THERE'S really nothing new. Back in the 1930s when I was in college, students found that to be "politically correct" they should accept the enthusiasm of teachers for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. We had never heard of the term political correctness or its abbreviation, PC. But there was the same kind of espousal from our teachers of what was really only an opinion but was sold to us as the correct and only way to look at national and, particularly, social issues.
Today, the PC doctrine at colleges extends to a wide range of issues. Those who have adopted this point of view and see it as unchallengeable truth are particularly vocal and active in their support of expanded rights for women, minority members, and gay people.
In his commencement address at the University of Michigan May 4, President Bush did not - as some interpreters of the speech have indicated - inveigh against PC. He simply said that he was critical of those on campuses who attempted to suppress those who challenged the PC point of view.
"Ironically," Bush said, "on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including some college campuses. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudices with new ones."
The president wasn't defending ugly expressions of sexism and racism. He was talking about intolerance toward those who don't agree with PC.
"Disputants," he added, "treat sheer force - getting their foes punished or expelled, for instance - as a substitute for the power of ideas ... . In their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity."
The intolerance of the 1930s came from the extreme right - the efforts to ban books or remove professors who were branded communists, atheists, and the like. Those who felt oppressed or censored said that their right to free speech was being violated.
Today, much of the intolerance is coming from the far left, as some teachers and students would deny freedom to those who don't agree with them.
The 1930s were angry years as the nation coped with the Great Depression. It could have been expected that students who were dropping out of college each day because of lack of funds would have accepted without argument the PC of the day. But we argued with our teachers and debated the New Deal. Some of it sounded good to us; some of it didn't.
Should teachers' personal views get into their teaching? No. I'd advocate a totally objective group of teachers, were it possible. But short of that I'm hoping that students will see the slant being injected (if it is) and debate subjects freely. Those who believe in and advocate the PC of today shouldn't be punishing or obstructing those who are expressing views that don't conform with theirs.
Encouragingly, many respected liberal observers are speaking out against this new campus phenomenon. Writes New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis: "The repressive trend at universities seems to me a serious threat to the American tradition of uninhibited speech.
"It is a threat from the political far-left, unlike the usual right-wing attempts at suppression in our history, but similar in its fear and intolerance. And universities of all places should live by the light of freedom."