Common sense prevails

Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Thu, 01 Nov 2001 11:21:50 GMT
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
Common sense prevails
Regents wisely avoid inflammatory 'zero tolerance' language

Nevada's university system regents last week adopted a perfectly adequate statement that "The (University and Community College System of Nevada) is committed to campuses free of discrimination and bias because of a person's age, disability, ethnicity, gender, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. The UCCSN requires all employees to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with this commitment."

Such statements, no matter how seemingly benign, can usually be counted on to produce a dust-up. Some will argue this all goes without saying -- that by adopting such a policy as of some fixed date, the regents somehow imply discrimination may have been tolerated in the past.

Others will raise pragmatic objections. May blindness really not be considered in hiring a cameraman for the university television studio, or retaining an instructor in drawing, painting, or art history? Are the regents really opposed to limiting participation on the women's basketball team to, well ... women? Are we to believe white scholars will receive equal consideration when it comes time to choose a chairperson for "African-American Studies" -- or that a scholarship reserved for "African-Americans" might be awarded to a white youth whose ancestors immigrated here from Rhodesia?

The hope in all such cases is that common sense will prevail. And that in turn leads us to the objections of fussbudget Regent Linda Howard, who protested that the Regents' statement as adopted omits the phrase "zero tolerance," which she would have preferred adding in order to "give teeth" to the policy.

Attorney Philip K. Howard's 1994 book "The Death of Common Sense" begins with the tale of Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, who hoped to build a soup kitchen and shelter for the homeless in a pair of abandoned and fire-gutted buildings in the South Bronx in the late 1980s.

The city was willing to transfer the buildings for the modest sum of $1, but unfortunately the city building code required the installation of a new elevator in any two-story building being renovated or refurbished.

"There are probably 1 million buildings in New York without elevators," author Howard asserts. "Homeless people would love to live in almost any one of these. Walking up a flight of stairs is not, after all, the greatest problem in their lives."

The missionaries had set aside half a million dollars for the project, but they abandoned it rather than spend $100,000 to install an elevator which -- the nuns assured the city -- their beliefs would have prevented them from using, anyway.

"The Sisters felt they could use the money much more usefully for soup and sandwiches," a spokesman for the nuns said in conveying their regrets.

The project failed -- the homeless were left without a roof -- because the city buildings codes allowed "zero tolerance" with regard to elevators.

Amish workers whose religion requires them to wear beards are forced to choose between shaving or quitting their jobs at the Glen-Gery brick factory near Reading, Pa., because OSHA inspectors notice they are wearing dust masks over their beards, a violation of an OSHA rule that such masks be "close-fitting" ... while meantime the factory is required to post a large "POISON" sign on a storage shed filled with the hazardous chemical known to most of us as ... sand.

Sensible? Who cares, if the rules are to be enforced with "zero tolerance"?

"Zero tolerance" rules have recently led to high school girls being expelled for "drug dealing" when they share a Midol with a suffering friend in the girls' bathroom, or for "bringing a forbidden firearm to school" in the form of a tiny bracelet charm shaped like their father's Colt .45.

"Zero tolerance" has famously led to 8-year-old boys being sent home and threatened with psychological reconstruction based on charges of sexual harassment after innocently bussing a female schoolmate on the cheek during recess. In Mesa, Arizona, a state law which makes it a crime for teachers and guidance counselors to not report underage students being involved in sexual relationships has led to a spate of police reports that 17-year-old girls are believed to be having sexual relations ... with their 17-year-old boyfriends.

Are these the kind of "zero tolerance" witch-hunts on which Ms. Howard would like to see our university administrators embark, here?

"To make sense, even the simplest rules require judgment," author Howard pleads. "A 55 mph speed limit should be waived for someone rushing to the hospital. ...

Ms. Howard is black. Suppose the schools were to enforce a "zero tolerance" policy for the use of "the n-word" ... and every one of the first 20 students expelled turned out to be black? Are we really to believe she wouldn't be reading administrators the riot act, insisting, "I didn't mean that, you ofay fools"?

Other than the lawyers who have made a new industry of such claims, it's hard to see who benefits from this endless Inquisition into alleged "bad motives." There is "no wiggle room" in the Regents' statement as adopted, as Regent Doug Hill correctly notes. "There is no opportunity for anyone who can read this statement at the different institutions to say, 'Yeah, I can be somewhat racist, somewhat bigoted, somewhat sexist or somewhat anything else.' "

And that, surely, should suffice.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to Privacy Alert, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503 -- or dialing 775-348-8591.

Vin Suprynowicz,

"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right." -- Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926)

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken

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