Annals of Political Correctness, Chapter 73.

Previous chapters, elaborated elsewhere, have illuminated the lunacies of the Political Correctness regime now dominating American universities. Starting with the premise that white male America -- racist, sexist, militarist and colonialist -- is the enemy, the PC movement propagates and enforces the left's current ("politically correct") line on the issues of the day, issues such as racial preferences, gay pride and peace (good) and Western civilization, the merit system and "Eurocentrism" (bad).

Enforcement begins with limits on legitimate, constitutionally protected speech. The University of Michigan, for example, made it punishable to "stigmatize" someone "on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap or Vietnam-era veteran status." (The courts had to step in and put an end to the nonsense.)

Enforcement of political correctness then extends to "sensitivity" sessions in which students are encouraged to confess publicly their racism. This middle-class take on the Chinese reeducation camp, like the other forms of psychological coercion on campus, serves a specific agenda: to identify nonconforming ideas as illegitimate and, by doing so, banish them. Opposing racial preferences is racism. Defending the Western cultural canon is colonialism. Advocating a pedagogical preference for heterosexuality is homophobia. Transgressors beware.

Now this week, for one brief shining moment, another offense was added to the annals of political correctness: displaying the American flag in wartime.

Not a year after the Supreme Court reaffirmed that burning the flag is a protected form of speech, officials at the (publicly funded) University of Maryland asked students hanging American flags and pro-war banners from their dorm windows to take them down. "{T}his is a very diverse community, and what may be innocent to one person may be insulting to another," said university official Jan Davidson.

"We have a big population to be sensitive to," said Julie Field, director of one group of dormitories. "The {university} does not want our public spaces to show people's opinion." Curbing speech for fear of giving offense: It is hard to imagine a more parodic interpretation of the mission of the university.

This travesty on the idea of the university is done in the name of "diversity" and "sensitivity," the twin moral pillars of political correctness. Of course, repression in the name of some higher value is nothing new. In the '50s, the higher value was national security. Repression then went by the name McCarthyism.

What is new, and perhaps even more disturbing, is a second explanation that university officials offered for asking that flags and banners be taken down. "We don't want to get drawn into a situation where we are making decisions based on content," explained Davidson.

Decoded, this means that the university is not particularly, perhaps not at all, opposed to flags and pro-war banners. The worry is that if the university permits one expressed opinion, that might encourage others! What then is a university to do? Some of these other opinions might -- goodness -- be anti-patriotic, even offensive. What if someone puts up an obscene antiwar banner? What if someone puts up a poster insulting to our troops? The university might have to get into the business of "making decisions based on content."

This horror at having to make some substantive judgment shows just how much the academy has lost its nerve. What exactly is the content problem? As a society, we have well-developed constitutional rules on the subject. Apply them. Obscenity is not protected under the Constitution. Everything else short of libel, slander and "fighting words" is.

If some students are offended by what flows from constitutional free speech, too bad. As part of their training for adulthood in an open society, offended students might actually be encouraged to learn to respond and debate, rather than sulk and sue, as the offended are now encouraged to do on campuses throughout the country.

Back at the University of Maryland, the administration has beat a hasty retreat. It now "supports strongly such {flag} displays as expressions of freedom of speech." This discovery of the First Amendment occurred exactly one day after the student newspaper broke the story on its front page ("Students Forced to Remove American Flags From Dorms") and hours after a similar report appeared in The Post.

No doubt, University of Maryland officials are even now penning letters to the editor explaining that there was never any "policy" against flags, and that this was all just a terrible misunderstanding blown out of proportion by journalists. But that University officials asked students to take down their flags is an incontrovertible fact. Their rationale -- fear at giving offense -- is a matter of record. The fact that the university switched gears when the story became public shows only that it does not even have the courage of its own illiberal convictions.