to prevent the journalistic malpractice of a single lunatic writer. But something tells me Dan Passner won't get a book deal like Jayson Blair did.
-It's been said that Brandeis is a powderkeg where racial tension is bound to flare up at least once every few years. That may be because it's a campus where roughly half the student body has five background factors in common (say it with me: white/Jewish/suburban/upper-middle-class/liberal), and has very little experience sharing time or space with anyone who doesn't fit most or all of those criteria. I'm not about to blame the tension on affirmative action (which I support) or diversity (which I also support, though the implementation could use some work.) What I do have a problem with is with the rise of a certain form of doctrinaire, political correctness-based identity politics (practically invented by Brandeis' own Herbert Marcuse, and today mostly advanced by white professors and some white students) that, coupled with ever-present '60s nostalgia, has galvanized the Brandeis left before, during, and since my time there. Indeed, if the student body has it hard-wired into their heads from the start that every institution under the sun is intrinsically racist, is it any wonder that the raving of a singular nut like Passner gets mistaken for a widespread racist conspiracy?
-When I was on the Justice the paper was primarily accused of two sins: incompetance, and excessive toadying to the adminstration. Both were preferable to racism, of course; the former charge is likely to come back stronger than ever, but with some administration members now no longer even talking to the Justice, we may finally have seen the last of the latter.
-Another story: my senior year I went with a few of my co-editors to a college journalism conference in New York. We got to meet Martin Sheen; it was lots of fun. But I remember in particular that several of the other people that we met at the conference were there representing Midwestern bible colleges, which legislated such draconian, "Footloose"/John Ashcroft-like rules as "no dancing allowed." And when these intrepid young journalists would try to get gutsy and run pro-dancing editorials in their paper, the administrators would of course step in and quash publication. "Lucky us," we all thought, "our administrators would never do that!"
Should've known- last weekend the Brandeis administration, proving once again that the ubiquitous Brandeis buzzword "social justice" can be stretched to justify just about anything, unilaterally declared that The Justice- the Independent Student Newspaper of Brandeis University- could not publish until their newly elected editor-in-chief resigned, and until the paper agreed to push publication back three days. Why would they do such a thing? Fear of bad publicity, of course, if not of a potential race riot. Whether it's stuff like this, the bowing towards the false PC idol, or the gravy train of athletics, college presidents and other adminstrators have proven to be some of the most loathsome, good-for-nothing people in America.
-At any rate, it is my hope that order and peace can be restored up in Waltham, and the sooner the better. I end with one more question: This entire brouhaha began as a result of Passner's racist attack on Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Does Baker himself have any idea that this is going on?

Posted by Stephen Silver at October 30, 2003 12:45 AM
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