Randy Alcorn

Last month, another high-ranking Santa Barbara City College staffer was placed on administrative leave for saying something that was considered offensive by some segment of the school’s population.

This time the transgressor of forbidden utterances is Joyce Coleman, vice president of the college’s School of Extended Learning.

The fact that Coleman is a black woman attests to SBCC’s institutional impartiality in pursuing its crusade against open expression of words, opinions, observations, inquiries, and maybe even facts that may trouble the fragile psychologies of the inveterately incensed and arrantly aggrieved.

No one is exempt or safe from the sentinels of social sensitivity. The higher up the org chart, the bigger the target.

About two years ago, SBCC business services vice president Lyndsay Maas was also placed on administrative leave — unpaid that time — for speaking a forbidden word during a staff workshop in which campus racism was being discussed.

Although the meeting’s attendees understood and confirmed that the word was used as way of explanation to further the discussion, and with no malicious intention, Maas was quickly and roundly castigated by a small group of outraged and, of course offended, students, staff and administrators.

Even though some of the offended admitted that Maas was a good person who intended no harm, they insisted that she be punished anyway. And, for many of them, unpaid leave was insufficient. They demanded that she lose her job for the “harm caused” by her verboten verbalizations.

Apparently, no sentence is ever excessive when the crime is forbidden speech.

The “Woke” inquisition is always looking for heretics to burn at the stake. Any thought expressed might be judged to be a transgression by some concocted rationale.

The possibilities of finding guilt are virtually endless. Coleman is accused of “victim shaming” for wondering out loud why the Japanese-Americans who were unjustly interred during World War II didn’t “just leave.”

What, exactly, was the real harm inflicted by her speculative comment? Did anyone suffer broken bones, internal injuries, loss of income or destruction of property because of what she said?

“Victim shaming”? Oh, OK. Will Japanese-Americans — all of them, some of them, any of them — now suffer enduring, debilitating, humiliation and disgrace upon hearing of Coleman’s remarks?

Ironically, the actual victim of shaming is Coleman.

The “Great Awokening” is descending on America like a dark cloud of noxious gas choking off open dialogue and suffocating common sense. It is getting impossible to predict exactly what the self-righteous protectors of political correctness will find offensive.

When it is only safe to keep your thoughts to yourself, free speech is essentially suppressed.

It is particularly concerning and disappointing that colleges and universities are prominent participants in these “woke” inquisitions.

These institutions are entrusted not only to impart knowledge but also to keep seeking it through objective examination of facts, opinions and ideas. Creating a climate of fear in which instructors, administrators and students can never be certain which thoughts or ideas if expressed might incite the easily umbraged to demand official retribution does not foster intellectual excellence or facilitate the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

Free exchange of ideas and open discussion are becoming cautiously restricted to a vernacular of acceptable euphemisms limited by boundaries of ideological orthodoxy that determine who is oppressed, who is oppressor, who is advantaged and who disadvantaged and, ultimately, who and what is good or evil.

Anyone who strays outside the boundaries, accidentally, innocently or intentionally, can be subject to persecution.

The goal of orthodoxy is uniform thinking. Limiting and changing language is an effort to attain that uniformity by conformity.

It’s called re-education in China. In America, it’s called sensitivity training.

The inevitable consequence is to reduce the range of consciousness to concepts rigidly defined with sanctioned vocabulary. Intellectual capacity is constrained, because orthodoxy obstructs critical thinking and discourages skeptical questioning.

The perverse logic of orthodoxy is that the truth is fixed and found so there is no need to look further, no need to think outside of the ideological box. Belief is construed as knowledge — ultimate and unquestionable knowledge.

The great advocate of free speech, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, couldn’t have foreseen partisan cable news and social media. He couldn’t know how the vast “marketplace of ideas” would be transmogrified into a huckster bazaar peddling misinformation and lies.

But, policing expression to enforce arbitrary notions of acceptable language — wokespeak — neither promotes truth nor prevents lies. It does, however, constrain possibilities and punish dissent.

It is said that all politics are local. And, while most of us here in Santa Barbara can do little about how other colleges behave, we can do something about our college, Santa Barbara City College.

We can rein in the misguided crusaders at SBCC and insist that campus diversity must first and foremost include diversity of thought, freely expressed.

Let’s pay attention to the SBCC Board of Trustees’ elections and promote and elect candidates who will support an open forum on campus where ideas can be discussed, debated, accepted or rejected without fear of retribution.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at randyaalcorn@gmail.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.