On Buffalo and Bias

Letter From the University of Pennsylvania

Sheldon Hackney, president of the University of Pennsylvania, was recently chosen to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dr. Hackney has been described by the Chronicle of Higher Education as something of a moderate with a passion for free expression. I won't rehash his credentials as a defender of free speech, except to say that he backed the public financing of Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photo exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Penn in 1989. The president of the conservative National Association of Scholars, Stephen Balch, described Hackney as an "intelligent, open-minded man of integrity." With all this lavish praise, one can easily sec how Dr. Hackney was so promptly confirmed.

But rhetoric and reality too frequently diverge, and Hackney's reputation for defending open expression is ill-deserved. Major national media attention has focused on the university's zealous prosecution of a young Jewish man for calling a group of black women "water buffalo." Although the charge of racial harassment was dropped by the women, the controversy lasted long enough to raise serious questions about the propriety of the university's "hate" speech code. This code has been flagrantly abused with some frequency, and has resulted in a climate of outright political intimidation. I speak now from personal experience, having been very nearly mauled by the Hackney...

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