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November 1, 2002 [feather]
Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds

Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds have fisked the University of Tennessee's illiberal ass. UT suspended a fraternity when black students complained that some frat members had shown racial insensitivity by wearing blackface. More specifically--lest ye be shaking your head in disapproval at the crassness of frat boys who do the Al Jolson minstrel routine in this enlightened day and age--they complained because five white members of the fraternity dressed up as the Jackson Five for an air guitar contest. (Go ahead--laugh. I did. When you have expressed your mirth, continue.) UT has responded to the complaint by suspending the frat, which means it does not have standing as a student organization and cannot participate in campus activities such as Homecoming. It also plans to discipline the frat, whose failure to absorb the lessons of the sensitivity workshop all UT Greek organizations attended last year makes it doubly heinous and deserving of especially strict censure. Here's the UT provost: "We will require the leaders and members of Kappa Sigma to demonstrate a commitment to uphold our expectations for civility, ethnic diversity and racial harmony. He went on to note that after the university concludes its "investigation" (offensive costumes do, after all, require secret policework and dossiers) individual students may face "sanctions" (the likely repertoire: community service, written apologies, sensitivity training, perhaps a long essay on personal integrity).

The good news is that UT will be doing no such thing. Eugene Volokh notes that the courts have already formally determined that frat boys have the right to wear blackface, and both Volokh and Reynolds mention a little something called the First Amendment, whose terms usually will trump those of spineless administrators who are unfamiliar with any moral or legal code besides that which dictates their own professional self interest. In a triumph of blogospheric anti-idiotarianism, Reynolds points out that the UT provost's statement about requiring Kappa Sigma to demonstrate its commitment to UT expectations of civility, ethnic diversity, and racial harmony sounds eerily like he is mandating that the frat make an oath of loyalty to UT as a condition of regaining its status as a recognized student organization. The coup de grace: "loyalty oath" is a link--to FIRE, which has successfully shamed the pants off schools that have, like UT, violated their students' and faculty's freedom of conscience in the name of campus "harmony." I'm guessing Provost Crabtree is going to be getting a little phone call from one Thor Halvorssen--if he hasn't already.

UPDATE: From the comments at Scrappleface: "Hey, if Michael Jackson, one of the original Jackson Five, can go around impersonating a white woman, why can't white frat boys do the reverse?"

UPDATE UPDATE: Reader Bob F. has devised an appropriate punishment for the Kappa Sigma culprits:

Maybe those frat guys ought to show up at the provost's office in their Jackson 5 regalia, and twirling behind a row of standup mikes,İoffer him a musical pledge of love and loyalty. "For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth." (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 73, 1)

OoohİProvost, giveİus one more chance
(show you that we're loyal)
(try to beİcorrect)
Oooh we were so insensitive
(but we'll make it up now)
Make the Osmonds live

I think a little moonwalking and crotch-grabbing would be in order as well.

posted on November 1, 2002 4:37 PM