Politically Correct Death Threats at Georgia Tech · 21 March 2007

By Peter Collier
FrontPageMagazine.com

 

This past February, while other Georgia Tech students were exchanging flirtatious Valentine’s Day notes, Ruth Malhotra received an anonymous letter whose message was anything but amorous:

 

 

This Valentine’s Day, you cannot attack gay marriage. It is about love and you are about hate.

 

This Valentine’s Day, you cannot condemn a woman’s choice. It is about love and you are about hate.

 

This Valentine’ Day, you cannot protest the Vagina Monologues. It is about love and you are about hate.

 

No, this Valentine’s Day, you will be Raped. Sex is about love and through it you will experience hate. I cannot wait.

 

To find a rape threat in her mailbox was almost a relief to Malhotra after months of receiving death threats. (One of the most charitable, from a fellow student, said, "I really want to choke you, bitch.") As with all the other letters, she turned the vicious Valentine over to the campus police, which added it to the "ongoing investigation" that so far has yielded nothing.

Malhotra can’t help believing that a university that claims to be more committed to "civility" than any other school in the country and routinely initiates proceedings against students who commit such offenses as smoking in the dorms would certainly have immediately sprung heroically into action if she had been a black, Hispanic, lesbian, or almost any other woman receiving such messages. But she is a conservative activist and almost by definition a thorn in Georgia Tech’s side. So the school’s administration, beginning with president Wayne Clough and working downward to various assistant deans, has sat on its hands while Malhotra endures what her attorney David French calls "a persecution."

 

Presently a graduate student in International Affairs, Malhotra has had a college career that resembles a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress through what the campus sensitivity experts like to call a "hostile environment." An Atlanta native whose family is from India, she choose Georgia Tech because it seemed the best of the area’s schools, because her father teaches there in business management, and because she won scholarships that would cover the tuition.

A committed Christian, she was personally conservative but not particularly political when she arrived at Tech in 2002. But in the fervid post 9/11 atmosphere on campus, she found herself gradually pulled into the orbit of the College Republicans and soon galvanized not only by questions of war and peace but also by issues such as race preferences and abortion. And on all of these issues, she found, conservative students faced a tilted playing field. She recalls: "The more I got involved, the more I saw the obstacles conservative students face in expressing themselves. The administration put so many more challenges in our way. We didn’t have the same resources and opportunities that leftist students had. I expected an open forum for ideas, but the administration was clearly biased."

 

So were some of her teachers. Malhotra’s first open conflict with the Tech administration came in the spring of 2004, when she enrolled in a course called Foundations of Public Policy. The first day of class she told the professor, a woman named Georgia Persons, that she would have to miss one class session because of a conference she was attending in Washington. Persons asked who was holding the conference. When Malhotra told her it was the Conservative Political Action Committee, the teacher warned her that she would fail the course. Malhotra thought this might be more of the in-class hyperbole she’d heard from other liberal professors. But she did indeed fail the first test. Otherwise a 4.0 student, she complained about the grade to the Dean’s Office, also claiming that the professor had made snide remarks in class about Christians and conservatives that were obviously directed at her. After filing a grievance, Malhotra brokered a deal in which she was allowed to withdraw from the class without penalty and the professor would not be allowed to teach it again.

The case became a cause celebre in the campus newspaper, with coverage spilling over into the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But it wasn’t until the following academic year that Malhotra began to be a marked woman. The fall of 2004, the College Republicans, of which she was now chairman, refused to attend a debate during Gay Pride Coming Out Week. Instead, they sent a letter outlining their opposition to some parts of the gay agenda, including gay marriage. The administration condemned their response as "an expression of intolerance."

The charges of homophobia continued to resonate until the following spring, when the College Republicans protested a campus showing of the Vagina Monologues during Womens’ Awareness Week by making placards with some of the lines from the play in large bold faced type along with a banner asking, "Does This Empower You?" In an extravagant display of hypocrisy, the administration, which endorsed a performance of the play, made Malhotra cover up the offensive quotes.

It was about this time that she was called into by a dean who told her that the College Republicans were a "joke" and should cease their activities. Pointing out that her group was merely expressing its opinions the way that the preponderant leftwing groups did, Malhotra was then sent to Tech’s Vice President, who passed her on to President Wayne Clough, who made it clear to her that he found her actions distasteful and not in accord with the "atmosphere of civility" he sought for the campus. When Malhotra pointed out that this atmosphere included—indeed, was defined by—leftist groups violently and often obscenely condemning the President and the war in Iraq, and, for that matter, attacking the faith of conservative Christians like herself—she received a brush off.

By the beginning of her senior year in 2005, Malhotra, who had previously felt that Tech’s political bias could be solved within the institution, now felt that she either had to shut up or seek outside help. She talked with David Horowitz at an event where he was promoting his Academic Bill of Rights. Horowitz advised her to contact attorney David French, head the Alliance Defense Fund’s Center for Academic Freedom. After hearing her history, French decided early in 2006 to file a suit against Georgia Tech for unconstitutional policies used to censor activities such as those Malhotra and the College Republicans had undertaken. His chief target was a speech code that prevented "intolerant" activities, which Malhotra’s experience showed was enforced selectively against conservative students. Also targeted in the suit were three other issues: Tech’s "free speech zone" which was the only approved place on campus for discussing "issues"; the invidious use of student activities fees for "social and cultural" but not "political or religious" speakers and activities (College Republicans were "political" but gay and African American activist groups were "social’ and "cultural"; the Islamic Awareness was not "religious," but Jewish and Christian groups were); and the policy of Tech’s Office of Diversity to endorse certain denominations based on whether or not they were gay friendly. (Buddhists yes; Southern Baptists and Mormons no.)

Already a controversial figure on campus, Malhotra, now chief plaintiff in the suit filed with fellow student leader Orit Sklar, became Public Enemy number one for the Georgia Tech left. An ad hoc group called CLAM (Conservatives and Liberals Against Malhotra) formed on campus with the sole raison d’etre of harassing her. An anti Malhotra website appeared calling her "christo-fascist" and showing an unflattering shot of her face stippled with digitized swastikas. Flyers were posted throughout the campus denouncing her as a "Twinkie"—an Asian who was "yellow on the outside and white on the inside."

 

The charge of ethnic treason was almost laughable: Malhotra’s Indian descent had given her a dark complexion and she wasn’t Asian according to the racial taxonomy propounded by campus victim groups, although she knew that if she had been on the left she would have been accorded "protected status" as a presumptive minority. Far more disturbing that the mundane slanders she faced as she completed her course work for her degree were the messages that now began to appear on her campus email. In one of them, the writer threatened to throw acid in her face at the upcoming graduations ceremonies.

 

Malhotra was accepted by Tech for graduate school in the fall of 2006. A few months earlier, a judge had heard the first point of French’s four point suit—the one regarding the speech code—and ordered mediation between the parties. The university agreed to change the policy, but almost immediately reneged on its promise. In August, a few weeks before classes began, the judge heard arguments on the speech code and then struck it down.

Never acknowledging the constitutional reason for the court decision, Tech reacted by appropriating $100,000 to bring in speakers (among them, Maya Angelou at a fee of $22,500) and hold "meaningful discussions" as part of a campus-wide initiative called "Common Ground" meant to reaffirm the commitment to "civility" (which the court hearing had shown was nothing more than officially sanctioned politically correct speech) in spite of the legal setback it had suffered.

 

It was during this kuybaya moment that threats against Malhotra reached a crescendo. "So your not dead yet Ruth Malhotra," one of them began with uncertain grammar but unmistakable enmity. "But you will be soon." Another one warned, "Don’t even try to protest National Coming Out Day. If you do, you will regret it, and don’t say you were not warned. You are hated on this campus and you should fear for your life." Yet another said, "For every time a student is called Nigger on campus—you will receive a bullet to the head."

The campus police defined the threats as "terroristic." But although some of the letters were brazenly signed by persons on and off campus, no arrests have been made. And the administration itself, ignoring the opportunity to strike a blow in behalf of the civility it claims to prize, has remained mute about the invisible outrage taking place on its campus. (A public information officer replies to questions about the case by reading a statement which says that Georgia Tech cannot comment because of its commitment to protecting its students’ privacy; when it is pointed out to him that the only student with a privacy issue in this case, Malhotra herself, is willing to waive this privilege, he says that he will consult the school’s legal counsel and is never heard from again.)

 

Trudging warily through her days on campus, Malhotra is unable to forget the Kafkaesque situation in which she finds herself: "It is ironic that the Georgia Tech administration would enforce unlawful speech policies that silence disagreement with its preferred political agenda, but remains absolutely silent in the face of threats on a student’s safety."

 

David French, her lawyer in this case and a longtime litigator in matters of free speech and student rights, is also stunned by what has happened to Malhotra: "I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The tolerant left at Georgia Tech seems to have decided that Ruth must be destroyed to protect `tolerance.’ The administration sees one of its own threatened by death and rape and they just sit there. I’ve seen conservative students suffer a lot of abuse for their beliefs. But I’ve never seen abuse cross over into threats. And I’ve never seen an administration sit on its hands while one of its students is threatened by death and rape. It makes you wonder: have we gone past simple intimidation to death threats now? Is this sort of thing going to become a standard part of left’s playbook in intimidating conservative students? How far will they go?"

 

This is exactly the question Ruth Malhotra now contemplates: will those who are threatening her go all the way? Unlike most issues in the sandbox politics of campus life, this question appears to be a matter of life and death.

 


Peter Collier co-authored seven books with CSPC president David Horowitz, including the widely read Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the ‘60s. He is also the author of many other book including, biographies on the Fords, Rockefellers, and Kennedys.