Don't Get Caught Reading at a University

Or you might find yourself hauled before some bizarre committee and disciplined (HT: Selwyn Duke). This student was disciplined for reading a history of the KKK. What if he had been actually researching archival KKK publications?

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. FYI, not trying to be annoying, but I think the person in the article is white.

    “The affirmative-action people at Indiana University never saw past the color of my white skin.”

    Thanks for the blog

  2. The student reading the book was white. The complainant and the unversity employee who pursued the case were black. The ACLU came to the defense of the student and eventually got the case dropped. Granted, the complaint never should have gone anywhere. But the race of the people in the case matters at least for trying to understand the reactions of the two sides in the case. It might not have been simply a matter of PC police stomping free inquiry, as most articles construe it. It might have been a racially charged atmosphere in which a little bit of charity shown by the white guy (putting the book down in charitable deference to his coworker) would have averted the ensuing bitterness. Who knows. Most of the reporting is eager to show how ridiculously PC universities are (even though it was the ACLU, often the culprit in stories about PC, that came to the student’s defense). So the stories don’t bother with trying to understand the racial dynamics of the workplace.

  3. Antoine,

    The AmThinker writer claims that the student reading the book is black. He says that the news stories omitted this fact because it didn’t fit their template. Do you have information that contradicts the AmThinker account?

    Why is reading a book about the opposition to the KKK offensive to anyone? Why would it be offensive for student to do archival research into the KKK be offensive?

    Let’s assume that the student’s own account is roughly accurate.

    I grew up in a racially charged atmosphere. I think I understand a little about what might have been going on. I understand that the word “Klan” is frightening to many and that some co-workers may not have understood what the book was but as much as I value their feelings, I value the student’s freem more.

    Intellectual freedom is more important than the feelings of ignorant people who react to seeing the word “Klan” on a book. If we allow emotional reaction such as is described here to restrain, on a campus ostensibly devoted to learning, what students may read then we have descended into genuine madness.

    Further, the fact that an administrator took the side of the mob is chilling.

  4. Well, in the NY Post editorial that you link to the student/janitor writes, “The affirmative-action people at Indiana University never saw past the color of my white skin.” I take that to mean that the student/janitor is white.

    Of course I don’t think that reading a book about the Klan or doing research on the Klan is inherently offensive or should be discouraged. I can imagine, however, how a non-bookish person who has been the victim of discrimination might be bothered by seeing the book. And if you read some more about the case, you’ll see that the guy was asked several times not to read the book at work out of respect of his coworker. He persisted.

    In his shoes, why not charitably acknowledge the co-worker’s complaint, precisely in the interest of improving this particular relationship between white and black co-worker? Reading the book at home or in the library is not going to sink the principle of free speech.

  5. Hi Antoine,

    This is very helpful. I read the editorial by the student but I missed that adjective.

    I don’t think that free speech hangs on this case but the rebellion against the PC folk has to start somewhere. Why not let it start with a janitor reading an inherently unobjectionable book? Yes, Sampson should have tried to explain to co-workers that the book was a history but if a student can be told not to read this book because someone finds it offensive, then who gets to make the reading list? What sort of list would it be?

    Actually, as hard as it might be to believe I’ve been the victim of discrimination — not systemic discrimination of the sort faced by minorities, but racial discrimination. They were unusual circumstances and largely of my own making but I do have some idea of what it feels like to be on the other side of the power equation.

    Why is capitulation to ignorance and fear the only way to proceed? Why isn’t education and enlightenment a better way to proceed?

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