Tag Archives: academic freedom

Why I’m Leaving the Political Science Association

Looking forward to a lively annual conference of the American Political Science Association, due to start this week in San Francisco, I proposed a panel on “Viewpoint Diversity in Political Science.” After all, I thought, wasn’t the 2016 election a signal lesson in the continuing relevance of diverse viewpoints in the American body politic?

My submission featured four of the most prominent political scientists in the country who have written on the issue of political diversity in the field. They included Joshua Dunn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, whose co-authored 2016 book entitled Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University has been a focus of the national discussion among academics interested in the issue; and April Kelly-Woessner, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies at Elizabethtown College, whose co-authored 2011 book The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power Politics and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education is the gold standard on how to promote respectful political dialogue on campus.

Quaint Notions of White Identity?

Now, granted, every major conference receives far more submissions than it can accept. Still, I was surprised when the panel was rejected. I assumed that it had been bested by superior panels submitted to the jointly-organized teaching and education sections of the conference. But when the official program came out, I could see that it was not. Instead, it was crowded out by APSA’s serious lack of political diversity.

A total of 11 full panels or roundtables were accepted in the teaching and education sections. Of these, 7 are on mainstream teaching topics. Another 4 were set aside for, shall we say, more politicized topics. One, entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex (and Gender and Sexuality)”, is on how to restructure the classroom around ideas of being “genderfluid, transgender, or gender nonconforming.” Another, on “Tolerance, Diversity, and Assessment” will focus on how to use administrative coercion to enforce various group identity agendas.

The third, called “Taking Advantage of Diversity,” will help scholars to understand why their quaint notions of cutting edge knowledge are merely expressions of white identity. Another, “Teaching Trump”, is composed of left-wing feminist scholars. Final score for political science education at this year’s APSA conference: left-wing approaches to diversity and difference: 4; conservative or classical liberal approaches: 0.

The Holy Trinity of Leftist Grievance

For good measure, I looked at the entire conference program to see whether the preponderance of panels on left-wing approaches to diversity in the teaching and education sections was to balance a lack of them elsewhere. I searched for panels on the holy trinity of identity politics: sexism/feminism, racism/white privilege, and sexual orientation/homo/transphobia. My best guess is that conference attendees will have a choice of 104 panels on these topics, in addition to the 4 in the teaching and learning sections. Just for laughs, I searched for panels on political, ideological, or viewpoint diversity. None.

There are, of course, special sections controlled by conservative or classical liberal groups at the APSA conference. But as for the sections that are open to all submissions, they essentially fall into two groups: strictly empirical work or normatively left-wing ideas. Am I the only one scratching my head?

I have worked with political scientists of an overwhelmingly left-wing bent for all of my career, so I know that there is nothing nefarious in this. Indeed, this is a key finding of  Dunn’s Passing on the Right. Sometimes, conservative commentators on the academy write as if there is a vast conspiracy operating on campus. There is not. Most of my left-wing colleagues in political science are reasonable and rational people who are aware of the importance of bringing a variety of political viewpoints into the classroom. When I asked the section organizer why our panel was rejected, she genuinely seemed not to remember – not indicative of an intentional censoring of non-left-wing issues – and added: “I agree it’s an important topic.”

So why the lack of balance? Despite the lip-service to the importance of viewpoint diversity, asking an APSA organizer committed to the advance of left-wing viewpoints to take one for the right is like asking a glutton to forego ice cream. There are no practical means to translate theory into practice. The eyes roll tiredly over proposals concerning viewpoint diversity but perk up excitedly at the sight of one, to cite another of the offerings at this year’s conference, “Disavowing Violence: Imperial Entitlements, From Burke to Trump (Fuck That Guy).”

Looniest End of the Academy

Indeed, for the looniest end of the left-wing academy, even the theory is hostile to viewpoint diversity. They view the academy as a special zone of (left-wing) Truth that must be protected against (right-wing) Falsehoods of the real world. Genuine pluralism, from this vantage, is a cover for privilege and oppression. Why import such falsehoods into the charmed realm of truth they have carved out with taxpayer’s money? Or more to the point, why go through the pain, inconvenience, and potential disapprobation of importing falsehoods?  I do not think the teaching and education section leaders of this year APSA were of that sort. But the system is heavily stacked against even a brief effort in the direction of idea pluralism. Why stick your neck out to accept a panel on political diversity at a political science conference when, to cite another of this year’s offerings, one can win kudos for accepting a panel entitled: “Pussies Grab Back: Feminism in the Wake of Trump”?

Much has been written about the general problem of a lack of political diversity in political science and its drift to the far left. The ratio of Democratic/left-of-center to Republican/right-of-center professors in political science is variously estimated at around 15 to 1 nationwide, not counting moderates and centrist independents. In my home state of Oregon, I believe the ratio is infinitely large because I do not know of a single Republican or conservative in our profession here (I am a swing voter and independent). APSA is not only indicative of this worsening problem but, and here is the issue, a key cause of it and thus, potentially, a fulcrum point for change.

It was not always this way. APSA was founded in 1903 to defend the ideal of impartial empirical inquiry. It’s constitution still declares that “the Association as such is nonpartisan. It will not support political parties or candidates. It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose” of academic inquiry. For years, it upheld those ideals. Remarkably, APSA and political science more generally survived the onslaught of illiberal radicalism, political correctness, and censorship of the 1960s, as John Gunnell of SUNY-Albany wrote in the association’s main journal in 2006. APSA presidents well after that era included prominent conservatives like Samuel Huntington of Harvard (1986-7) and James Q. Wilson of UCLA (1991-2).

The real problems arose when the graduate students of the 1960s and 1970s became tenured faculty and APSA executives. While political science and APSA were able to withstand an assault on academic freedom and viewpoint diversity from illiberal students, they had no means to defend themselves when those illiberal students became the governors. From the 2000s, a string of such far-left scholars came into office as APSA presidents: they included old-left scholars of class and socialism like Theda Skocpol of Harvard (served in 2002-3), Margaret Levi of Washington (served in 2004-5), and Ira Katznelson of Columbia (served in 2005-6); and “new-left” scholars of racial and gender grievance such as Dianne Pinderhughes of Notre Dame (2007-8), Rodney Hero of Berkeley (2014-15), and Jennifer Hochschild of Harvard (2015-16). There is of course nothing wrong with a variety of positions being represented in the APSA presidency. However, there was never any countervailing tendency. The moderate leftists who took the helm between the growing frequency of radicals could do nothing more than steady the ship before the next gale of fanaticism.

Under this new post-2000 leadership, APSA turned from being a fairly pluralistic and professional-oriented body into a shock force for the latest thought liberations of the left. This has been evident most clearly in the bevy of special task forces that have been commissioned. One of these, on “Inequality and American Democracy” published in 2004, deserves special attention because it was the point where APSA lost its credibility. The report claimed to have uncovered “profound threats” to American democracy as a result of inequality, which was reinforced by social programs that served mainly old white conservatives; indeed that political scientists had reached a “consensus” that such a threat existed. Again, it was not the radical leftism per se but the growing suggestion that only radical viewpoints were welcome or even recognized in the discipline that rankled.

A Little Diversity? No Thanks

One political scientist, Robert Weissberg of the University of Illinois-Urbana, was allowed a dissenting voice in a symposium on the report. He called the report a “professional embarrassment” for its hysterical claims of what he called “an AARP coup d’état.” Putting aside the possibility that “overeager interns absconded with APSA letterhead,” Weissberg warned that professional political scientists who adopted an “overheated radical egalitarian tone” of the report were not just, in his view, getting it wrong on American democracy. The bigger problem was what it said about the state of APSA. The obliviousness of the report’s authors to what a conservative, classical liberal or centrist would see as its “embedded totalitarianism” might have been at least acknowledged if the 14-member task force had included one or two non-leftists. “A little diversity, so to speak, would have saved considerable embarrassment.”

Yet such diversity was, as it was becoming clear in 2004, precisely what was on the wane at APSA. The new generation of political science faculty and APSA leaders no longer saw their role not as engendering an appreciation and curiosity about the pluralism of the American body politic and its institutions (as well as those abroad). Instead, APSA had become a key citadel to storm and capture: “Transforming a discipline’s intellectual center of gravity is not rocket science once the administrative apparatus is secure,” Weissberg wrote.

Today, APSA has become barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party and its far-left wing. Its web page runs a constant stream of anti-Trump or anti-Republican news. This year, it issued a statement supporting the anti-Trump “March for Science” held in DC in April and another against the Executive Order on a temporary ban for travelers from several Middle Eastern countries. It also felt the need to issue a Letter to Members after the 2016 election (there was no letter issued after the 2012 or 2008 elections) saying the election had “cast into sharp relief an array of issues” for political scientists. I used to think that’s what elections were supposed to do.

Of course, for political scientists for whom every professional endeavor is a pitched battle for social justice waged against the dark forces of tradition and privilege, the takeover of APSA is just another point on the road to total victory. But, like Saigon when the Vietcong arrived, they may find that others have abandoned the city, leaving them with nothing but a Pyrrhic Victory.

The “boat people” fleeing APSA now include me. As it happened, this year’s APSA was on the theme of political legitimacy, one of my major research areas. I proposed a methods workshop on measuring legitimacy along with another scholar who, like me, has spent a lot of time on data and measurement issues. It was accepted, but alas is now canceled as I have chosen not to attend. I will continue to research, teach, and engage policy-makers about legitimacy, but not at APSA.

Maybe this does not matter. As Weissberg noted: “Transforming the profession into scholarly agitprop is lamentable, but hardly catastrophic in the grand scheme of things. At worst, intellectual corruption will render APSA publicly irrelevant.”

But for that shrinking pool of political scientists for whom a vibrant and pluralistic professional association still matters, it may be time for a reckoning. So here is my challenge: make “political and viewpoint diversity” the theme for a future APSA annual conference. Recognizing the problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The right to breathe is not generally understood as the right to choke others.  The right to move freely is not widely understood as the right to slip into your neighbor’s house in the middle of the night unannounced.  The right to listen to Neil Diamond’s greatest hits is not universally interpreted as the right to make other people listen to “Sweet Caroline.”

And yet these days more than a few people have decided that “academic freedom” guarantees your right to silence other people who are attempting to express views you disagree with.

This sounds like a joke, but it has been put forward in earnest by many student protesters in the last few years.  I first heard the “I’m-exercising-my-academic-freedom-to-shut-you-up” rationale in connection with the Black Lives Matter protesters who invaded the Berry-Baker Library at Dartmouth in November 2015.  But it has since become the common currency of lawless protesters, whether at Berkeley, Middlebury, or Claremont-McKenna.

Perhaps the open letter from Pomona College students to President David Oxtoby demanding that he “take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” is the perfection of this conceit.  The Pomona students decided that “free speech” has become “a toll appropriated by hegemonic institutions.”

Campus Life Not Like a Baseball Game

Actually, on that last point, they are right.  Colleges and universities are “hegemonic institutions.”  I don’t know if those students understand their own catchphrases, but translated into plain English, this simply means that colleges impose broad control over their community of faculty members and students.  They have rules above and beyond the rules of the surrounding society.  If you go to a baseball game, you are free to boo the other team and scream at the umpire if you think he made a bad call.  On campus—at least in principle—you must listen quietly when someone argues a point you disagree with, and if the moderator in a debate makes what you think is a bad call, your only legitimate option is to explain why you think it is wrong.

Those rules are part of what we mean by “academic freedom.”  Clearly, academic freedom is not the natural way people behave towards each other.  It is an artificial thing, a “social construct,” as we say these days.  And because it is artificial, it only works in special circumstances where people agree to forego their right to boo the other team, shout imprecations at the umpire, or move beyond words to the kind of hard buffets that put professors of political science in the hospital.

Three cheers for institutional hegemony, without which no would have academic freedom.  “Good times never seemed so good,” Sweet Caroline.

But how is it that good old Hegemony U has found itself so incompetent in upholding its most basic rules of the road?   Observers have offered some pretty persuasive answers to why Middlebury President Laurie Patton has been so feckless; why UC Berkley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks displayed the steadfastness of a saloon door; and why Claremont McKenna President Hiram Chodosh has risen to the occasion with the moral dignity of a fidget spinner.

The answers include the continuing descent into postmodern insouciance, where no encompassing principle presides; the swarming animosities of identity politics, which have stung all the beekeepers into submission; and the progressive left’s willingness to kick away the ladder of free speech by which it climbed to dominance, lest anyone else try that ascent.

Up for Grabs for a Century

I have one small addendum to that list of explanations for why our defenders of academic freedom went out to lunch and never came back.  I suspect that some of them got confused by the menu.  “Academic freedom,” an artificial thing, a “social construct,” isn’t amenable to scientific precision.  It isn’t Mars or Jupiter, sitting in the heavens as a definite planet.  It is more like Pluto or one those other trans-Neptunian objects with strange names, such as the dwarf planet Haumea:  detectable but not settled into any plain definition.

Because “academic freedom” isn’t any one, definite thing, it has been up for grabs for over a century.  The grabbing began in 1915, when the newly formed American Association of University Professors offered its “Statement of Principles,” that in twenty-some pages of stately syntax and high-minded declaration laid out a commanding vision of the intellectual rights of America’s university faculty.  The 1915 AAUP statement didn’t settle anything.  For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach

For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach an agreement.  In 1940, they did, at last, reach an agreement of sorts and issued a much shorter and—in many ways—less satisfactory statement.  The 1940 AAUP Statement remains in force at the vast majority of American colleges and universities as their basic position on academic freedom.  But having discovered the fluidity of the idea, the academic world could not stop with just two statements.

There are in fact now many thousands of statements, interpretations, codicils, redactions, and expostulations about academic freedom.  The World Catalog lists nearly 100,000 books on the topic.  “Look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely,” Sweet Caroline.

My colleague David Randall and I have undertaken the task of providing a little bit of order to this chaos.  We have just posted a chart that offers an easy comparison of what we take to be the top ten authoritative treatments of academic freedom.  It gives the reader the opportunity to see at a glance which definitions are rooted in the pursuit of truth, which ones connect tenure, and which ones call for sanctions against violators, and so on through 25 categories.  It is a work in progress if we are still allowed to talk about progress in the post-modern anti-hegemonic hegemony.

I offer this in part as a service to Presidents Paton and Chodosh and Chancellor Dirks. They can now pick the definition that best lends itself to doing nothing while their students riot, or imposing “sanctions” on violators that have the permanence of a Snapchat message.  “Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate” may also, however, prove to be of some value to others who have found little clarity in the swirl of conflicting claims about academic freedom.

Explore, and find the most compelling definition and sing in your best imitation of Neil Diamond, “How can I hurt when I’m holding you,” Sweet Caroline.  Well, you can and will, but you will still be better off knowing that some definitions of academic freedom are a lot better than others, at least if you care about creating a civilized place for learning.

Printed with permission from the National Association of Scholars

Do Corporate Donors Threaten Academic Freedom?

Inside Higher Ed has published another article, “Banking on the Curriculum,” denouncing the influence of corporate money in academia. The article raises the specter that America’s universities are accepting corporate gifts with ideological strings attached, thereby corrupting their intellectual integrity and selling the soul of academic freedom.

The article examines the recent gifts of BB&T (a financial services company) and Koch Industries. Over the course of the last decade or so, BB&T’s charitable foundation has funded 63 university and college programs that examine the moral foundations of capitalism and the Charles M. Koch Foundation has funded scores of academic programs that conduct research analyzing the relationship between free societies and human flourishing.

Big Donors on the Left

This recurrent focus on corporate, libertarian and conservative donations to universities is a bit ironic. After all, consider the dominance of the left over the campuses and the enormous amount of money poured into academic coffers by the ideological left without attracting the sort of protests provoked by donations from the corporate world and the right.

Remember the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington? That highly ideological effort was funded by labor unions and donors of the left. And how about the millions of dollars donated to universities by the Ford Foundation “diversity” programs, Joan Kroc’s gift of $200 million to fund “peace” and “social justice” programs at two universities and Jane Fonda’s $12.5 million to found a Harvard center on gender education, the purpose of which was to train (politically indoctrinate) future teachers on issues of “gender, race and class.”

Expanding the Marketplace of Ideas

It is no secret that the modern American college has great trouble allowing conservative and libertarian voices to be heard on campus. Objections to programs on the moral foundations of free enterprise and capitalism are efforts to marginalize programs and faculty who want to expand the marketplace of ideas on America’s college campuses.

Those opposing these programs hope to cow administrators from accepting similar donations in the future; to rally liberal faculty to actively oppose these programs; and most of all, to perpetuate the ideological monopoly currently held by the Left on America’s college campuses. In other words, it’s all about power and ideology.

According to the critics of this kind of funding, the great sin of BB&T and the Koch Foundation is to have “bought” their way into a small minority of American universities and to have violated academic freedom and faculty governance. These charges are entirely specious, and those who make them do not understand what academic freedom is. This story is about academic freedom but not in the way that it’s being presented.

The standard dictionary definition of academic freedom is the “freedom to teach or learn without interference.”The principle applies to individual faculty members and their right to teach ideas that might be unpopular. The BB&T and Koch academic programs have done nothing to interfere with the freedom of anyone to teach or learn what they want. At every university that has accepted BB&T or Koch money, not a single faculty member’s academic freedom has been denied or compromised in any way. I publicly challenge the critics of these donations to name one faculty member anywhere in America whose academic freedom has been threatened by these grants.

The Anti-Capitalist Bias on Campus

The truth is that the various BB&T- or Koch-funded university programs have actually increased rather than diminished the sphere of academic freedom. Their explicit goal is to expand the marketplace of ideas on college campuses so that students can be exposed to a broader range of ideas. Anyone who has ever attended an American university knows there is a rabid anti-capitalist bias on our campuses. Until recently, students were rarely exposed to the ideas of the great philosophic proponents of capitalism, including Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand. Thanks to the BB&T and Koch programs, all that has changed.

Ask any student if they think a greater diversity of ideas on campus is a good thing or not. The question answers itself. Truth be told, there is much greater intellectual diversity in these programs than in most university courses. It’s clear from student feedback that young people appreciate the exposure to ideas that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to study. Students are the clear winners: they now have more courses and a wider range of perspectives from which to choose.

Why the Fuss?

As a bonus, the BB&T and Koch grants have also encouraged faculty to generate new and exciting research that is expanding the boundaries of knowledge. And there’s more: in every instance, BB&T and Koch have insisted that the academic programs they fund meet the highest academic standards, that they promote a diversity of viewpoints, and that students make their own informed judgments. The BB&T- and Koch-sponsored programs have added real academic value to American higher education, and they should be multiplied, expanded, and applauded rather than condemned.

Why, then, all the fuss over the BB&T and Koch grants?

There is an important story here, but it’s not the one presented by Inside Higher Ed and the mainstream media. The real untold story is that some college professors want to limit intellectual diversity, deny competition in the realm of ideas, and prohibit students from learning certain ideas. They do this through the bogus claim of their alleged right to “faculty governance” over academic standards. But faculty governance does not and should not mean the right of campus Thought Police to determine what is or is not taught in someone else’s class. Faculty governance is used as a cover to reinforce a monolithic and homogenous ideology on our college campuses.

The only true victims of this academic witch-hunt are those institutions and associated faculty that have accepted BB&T and Koch funding. Will new professors hired with a Koch grant now feel at full liberty to express their views in faculty meetings now that they have been “outed” as the recipient of “tainted” funding? Will they not sit in fear for the next five years worried that their tenure application will be denied because of the ideological bias that has been unleashed against the Koch Foundation and those it supports? Will those academic units that have received BB&T funding come under irregular scrutiny and unequal treatment as they seek to raise funds to increase educational opportunities for their students?

‘Outside’ Money Isn’t New

The simple truth is this: America’s universities have always accepted “outside” money, both private and public. Without it, our universities would die of intellectual starvation. “Outside” money—including corporate funding—keeps America’s campuses alive with fresh, new ideas.In my experience, students crave more than the one-sided perspective they receive in many of their college courses. We should all be thankful to BB&T and the Koch Foundation for helping America’s colleges expand their curricula, for encouraging intellectual diversity, and for promoting a marketplace of ideas.

We at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism are proud of our association with BB&T and the Koch Foundation, and, more importantly, we will not be intimidated or silenced.

The Slow Fade of Academic Freedom

The greatest threats to academic freedom come from academics themselves, not from their students or from politicians.  That provocative claim is the thesis of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge, an important new book by Joanna Williams slated for publication by Palgrave Macmillan in January 2016.

Williams, who directs the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Kent in the U.K. and serves as education editor for the online magazine Spiked, recently gave a lecture hosted by the New York Association of Scholars as part of a U.S. tour promoting her new book. Former NAS intern Madison Iszler also interviewed Williams for The College Fix.

Related: ‘Yes the Kids Are Intolerant’  

In an hour’s talk, Williams analyzed the growing list of crackdowns on dissent from “consensus” positions. This summer economist Bjorn Lomborg got ousted from the University of Western Australia after outrage that he “downgrades” global warming and insufficiently fears it. In 2013, feminists at the University of Kent “deplored” the London School of Economics for daring to even “give a platform” to legal scholar Helen Reece. Reece, who spoke at a debate on rape law, had written an article, “Rape Myths,” in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies that argued the unpopular thesis that judges in rape cases were not necessarily biased against the accuser.

In June Tim Hunt, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, resigned an honorary position at University College, London, after he made a self-deprecating joke about female scientists distracting him in the laboratory. The list goes on. Williams acknowledges that forces outside the faculty have long warred against free exchange of ideas on college campuses. It is usually students, for instance, who demand trigger warnings, rail at “microaggressions,” and call for disinviting controversial speakers.

Related: U. of Michigan Vindicates Chris Rock       

But professors built the ideological machinery that hollowed out the very idea of academic freedom in the first place. And professors still operate the intellectual levers that pressure controversial speakers to keep quiet. Williams argues that the rejection of academic freedom not only prevents the advance of knowledge (by stifling the conversations and debates that sift out truths from misconceptions) but actually stems from the rejection of truth as a metaphysical or intellectual reality.

The advent of postmodernism has situated truth within the person contemplating it. “Truth,” if and to the extent it existed, is seen as perspectival. It is therefore neither universal nor uniform. This conception of truth as personal and subjective, when combined with assertions from feminists and critical race theorists that the personal is political, amounts to a proclamation that politics, not truth, is the primary concern of higher education. Under this framework, the very claim that truth exists and that university professors and students should seek and understand it, is cast as a boorish, inappropriate affront to personal political identity.

Related: How Our Universities Are Failing Us   

The purpose of professors, then, is not to advance truth claims and weigh out which best fits reality, but to advance sustainability, feminism, diversity, inclusivity—any number of ideological movements that aim at celebrating individual personal political identity rather than coming to understand the world and one’s place in it. When professors cease putting forth and debating truth claims, Williams says, academic freedom is no longer relevant in any meaningful way.

There is no need, in this postmodernist worldview, to afford protection to controversial but potentially true ideas. In fact, as the university moves closer to its subjective ideals but retains the linguistic artifacts of its past, “academic freedom” can actually become a weapon against the academics it once protected.

A roster of conformity-enforcing techniques—burning controversial books, disinviting or “no-platforming” controversial speakers, screening out nonconformist faculty with ideological litmus tests—becomes in Orwellian style an example of “academic freedom.” Has “academic freedom” itself become a tool of ideological conformity? For a fuller answer to that question, read Joanna Williams’ book this January. This article was published original on the National Association of Scholars.

Read More at Minding the Campus

‘Yes, the Kids Are Intolerant’

Excerpts from a blog on the new site, Heterodox Academy

The overall levels of tolerance in society do fluctuate. People are more willing to restrict political rights to their foes during times of war or international threat. Yet, while the baseline for tolerance fluctuates over time, it has always been the case, until recently, that younger people were the most tolerant. This relationship between age and tolerance is what led Stouffer and others to conclude that our society would grow more tolerant over time. The fact that this trend has now reversed has significant implications. If it continues, we will grow less and less tolerant over time.

My late colleague, Stanley Rothman, makes a compelling and thorough case for the lasting impact of the New Left on American values in his last book, The End of the Experiment. Marcuse is widely regarded by political theorists as the most influential philosopher of the Frankfurt School.

But one doesn’t have to read Rothman’s book to understand that young people are now articulating a New Left philosophy about free speech and academic freedom. Students repeatedly ban speakers who offend their sensibilities while framing their objections in Marcuse’s terms. For example, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson last year, a student argues for “academic justice” to replace academic freedom. In this view, universities have a social responsibility to be intolerant towards those who would promote racism, sexism and homophobia.

James Gibson (1992), arguably the leading scholar on tolerance, concludes that intolerance creates a culture of conformity that makes all people more hesitant to exercise political liberties. So this is the irony of speech codes. When we teach students to silence racists, they also silence Muslims, atheists, and anyone who makes other people uncomfortable. Intolerance creates a general prohibition on controversial expression.

My research finds that the younger generation perceives a tension between social justice and free speech that previous generations did not.

Those under 40 who have a social justice orientation are generally more intolerant than those who do not. Again, this relationship is not present for those over 40. Those over 40 tend to articulate classical liberal philosophies, which emphasize the right to expression, even for our political foes. Ludwig von Mises argued that liberalism “demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society” since “only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace.”

Perhaps there are other forces that explain these generational gaps in attitudes towards free expression. What is clear, however, is that older generation behaves as if they are influenced by classical liberalism and younger generations are behaving as if they were influenced by the New Left.

Yes, the kids are intolerant. That is, they are intolerant if we define tolerance as researchers have for the past six decades, as a measure of willingness to extend basic democratic rights to those one finds most objectionable.

Emmer and Keeton–Two Terrible Decisions on Academic Freedom

Emmer and Keeton.pngIt’s
not often that a university’s personnel decision is so egregious that even the
editorial pages of the local newspaper denounce it. That occurred with Hamline
University, whose seemingly rescinded appointment to Tom Emmer generated a
blistering editorial
from the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune
.

Between 2004 and 2010, Emmer served as a prominent member of
the Republican caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In 2010, he
gave up his legislative seat to launch a bid for governor, running on a very
conservative platform; despite trailing by considerable margins in polls
throughout the race, he wound up losing by less than one percent of the vote.
After a year in the private sector, Emmer decided to try out academia, and
Hamline’s Business School made arrangements for him to teach a course in
business law and serve as an “executive in residence” for a
state/local public policy program that the school was starting. It seemed that
both sides considered the semester as a trial run for a possible permanent
position.

Continue reading Emmer and Keeton–Two Terrible Decisions on Academic Freedom

Condemning the NYPD over Academic Freedom?

As Mark Bauerlein observed in his seminal essay on the topic, groupthink has the effect of producing more extreme versions of the common assumption. It stands to reason, therefore, that campuses with unusually one-sided faculties will feature more frequent episodes of extremist assertions. Such certainly seems to be the case at my own institution, Brooklyn College, which too often seems eager to position itself in a kind of canary-in-the-coal mine role in higher education.

The common assumptions in this case are claims of a pervasiveness of Islamophobia in contemporary America and a belief that the U.S. government has inappropriately restricted the civil liberties of American Muslims. The extreme action came in response to an NYPD program monitoring homegrown Islamic extremism.

Continue reading Condemning the NYPD over Academic Freedom?

Upholding Academic Freedom in Minnesota

A recently-decided case involving academic freedom all but defines a frivolous lawsuit. The website for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), based at the University of Minnesota, contained an item noting “unreliable websites” on Holocaust issues. The link’s purpose–to discourage students from using these sites in their research–was clearly academic. (The site’s wording: “We do not recommend these sites. Warnings should be given to students writing papers that they should not use these sites because of denial, support by an unknown organization, or contents that are a strange mix of fact and opinion.”) The list of unreliable sites included that of the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), whose offering denied the existence of an Armenian genocide.

In early 2009, the TCA’s parent body then sent a letter to the university, claiming (absurdly) that the list constituted “viewpoint discrimination that flagrantly violates the First Amendment.” Nonetheless, in November 2010, the CHGS changed its website, and replaced the link to “unreliable websites” with a summary of a few books on the “history, psychology and ideology of Holocaust and genocide denial.” The CHGS coupled this decision with a public statement (correctly) noting that “the vast majority of serious and rigorous historians . . . consider the massacre of Armenians during World War I as a case of genocide.”

Despite obtaining what it (ostensibly) wanted–the removal of its website from a CHGS link to “unreliable websites”–the TCA filed suit on November 30. On March 30, District Court judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit. Frank concluded “that this case is properly viewed in the context of academic freedom,[which, quoting Justice Brennan, he termed “a special concern of the First Amendment”] and that Defendants’ statements are protected by that freedom. The CHGS is free to indicate to students that it thinks certain websites are not proper sources for scholarly research. The ability of the University and its faculty to determine the reliability of sources available to students to use in their research falls squarely within the University’s freedom to determine how particular coursework shall be taught.” (The opinion is available through Pacer here.)

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Columbia’s Ongoing Battle against ROTC

At Columbia, how is it that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could inspire such heated debate among students? The average student opposing the return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Columbia University might be fairly described as a left-wing “radical,” while the university’s tiny conservative contingent is surely among the program’s supporters. Still, Columbia’s ROTC advocates are not much like Glenn Beck; one of their main organizers has admitted his hatred for Fox News and his love for National Public Radio.
For ROTC’s opponents, the military represents a threat to academic freedom, and its flaws are reasons to keep it at arm’s length. For its supporters, ROTC represents service to one’s nation, while the military’s flaws are in fact reasons to engage it.
With DADT’s repeal, Columbia’s University Senate promptly commissioned a task force to examine whether ROTC should be invited back to campus. They took a survey of students recently in the program (currently, Columbians in ROTC must commute to Fordham) and organized three public hearings. At the second hearing, Anthony Maschek, an Army veteran who took nine bullets in Iraq, was jeered and called “racist” in the middle of his remarks. His offense? He told anti-ROTC students that the U.S. military protects them from men in “other parts of the world [who] are plotting to kill you right now. . . . These people seriously are trying to kill you. They hate America, they hate you.” At the next hearing, one ROTC opponent derided Maschek’s statement as “one-dimensional.” Another opponent explained to the Columbia Spectator why they jeered: “Maschek’s remarks implied that Iraq has attacked the United States, and that Iraqis are thus among the people who want to kill Americans. But since Iraq did not attack the U.S. on September 11 or since then . . . Maschek’s statement seemed to imply that all Muslims want to kill Americans.”

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A Feeble Statement from the AAUP

A few years ago, in the midst of the controversy over inappropriate faculty behavior in Columbia’s Middle East Studies department, more than 100 professors, led by former provost Jonathan Cole, signed a document demanding that the Columbia administration defend the faculty from outside criticism—without even determining the merits of that criticism. This approach essentially redefined academic freedom as the freedom from outside criticism of academics who represent the majority view on campus. The draft document on academic freedom just released by the AAUP essentially seeks to codify the redefinition of academic freedom urged by the Columbia faculty. It condemns the activities of, among other people, “bloggers,” while also seeming to fault students for “report[ing] and publiciz[ing] offending classroom statements” by faculty members. In short, the Brandeis philosophy—sunlight is the best disinfectant—must not be allowed to apply to higher education. The AAUP document pays lip service to the idea that faculty members themselves might behave inappropriately: “For example, the denial of promotion or tenure by liberal academics to a conservative academic, or the reverse [presumably at a religious institution?], if based on disagreement with the applicant’s views rather than on a scholarly evaluation of the applicant’s professional competence and performance, constitutes political intrusion regardless of whether persons outside the academic community were involved.” But the organization is most concerned to stop in their tracks those who have deigned to criticize the actions of the current academic majority. This approach is problematic for three reasons. First, it presumes that outside criticism can be perceived as ispo facto bad faith, given the existence of mechanisms for dealing with threats to academic freedom from inside the academy. But even the document’s authors concede that internal threats to academic freedom exist (even as they go out of their way to minimize the problem), and thereby at the very least imply that the mechanisms for dealing with internal threats to academic freedom have broken down. Continue reading A Feeble Statement from the AAUP

Awards for Reporting about Anti-Semitism on Campus

At the Student Free Press Association, we’ve partnered with the Institute for Jewish & Community Research to establish $1000 awards for excellence in student reporting on anti-Semitism. To learn how to enter, go here. From the press release:

Campuses have become staging grounds for campaigns demonizing Israel, intimidating Jewish students and threatening the foundation of civil discourse in academia. Anti-Semitism and virulent anti-Israelism are regularly exhibited in a variety of venues on college campuses: speakers, events, media and scholarship have all been tainted by hostility and bigotry. History has shown that Jews are the “canary in the coalmine” of civility and tolerance. The lowered norms on campus threaten not just Jews, but all others as well.

Faculty Groupthink and Contempt for Israel

The hiring of former Brooklyn College adjunct Kristofer Petersen-Overton was quite extraordinary. Even though New York’s fiscal problems have led to a slashing of the adjunct budget for required, undergraduate Core classes, Brooklyn’s Political Science Department chose to assign an adjunct to teach a Masters’-level elective course, on Middle Eastern politics. And then, even though graduate-level classes in the humanities and social sciences are almost always taught by full-time faculty, the department inexplicably hired to teach the class a second -year Ph.D. student (at the CUNY Graduate Center, Ph.D. students generally take their oral exams in their third year, so the student almost certainly hadn’t even completed his required coursework).

It’s hard to escape the likelihood that a department known for its close ties to the anti-Israel leadership of the CUNY faculty union hired Petersen-Overton because of his extremist views on Israel-related matters (he has, for instance, accused Israel of “colonial genocide,” and his website boasts of his close ties to “activists” in the West Bank and Gaza). Petersen-Overton certainly wasn’t assigned to teach an M.A. course because he possessed the educational credentials to do so.

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Thoughts on Penn State

By Mark Bauerlein

As reported here, the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs at Penn State has revised the school’s academic freedom policy and submitted a new version to the president for approval. The proposed changes include, the Introduction says, “Converting the list of restrictions on academic freedom into affirmative principles.” To that end, the Committee has deleted the final two sentences of the old policy:

No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.

Apparently, the Committee regards the “privilege” noted here as a feature of academic freedom; likewise for license to introduce “provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects.”

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Accept Our School’s Belief System, or You’re Gone

Jennifer Keeton, age 24, is a student in the graduate counselor education program at Augusta State University, Georgia. Faculty members at ASU have informed Ms. Keeton that she will be dismissed if she does not rid herself of beliefs that the school opposes. She holds traditional Christian views about sexuality and gender, and believes homosexuality is a “lifestyle,” not a “state of being,” as her school teaches. She agrees with her faculty that counselors should never impose their views on clients, and is not accused of saying or believing that she should. She also says she affirms the inherent dignity of all persons, regardless of their views or sexual behavior.
That wasn’t good enough for ASU. The school ordered Keeton to attend a “remediation program” in multicultural re-education and sensitivity training. An assistant professor suggested she attend the Gay Pride parade in Augusta, and she was told to file written reports on how she is moving toward the sexual belief system her school requires. She reluctantly agreed to accept the remediation, then backed out, saying in an email to faculty members, “I understand the need to reflect client’s goals and to allow them to work toward their own solutions, and I know I can do that… (but) I can’t alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation.” She says she was told by two assistant professors that “it was a life and death matter to not affirm a client’s sexual decision, and that failure to do so has led and could lead to suicides by clients who are not affirmed in their sexual preferences.”
On Keeton’s behalf, the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit yesterday against teachers, deans and regents of ASU, charging violations of freedom of speech and religion.

The Wolfers and Bastardizing Academic Freedom

Academic freedom carries with it rights as well as responsibilities. The concept derives from the belief that academics, because of specialized training in their subject matter, have earned the right to teach their areas of expertise and to follow their research questions as the evidence dictates—free from political pressure from the government. Indeed, only through a guarantee of such freedom can academics engage in a search for truth.

A corresponding responsibility, of course, is that academics will actually seek to pursue the truth. If professors’ research methods imitate the likes of James Carville or Karl Rove, then what purpose exists to safeguard the academy from the government? Indeed, at public universities, if the professoriate functions as partisan hacks, selectively plucking items to advance a political agenda, what’s to stop legislative demands that the faculty mirror the partisan breakdown of the state, to ensure proportionate representation to all political viewpoints?

A newly announced project called “Crying Wolf,” organized out of the Center on Policy Initiatives, seems blithely unconcerned with any requirements associated with academic freedom. As John has noted, project coordinators Peter Dreier (a distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College), Nelson Lichtenstein (a historian of 20th century U.S. history at UC Santa Barbara who directs the university’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy), and Donald Cohen, CPI executive director, are recruiting professors and graduate students (in “history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy”) to perform “paid academic research” that can “serve in the battle with conservative ideas.”

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Cuccinnelli Overrides Academic Freedom

When people outside of higher education hear the phrase “threat to academic freedom,” they probably think of government officials (ab)using their power to punish professors with controversial views. The post-World War II Red Scare most immediately comes to mind, along with early 1960s purges of academic leftists. Of course, in the 21st century academy, the primary threat to academic freedom comes from within, as defenders of the status quo pay lip service to principles of “diversity” even as they seek to minimize pedagogical or ideological diversity among the professoriate.

Indeed, the more conventional threat to academic freedom—from government officials—has become so comparatively rare that when a case appears, it seems like a throwback to a bygone era. How else to explain the recent decision of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to demand data from the University of Virginia regarding former professor (and climate change expert) Michael Mann?

Mann was one of the scientists whose name appeared prominently in the “Climate-gate” scandal, the hacked e-mails from a server at the University of East Anglia. Yet an investigation by Penn State determined that he had committed no wrongdoing, and the idea of a government official investigating a university professor because of the professor’s research positions is unseemly at best and—as the AAUP’s Rachel Levinson put it—filled with “echoes of McCarthyism” at worst.

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The Groupthink Version Of Academic Freedom

The City University of New York (CUNY) serves as a type of funhouse mirror to faculty conditions throughout the academy: for a variety of structural reasons (the vise-like grip of the faculty union and the legacy of economic difficulties in the 1970s and 1980s, which drove out many high-quality scholars searching for better-paying jobs, leaving behind a disproportionate share of ideologues) the university suffers from an extreme version of academic groupthink. In this respect, conditions at CUNY can illustrate with particular clarity broader problems in the academy.
One such case involves effort of the AAUP and other defenders of the academic status quo to redefine “academic freedom” into a concept suggesting that professors whose views represent the majority in the academy should be free from criticism, regardless of its validity. Last week, CUNY’s University Faculty Senate sent to all CUNY faculty a 13-page “statement on academic freedom.” The document makes for an intriguing read.
In his cover note announcing the statement’s availability, UFS chairman Manfred Phillips maintained, “Political pressures from organizations, university administrators or students [emphasis added] can threaten the academic freedom of individual faculty members.” This statement was remarkable for both what it included and what it excluded. Not only does the faculty’s “statement on academic freedom” contain no mention that students, as well as faculty, possess (more limited) academic freedom rights, but to CUNY’s elected faculty, students are a threat to academic freedom. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, only “organizations, university administrators or students can threaten the academic freedom of individual faculty members”—not members of the faculty majority intent on driving out dissenters in their midst.
How convenient: academic freedom, in this respect, is a license for professors in the pedagogical or ideological majority to do whatever they want.

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What Is The AAUP Up To?

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Cary Nelson, current president of the American Association of University Professors, has a new book dealing with academic freedom and its relationship to broader structural problems in higher education. No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom is interesting and important, but also frustrating. It provides remedies to the problems confronting academic freedom at the same time that it reflects some of the problems it purports to remedy. Nelson is compelled to criticize the nation’s faculty members for their lackadaisical support of academic freedom at the same time that he feels obliged to vehemently defend higher education from critics who attack higher education for this very reason. Balancing these positions makes sense if one carefully distinguishes valid and invalid attacks, and Nelson often succeeds in doing so. But too often his defenses of higher education come across as special pleading for the professoriate as a class, thereby weakening his claims.
Once upon a time the AAUP was the nation’s leading supporter of academic freedom. In recent decades, however, its prestige has slipped. A couple of years ago the Chronicle of Higher Education featured articles on this reversal of fortune, citing such matters as the AAUP’s bureaucratic inertia, the association’s perceived complacency about the chilling effects of political correctness, and broader trends in higher education that have made faculty members less knowledgeable and appreciative of the organization’s efforts. Leaner and meaner, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, founded in 2000 in Philadelphia) has replaced the AAUP as the nation’s most vibrant fighter for academic freedom. FIRE is conscientiously non-ideological, but its eagerness to take on the policies of political correctness that suppress freedom has made it a favorite of the right in addition to the civil libertarian left.
Nelson’s ascendancy to the presidency of the AAUP represents the organization’s effort to regain its past glory. He is a prolifically published, self-proclaimed “radical” (for academic freedom and other causes), a claim that makes him a left-wing answer to FIRE in terms of commitment. Among Nelson’s impressive list of publications we find Manifesto of a Tenured Radical and Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. Nelson’s left-wing legacy is important to his arguments because his approach to academic freedom is steeped in a broader leftist framework.

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Our Academic Freedom Forum

Congratulations to Minding the Campus for its forum on academic freedom. Saying something constructive about academic freedom doesn’t look all that difficult. It is one of the core doctrines of higher education. It has an abundant history, full of colorful characters, eloquent declarations, incisive legal arguments, and enlivening controversies. Yet somehow University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer managed to turn these ingredients into rhetorical sludge and draw disdain from left, right, and middle.
Peter Sacks faults Zimmer for hypocrisy. Zimmer promotes the principle of academic freedom the way The Museum of Modern Art promotes a niftily designed egg-beater: as something to gaze at under glass, not as a tool for frothing eggs. Academic freedom in actual use, says Sacks, is just a pretext for private universities to remain exclusive.
O’Connor and Black spot the Big Silence in Zimmer’s account of academic freedom: he says nothing about the duties that faculty members must shoulder if they assume the “right” to academic freedom. High on that list of duties is the need for disciplines to enforce tough professional ethics. Because these days, that enforcement has withered, and academic freedom in the true sense is pretty much a dead letter—just another rationale for privileged people to do whatever the hell they want.

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Is Academic Freedom In Trouble?

The president of the University of Chicago, Robert J. Zimmer, spoke at Columbia University on October 21st on the topic, “What Is Academic Freedom For?”
Minding the Campus invited several academics and other observers of the campus scene to post brief reactions to President Zimmer’s remarks. The comments are from Peter Sacks, Erin O’Connor and Maurice Black, Adam Kissel, John K. Wilson and Candace de Russy.

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Not Your Grandparents’ AAUP

AAUP president Cary Nelson recently e-mailed his membership about an important new venture for the academic union. Proclaiming “this is not your grandparents’ AAUP,” Nelson celebrated the work of the “Department of Organizing and Services,” which had discovered “a faculty band from Ohio performing original songs about the ironies of current academic life.”
Perhaps Nelson should spend less time thinking about new songs and focus more on the central task of “your grandparents’ AAUP”—upholding the principle of academic freedom. In two recent, high-profile controversies, the self-described “tenured radical” has seemed intent on transforming the AAUP from an organization devoted to promoting academic freedom into a battering ram to perpetuate the groupthink that dominates so many quarters of the contemporary academy.
The first episode occurred in July, after NYU extended a visiting professorship in human rights law to Thio Li-ann, a professor at the National University of Singapore. The appointment generated understandable controversy after revelations that Li-ann, while a member of the Singapore parliament (a body not known for its commitment to human rights in any event), had wanted to continue criminalizing gay sex acts, on the grounds that “diversity is not license for perversity.” Li-ann eventually decided not to come to NYU, using as an excuse the poor enrollment of her courses.
As the controversy brewed, Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik drew from Nelson a highly unusual conception of academic freedom:

Nelson also said that in a tenure decision, he would judge a candidate—however offensive his or her views on unrelated subjects—only on a question of whether the person’s scholarship and teaching in his or her discipline met appropriate standards. But in a hiring decision (whether for a visiting or permanent position), he said, it is appropriate to consider other factors, and . . . professors can appropriately ask prior to appointments, [Nelson] said, whether hiring someone whose views on certain subjects are “poisonous” could limit “the department’s ability to do its business.”

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Donald Downs On Academic Freedom

Donald Downs appeared here in New York at an event co-sponsored by the Pope Center and the Manhattan Institute on academic freedom, presenting his fascinating new paper “Academic Freedom: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Tell the Difference.”
Listen to John Leo interviewing Donald Downs in a new podcast.

Three Groupthink Conferences—No Dissenters Please

Several years ago, in a seminal Chronicle of Higher Education essay, Mark Bauerlein lamented a campus in which “the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they’ve reached an opinion through reasoned debate—instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit.”

The Bauerlein hypothesis projected that this “groupthink” environment would produce a more one-sided academy, with extremist voices becoming more prevalent. Three recent academic conferences, on topics of obvious academic and national import, confirm the point.

The first such gathering, which occurred a few weeks ago at NYU’s Ewen Academic Freedom Center, examined academic freedom in contemporary America. In the post-9/11 world, the topic was certainly timely, although differing viewpoints exist on whether a serious threat to academic freedom exists from outside the academy. Moreover, in an era of academic mobbing, in which by almost any standards most humanities and some social science departments are becoming more one-sided ideologically and pedagogically, any serious conference on academic freedom would surely examine whether the majority in the academy is truly committed to fostering dissenting points of view.

The NYU conference, however, wasn’t interested in viewpoints that challenged prevailing academic orthodoxy. The conference led off with remarks from Alison Bernstein, a Ford Foundation vice president and co-author of Melting Pots and Rainbow Nations, which one reviewer gushingly described as “nothing less than a new feminist approach to global issues.” At Ford, Bernstein has developed a program called “Difficult Dialogues: Promoting Academic Freedom and Pluralism on Campus.” The “model” for this initiative? The Ford Foundation’s earlier “Campus Diversity Initiative,” a program implemented most aggressively by the “diversity”-obsessed AAC&U. Many non-academics, I suspect, would wonder about the relationship between protecting academic freedom and promoting a “diversity” agenda. But for the academic majority that Bernstein personifies, the two causes are very much interlinked: the threat to the academic majority’s “diversity” agenda, and therefore by extension “academic freedom,” comes almost exclusively from outside critics of the academy.

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Still Tenured, Still Radical

Roger Kimball, editor of Encounter Books and co-editor of The New Criterion, delivered these remarks at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City on November 19th. The occasion marked publication of the second revised edition of his influential 1990 book Tenured Radicals.
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Joining so many old friends from the extended Manhattan Institute family inspires a feeling of what the philosopher Yogi Berra called “deja vu all over again.” I know I have been here before, talking about something suspiciously similar to what I am going to be talking to you about today. I am counting on you to agree with me that novelty is a much over-rated commodity and to take consolation, as I do, in the observation of the Sage of Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun.”
When the first the edition of Tenured Radicals appeared lo, these many years ago, around the time movable type was coming into vogue, the American university, when it came to the humanities and social sciences, anyway, was essentially a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.
Well, that was then. In the meantime, some very talented people have weighed in on the problem. They have written articles and books about the university; they’ve organized conferences, symposia, and think-tank initiatives; they even managed to place scores of good people in various colleges and universities as a counterweight to the various intellectual and moral depredations I chronicle in Tenured Radicals. Today, two editions and nearly two decades later, we can look at the American university and what do we discover? That it is, essentially, a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.

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Academic Freedom Under Assault? We Think Not.

Are academic freedom and free inquiry “under many assaults” as a report at Inside Higher Ed alleges today? We think not. At a conference at the New School in New York City (“Free Inquiry at Risk”) historian Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University cited three examples of violated freedoms that seemed to remind her of Joseph McCarthy’s heyday: the cancellation of a speech by education professor and retired terrorist William Ayers at the University of Nebraska, the dismissal of Ward Churchill from the University of Colorado and the denial of tenure for Normal Finkelstein at DePaul University.

Once a speaker is invited to a campus, we believe the speech should not be canceled out of animosity, political prudence or security fears, a newly popular excuse. So we think Ayers should have been allowed to talk. But cancelling an outsider’s speech has nothing to do with academic freedom. No line of academic inquiry was imperiled by the lack of Ayers’s presence on campus.

Ward Churchill, alas, is probably destined to be the poster boy for illegitimate interference in academe. Political pressure was indeed applied in the Churchill case, but a long and meticulous inquiry into his work clearly established a pattern of plagiarism and fraud, including writing evidence-free academic papers, publishing those papers under a false name, then citing them as proof of his own theories. The violations of academic freedom in this case were his.

In the Finkelstein case, Schrecker is on more solid ground. Finkelstein is an unusually obnoxious man and to some scholars, much of his work seems dubious. But his department voted 9-3 for tenure and another review backed him 5-0. Voting 4-3 against him, the performance and tenure board took up the issue of his scholarship but dropped it, favoring the withholding of tenure for being “deliberately hurtful” and inflammatory. The president of the university sounded the same theme, so Finkelstein lost out for a lack of collegiality. As Anthony Paletta wrote here, the university justified its decision in terms of a lack of respect for colleagues. He just wasn’t nice enough.

But one heavily publicized violation does not establish a national McCarthyite threat to scholarship. The conference title, “Free Inquiry at Risk” and its subhead “Universities in Dangerous Times” seem to assume that a major campaign against academic freedom is under way. Why some professors think so is a mystery. It just isn’t so.