So here’s a round-up of reactions to the new Obama administrative mandate—the if I’m offended (however unreasonably) you’re in trouble college speech code.

Ken Masugi reminded me of the trouble Sheldon Cooper has had with his university’s human resources officer. But in Sheldon’s case that woman was schoolmarmish in the good sense. She patiently instructed Sheldon that he can’t simply speak his mind to women; he has to respect social conventions. She civilized him a bit. All the guys had HR issues. But when the time came to evaluate them for tenure, the HR officer considered only their actual scientific accomplishments. This is one piece of evidence among many that the show is too gentle and good natured to reflect actual academic life.

Or maybe there’s just a lot to be said for the scientists’ benign indifference to “speech issues,” at least usually. There’s no denying that Sheldon’s science is distorted a little by status and self-esteem issues, but he wouldn’t think of going to HR to get protected from the hurtful (and hilarious) venom of Leslie Winkle. An argument over the truth of string theory isn’t much like an argument over race, class, or gender—not to mention sex. It doesn’t occur to Sheldon or Leslie that words are merely rhetorical weapons to make a physics theory politically or academically dominant.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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