Dartmouth trustee Todd Zywicki made several clumsy remarks in an otherwise good speech about campus orthodoxy. Speaking at a conference at the John William Pope Center, Zywicki compared faculty pressure to oust Harvard president Lawrence Summers to the Spanish Inquisition, called former Dartmouth president James Freedman a “truly evil man,” and said those who control the universities don’t care about God or country.
The howls of protest that greeted the speech focused mostly on the over-the-top remark about the late president Freedman, who was indeed not evil, merely another time-serving college president who worshipped non-stop at the altar of political correctness. Freedman first came to my attention when a couple of his administrators urged Dartmouth students to steal or destroy copies of the Dartmouth Review because that famously conservative newspaper was “just litter.”
At the time that kind of contempt for free speech was new to me. I hadn’t been aware that tolerating or urging the destruction of newspapers that dissented from campus orthodoxy was becoming the default position of many administrators from coast to coast. Later the president of Cornell drew almost no criticism when he delivered a commencement speech that included praise for students who had seized and burned copies of the Cornell conservative paper. This raised the possibility that Cornell had somehow morphed into the University of Heidelberg at Ithaca, circa 1936.
Freedman, who was Jewish, was extremely sensitive to anti-Semitism, both real and imagined. I once asked the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a friend who was teaching at Dartmouth at the time, why Freedman was so hell-bent to eliminate the college’s fraternities. “Because these are the people who wouldn’t let him in when he was an undergraduate,” Hertzberg replied. It’s true that Dartmouth had an appalling record of anti-Semitism in the old days, but the modern frats didn’t, and why they should be punished for what happened decades before to Freedman and other Jews was unclear.
Freedman notoriously botched his response to the Mein Kampf affair. A disgruntled insider at the Dartmouth Review had inserted a quote from Hitler’s book into a long quotation from Teddy Roosevelt that always appeared in the Review masthead. When the editor-in-chief discovered the quote, he cancelled campus distribution, stopped the mailing to subscribers, apologized and had a clean issue printed and distributed. “What more he could have done, I can’t imagine,” Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart wrote.
But without asking the Review for an explanation or calling for an investigation, Freedman repeatedly attacked the Review for anti-Semitism. When the Wall Street Journal asked him how he would feel if it turned out that a saboteur had inserted the Hitler words, (this is in fact what had happened), he replied, “I just haven’t thought about that.” At an administration-sponsored Rally Against Hate, he announced that “For ten years the Dartmouth Review has attacked blacks because they are blacks, women because they are women, homosexuals because they are homosexuals and Jews because they are Jews.” Not true, but the temptation to depict resistance to the spread of PC culture at Dartmouth as bigotry was just too strong. So was the hair-trigger response to the supposed presence of anti-Semitism.
In his speech, Zywicki argued that Freedman stood for “political correctness in all forms -speech codes, censorship, the whole multicultural apparatus.” Yes, he did. And it’s useful for a Dartmouth trustee to say so plainly.