Mark Tushnet


The spring squall of 1991 about political correctness on campus has passed, leaving behind a muddy residue in the nation's political rhetoric. Although the squall initially may have seemed to develop from a detached interest in campus developments, it rapidly became clear that the campaign against "political correctness" was this year's version of conservative concern about liberalism in the universities. The timely publication of Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, and D'Souza's understandable efforts to promote the book's sales by publishing op-ed articles and appearing on news programs, offered a continuing newshook for stories about political correctness. Conservatives took up the attack on political correctness, until it worked its way into President Bush's commencement speech at the University of Michigan.

Predictably, the conservative appropriation of the attack on political correctness has obscured more than it has clarified. I intend this essay mostly to lay out precisely what ought to be at issue. Given the conservative domination of the discourse, much of what follows attempts to show how overblown or distorted the conservative characterization of the issue is. I draw upon my experience as an academic in a law school, and therefore focus on some incidents in the literature on political correctness that arose in law schools, although I will also bring in other incidents as appropriate.