The Perils of Annoying the Diversicrats

Last week, a federal court in Kansas ruled that the administration at Kansas State University did not violate the First Amendment rights of a journalism professor who was fired from his position as adviser to the school’s student newspaper. It’s an amazing case that shows the extent to which school administrators will go in order to appease the campus diversity crowd once it decides to feel aggrieved.

Professor Ron Johnson had for many years been the faculty adviser to the Kansas State Collegian, a student newspaper that had received an award in 2004 as the best daily college newspaper in a national competition. Alas, he and the students committed an unpardonable sin of omission. The paper failed to cover an event on campus. Of course, there are lots of events at a large university like K-State, so what’s the big deal about failing to write about one of them?

The BIG DEAL was that the event was the Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government. Apparently, the sponsoring campus group did not issue a press release about the conference, but no matter. Failing to go looking for “diversity” stories these days is a high crime.

Natalie Rolfe, president of the K-State Black Student Union, complained about the lack of coverage of the event to the university’s “diversity coordinator,” associate provost Myra Gordon. Gordon said she would back Rolfe “all the way.”

That was no surprise. In a previous position at Virginia Tech, Gordon had overseen a diversity program built around the effusive writings of Cathy Trower, who contends that “merit is socially constructed by the dominant coalition” and that all white male (but only white male) job candidates should be compelled to prove their commitment to the crusade for diversity as a condition of employment. Gordon is one of those diversity zealots who take their business with a religious fervor.

With Gordon’s support, Rolfe organized a protest March in which 50 students sported T-shirts emblazoned “W.W.R.G?” meaning “When Will Ron Go?” Rolfe also made public her demand that the university create “a system to make sure the paper is more friendly to the campus.” It doesn’t take much acumen to see that the real meaning of that statement is “a paper that will take us diversity crusaders as seriously as we take ourselves.”

The firestorm shocked the newspaper into spasms of Larry Summers-like groveling. The editors apologized for not having covered the black student government event, promised to institute a new system to guarantee that all campus events received attention, and said that they would undergo some “diversity training.”

Not good enough. Rolfe and Gordon demanded that Professor Johnson be fired from his advisory position with the Collegian. The whole episode is reminiscent of the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s, where the defendants had to confess all manner of real or imaginary transgressions against the Great Leader – and then were taken out and shot.

If there is one certainty in America these days, it’s that college administrators will never go against their “diversity” staff and thereby invite attacks on their motives, visits from Jesse Jackson, and a publicity nightmare. Kansas State officials caved in and removed Johnson, issuing a statement accusing him of having a “poor attitude” in dealing with students. Professor Johnson does, however, get to remain on the faculty to teach journalism, but the message has been delivered loud and clear: DON’T DISS DIVERSITY.

Legal action was begun on behalf of Johnson and a federal district judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring K-State to reinstate him as faculty adviser. In early June, however, the court dismissed Johnson’s suit, saying that no violation of his First Amendment rights had occurred and that the university was entitled to remove him if it saw fit to do so.

What’s the lesson to be drawn here? Let’s make this into a multiple-choice question:

a. The advocates of “diversity” talk nicely about the need for tolerance and respect, but tolerance and respect doesn’t extend people they’re mad at, no matter how trivial the reason.
b. America enjoys a free press – except when diversity blowhards want to dictate newspaper content.
c. The campus diversity jihad is far more about getting and using power than it is about helping minority students succeed in college.
d. All of the above.

George C. Leef is the executive director of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.