The University Record, February 28, 1994

LETTERS

Incidents violate speech policy

Three incidents challenging academic freedom occurred on our campus last year. A student in a political science course, an artist who contributed to the Law School’s prostitution symposium and a professor in the Sociology Department all were accused of thought crimes. Each accusation violated the spirit or letter of our Policy on Freedom of Speech (Standard Practice Guide 601.1), but none provoked public comment from senior administrators.

Anyone who reads our policy, and then reflects on events from Doe v. University of Michigan forward, can only conclude that the administration’s commitment to freedom of speech is profoundly compromised. The Doe decision itself makes depressing reading in this regard. So does Dean Goldenberg’s recent letter to the Record. In it she regrets the hurt caused David Goldberg a year ago by “anonymous” and “ad hominem” accusations. She concludes, however, by suggesting that we must respect academic freedom while at the same time creating “non-hostile, unchilling environments” for students, whose “perspectives and reactions” we will, as “successful communicators,” come to understand.

In reality, the accusations against Goldberg were not ad hominem and their anonymity is beside the point. His assailants claimed that while they respected “the importance of academic freedom... Prof. Goldberg’s behav-ior...went beyond [its] parameters...and imposed a chilling effect on the speech, performance, and learning environment” in his class. Their brief attacked the content of his course as “race and gender-baiting.”

They made it obvious, in other words, that we cannot integrate the ideals of free speech and a “non-hostile, unchilling environment,” even if we become the “successful communicators” Dean Goldenberg envisages. In fact there are only two routes to “non-hostile, unchilling environments”: one is to impose Draconian restrictions on expression such as our Prof. [Catharine A.] Mac-Kinnon fancies; the other is to root out the interpretive framework that causes people to claim hostility and chill whenever “sensitive material” is taken up. The latter means not understanding people’s “perspectives and reactions,” as Dean Goldenberg urges; it means changing them. It means calling some perspectives bad ones, and braving the storm. It means placing people’s growth as citizens above their comfort. It means setting standards to which all members of our diverse community must submit. And it means leading that community—rather than ducking—whenever academic freedom is under threat.

Thus I find Dean Goldenberg’s belated letter deeply troubling. It is especially galling in that it suggests David Goldberg’s academic freedom found some administrative support. It found none. Indeed, the few concessions to him have been made grudgingly and under pressure from below, living up to a sorry record of waffling and shirking in these matters. I’m afraid that with friends like these, academic freedom does not need assailants.

Mark Schneider, lecturer, sociology

Record grovels’

The fear of “offending” at the Univer-sity has led to some ludicrous behavior. In reply to the patently absurd letter (Feb. 7) by Esther Armstead protesting that photos of “people of color ... were either dark or unflattering,” implying that there was an effort made to portray “people of color in an offensive and negative fashion,” the Record grovels, apologizing to those who may have been “offended.”

Apparently, all one has to do is shout “racism” and University officials run for cover. George Brewer’s letter in the last issue of the Record pointed to the deafening silence from the administration on the shameful and shabby treatment of Professor David Goldberg, the object of unsubstantiated, anonymous accusations of racism.

Your reaction to Ms. Armstead’s letter is another example of cowering before charges of “racism,” even when not credible. It seems highly unlikely that the Record, which so scrupulously reflects the policies of the executive officers, would deliberately offend “people of color.”

After all, the University spends large sums on programs restricted to designated categories of people, including those “of color” (student lounges, counseling, scholarships and fellowships, internships and mentoring programs, etc.). Many staff members are employed solely to protect, defend and promote the interests of people in these designated categories.

It seems unlikely that the Record would have deliberately offended. But even if the “offense” was unintended your contrition is impressive, if laughable. I am so pleased that you “will do your best to see that this does not happen again.”

Zvi Y. Gitelman,
professor of political science

Baisden bids farewell

I would like to take this opportunity to bid farewell to the entire University of Michigan community. During my stay here at the University of Michigan, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of wonderful people, brilliant students and great staff members. Together we have worked through some very sensitive, volatile and emotional situations. We have also lived through some very happy and silly moments. I have been very happy to have been a part of this campus community and definitely proud to have been a part of the campus law enforcement effort.

As I reflect upon the last eight and one-half years, I have concluded that there are two great things that can happen to a person while they are here. Number 1, he or she can be fortunate to be a student at the University of Michigan, receive an education, graduate, and go on to do great things throughout the world. Or Number 2, he or she can be fortunate to be a staff person at the University of Michigan, get an on-the-job education as it relates to people, things and ideas; develop one’s professional skills and then take that knowledge and maybe go on to do great things throughout the world.

I am fortunate to have been a staff person at the University of Michigan and most specifically a member of the Department of Public Safety (and an unofficial member of the division of student affairs and the Office of the Dean of Students). As I leave the University of Michigan (to become the new and first director of campus safety at Keene State College, in Keene, N.H.) I do so with a promise to you—the University community—that I am going forth with every intent to do the best job possible in the name of “campus safety.”

I should share with you that I have been overwhelmed by the numerous phone calls, letters and notes from members of the campus and my colleagues throughout the country. It is amazing how fast news travels. In any event, I thank you for having allowed me to serve you as a public servant. I wish you all and the Department of Public Safety the best! Thank you!

Lt. Vernon L. Baisden

Flex plan ‘unfair... choice is no choice’

The proposed flex plan espouses goals that few could argue with, namely, to increase everyone’s options without significantly changing any individual’s total benefits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t achieve these goals.

The plan is unfair. Here are the annual numbers of flex dollars (excluding attendance “incentives”) that different employees are left with after paying for medical insurance (BCBSM/United):

  • One person, works for U-M, 1-person coverage, -$6;

  • Couple, one works for U-M, 2-person coverage, $258;

  • Couple, both work for U-M, 2- and 0-person coverages, $1,220;

  • One person, works for U-M, non-U-M health coverage, $962.

    Perhaps the committee that wrote the plan could explain why it considers these outcomes to be fair.

    For many, the choice is no choice. Perhaps the committee could explain how the sudden acquisition of a negative number of flex dollars will enhance someone’s freedom of choice.

    The numbers are phony. One of the stated purposes of the plan is to enable employees to understand the real costs of their benefits and to make rational choices among them. But if health insurance for one costs $209, there is no way that it can cost $370 for two, or $447 for five. The flex dollars are phony; the prices of benefits are phony; only the difference, the dollars you and I will pay, are real.

    The plan is ill-timed. Rumor has it the plan will cost millions to implement. If anything like the Clinton health care plan is passed, the plan will need to be rewritten and most of the money [will be] wasted.

    In the absence of compelling arguments, one is forced to look more closely at another stated goal of the plan: “to manage ... University future cost increases for benefits.”

    Traditionally, the University has measured benefits in terms of the coverages provided. For example, someone working for the U-M has always had the entire cost of his or her own BCBSM medical insurance covered. By measuring benefits in terms of (phony) flex dollars, the University will be able to cut benefits while claiming to increase them.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

    James S. Milne,
    professor of mathematics