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image: Campus NewsWhat's this about reparations?

The Chicago Maroon was the nation's first campus newspaper to run David Horowitz's controversial anti-slavery-reparations ad. Why it took so long for U of C students to notice remains a mystery.

The second week in February ended rather uneventfully at the U of C. Hardly news in itself, except that conservative writer and activist David Horowitz debuted his full-page ad, "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea-and Racist Too," in the February 9 Maroon. A month later the same ad would incite a flurry of protests at many of the 14 other campuses where it appeared. Aside from a lone letter by a dissenting graduate student, life at Chicago went on without incident, even after the ad showed up again March 8 in the Chicago Weekly News.

So when all hell broke loose after the ad ran March 13 in the student-run Brown Daily Herald-with protesting students destroying an entire print run and demanding that the ad revenue be donated to charity-some Chicago students began to ask themselves what was going on. By the time Horowitz made a May 7 pit stop at Chicago on a tour of colleges, U of C students found themselves divided over the same issue at debate elsewhere: the state of free speech at colleges.

What prompted the controversy? The ad, based on Horowitz's May 30, 2000, article of the same title, dismisses calls for federally funded reparations to descendants of slaves. Horowitz further argued that reparations have already been paid in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences and that African Americans actually owe a debt to white America for ending the slave trade and giving them one of the highest living standards in the world. A former leftist and author of the recent The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits, Horowitz says he placed the ad to prove a larger point: that conservative opinions are barred from U.S. institutions of higher education.

Why didn't Chicago students react to such a provocative stance? The editors of both the Maroon and CWN say there was nothing to debate: ads are strictly business, and editors do not have the power to accept or refuse them. Many students later admitted they didn't bother to read the ad. Tribune columnist Eric Zorn offered his take in the March 22 edition: "It seems the young men and women in Hyde Park saw the argument as one to be engaged, ignored, or embraced, but not stifled." In an April 3 Maroon article, third-year Laneka Thomas, political chair of the Organization of Black Students (OBS), said it was a conscious decision for her and other OBS students not to protest. "Our lack of response came from not wanting to give him exposure.... The guy was historically incorrect; it wasn't worth getting upset about."

On April 12 the Maroon took the opportunity to probe the reparations and free-speech issues more closely, running a front-page telephone interview with Horowitz in which fourth-year Madeleine Bair asked, "Do you think time has healed the wounds of slavery?" and "What inspired you to run your anti-reparations ad?"

What inspired him, Horowitz told her, was a 46-to-1 vote last year by the Chicago City Council in favor of reparations and a "ridiculous" apology for slavery issued by Mayor Richard M. Daley. When, nine months later, he saw an agenda for a convention on reparations held in Chicago and offering what he called "leftist" views, he decided to launch his ad campaign here.

By the time the College Republicans brought Horowitz to campus in May, many Chicago students seemed fed up with all the press Horowitz was getting. They were also bothered by the format of the evening's talk, requiring students to submit written questions from which Jason McCabe, president of the College Republicans, would read selections. Some groups, including OBS and local activists, planned to protest.

Nearly 300 students came to the talk, which had to be broadcast in the lobby of the Donnelly Biological Sciences Learning Center to accommodate the overflow crowd. OBS reps handed out pamphlets denouncing Horowitz's methods for the Q&A as partisan and detrimental to free speech. Third-year Merci Oni read a prepared statement for OBS: "By insisting that we write down our questions...and not allowing a free and open dialogue...after you have spoken, you are essentially committing an act of intellectual fraud."

"It's an act of intellectual integrity," Horowitz shot back, and the evening unraveled from there, with more than two hours of shouting from both sides of the podium. Oni and several students remained standing with their backs to Horowitz. When first-year Tokoya Williams loudly refused to sit at the entreaties of campus police and administrators, she was escorted from the room. Horowitz charged the protesters with "racial McCarthyism," saying the students' methods were "fascism" and an example of "intimidation by use of the word racism" to "shut people up." Most students, including those supporting Horowitz's right to present his views, became bothered that he spent much of the evening bickering with the protesters. "You came here to speak," they shouted, "so speak." When Horowitz finally did give his prepared talk, he reiterated his tirade against the left, claiming that "blind" support for issues like slavery reparations would spell the end of democracy.

The next week brought the requisite news stories, a Maroon editorial, and two op-eds ("Horowitz is to social issues as Vince McMahon is to wrestling"), after which the campus again fell silent.

What's the lesson to be drawn from the events? It's not clear there is one, says Maroon Editor Eugene Ford, except that the issues were left unresolved. As a Maroon staff editorial put it, "[C]onstructive dialogue about the issue...was this on-going back-and-forth about everyone's right to engage in...dialogue. Nowadays, students are prone to spend more energy asserting that they have 'a voice' than using it to say anything worthwhile."-S.A.S.

 JUNE 2001

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