Blogs > Cliopatria > Beito, Johnson, and Luker Accused

Sep 21, 2005 10:48 pm

Beito, Johnson, and Luker Accused

August's OAH Newsletter must have been in a pile of things beside my rocker for a couple of weeks, before I picked it up for bedtime reading last night. When I opened it to p. 5, I found that Professor Thomas N. Ingersoll of Ohio State University at Lima accuses David Beito, KC Johnson, and me of publishing"a masterpiece of bad history" (scroll down). If I followed Ingersoll's historical methods, I would simply have said that he thought we had published"a masterpiece."

The"masterpiece" at issue is: Beito, Johnson, and Luker,"Consulting All Sides on ‘Speech Codes'," OAH Newsletter, 33 (May 2005): 11. The article appealed to our fellow historians to recognize that there are threats to freedom of speech and inquiry that come from both the right and the left and argued for an alliance across the ideological spectrum against all of those threats. It began and concluded with the threat to Ward Churchill's freedom of speech at the University of Colorado. In between, it cited three instances of threats to freedom of speech by the left against academic conservatives. [ ... ]

According to Ingersoll,"bad history" occurs when the historian challenges threats to conservative speech. Nowhere does Ingersoll challenge Beito, Johnson, and Luker on the facts of the three cases nor does he mention our defense of Ward Churchill's free speech rights. We have published"bad history," says Ingersoll, because we have construed politically correct speech codes as a threat to the free speech rights of conservatives. Speech on campus must be less free than it is"on the street corner," he argues, because offensive speech cannot be tolerated in the academy.

That -- not our ‘bad history' -- is the nub of the matter in Ingersoll's letter. His history is"bad" because he leaves out facts inconvenient to his argument. He ignores our defense of Ward Churchill's free speech rights. Ingersoll is wrong, not just because his history is blindered by ideology, but because, if we are to be free, we must be prepared to be offended occasionally by other people's speech. Do I believe that hurtful words like"nigger,""bitch," and"faggot," must be tolerated in campus speech? Yes, I do. I believe that decent people will not use offensive language and that self-respecting people may choose to shun those who use them, but I do not believe that speech on campus should be any less free than it is elsewhere in the world.

I believe that, despite the fact that I've been offended against by other people's speech many times and to serious material consequence. Despite having been shot at, fire-bombed, and jailed in the civil rights movement, I've been called a"racist" in the midst of a tenure review. In the midst of tenure reviews, I've been called both a"homophobe" and"a homosexual." For good or ill, I'm not nearly such a complex, conflicted, and interesting character."Classist,""sexist,""elitist" – all those words of politically correct abuse have been thrown at me to damage my career. To this day, I'd defend the right of my critics to speak their minds and my own right to defend myself against the worst of their charges. I'd defend Professor Ingersoll's right to publish accusations that I have published"bad history." As with others of my critics, one reason for defending his speech and publication rights is that he publishes evidence that refutes his own argument. He publishes his own"bad history."

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