Over at Minding the Campus there’s an excellent essay by Michigan State professor Frederick Fico. Professor Fico details his ordeal after he had the temerity to serve as faculty sponsor for a group (College Republicans) that co-hosted a speech by the founder of the Minutemen. Because he was merely associated with the Republicans, he (and another professor who sponsored Young Americans for Freedom) found himself investigated by the “Office for Inclusion” for violating the campus’s expansive nondiscrimination policy.
Now, most professors will run and hide when faced with such an investigation. The mere allegation of discrimination is often enough to drive a conservative underground for the rest of his or her career. But how did Professor Fico respond? Read for yourself:
Following the accusations, we did not break down in tears or go begging on our knees for forgiveness, offering endless apologies. More to the point still, we did not stand aside so the Office for Inclusion could do whatever it wanted to the conservative students involved.
It was clear to Allen and me that the Anti-Discrimination Policy could and would be used against those who publicly articulated conservative positions on controversial issues. It was equally clear that the administration’s ability to do so rested on the secrecy of the proceedings and on the fear of faculty to be dirtied with the taint of “racism.”
So we responded with boldness and openness in every public venue we could.
We publicized the investigation thoroughly through opinion columns and letters to the editor. We proposed and began to work through university governance on an amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Policy to better protect free speech. We brought the movie Indoctrinate U to campus and leafleted students on the campus Library Bridge urging them to attend. We also began meetings with representatives in the state legislature who were becoming interested in the problem.
The defiance and vigor of our response was almost certainly a shock to the Office for Inclusion and to the university administration generally. And worse still for them was out outreach to the state legislature. In fact, the investigation (then going on six months) ended the day after Allen and I met with one of the leaders of the majority Senate Republicans in Michigan. The investigation report released in March 2008 concluded that no discrimination had taken place at a “level” that called for any action against the student groups or the advisors.
It may sound counterintuitive, but when facing campus investigations and censorship, the absolute safest course to protect your rights and your career is to follow Professor Fico’s example. “Going along to get along” results in nothing more than self-censorship without doing much of anything to remove the false “stain” of the initial investigation. But standing defiantly can often stain the censors, not the censored.
In short, once the investigation starts, the damage is done. The damage can only be undone by resistance.