NAS And FIRE Draw Fire

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS), two groups conspicuously devoted to protecting traditional freedom on campus, have both come under attack as right-wing organizations.

The criticism of FIRE came in a distorted entry on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia entry, which has since been corrected, argued that FIRE is “keen to wage a culture war on the leftists they see at every turn.” It is true that FIRE defends more conservatives than liberals, but that is because students and professors on the right are far more likely to get in trouble on our left-dominated campuses.

In a sharp defense of FIRE, president Greg Lukianoff pointed out that the organization extensively and aggressively defended Ward Churchill, Sami Al Arian, Nicholas DeGenova (“I pray for a million Mogadishus”), Richard Berthold (“Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote”) and Donald Hindley, a liberal professor at Brandeis under fire for months for using the term “wetback” in class. Hindley, who has been penalized without getting a hearing, has been assigned monitors to audit his class. The founders of FIRE are Alan Charles Kors, a conservative professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvey Silverglate, a prominent liberal lawyer and a board member of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union. Lukianoff, who once worked for the ACLU of Northern California and the EnvironMentors Project in Washington, D.C., is a Democrat.

The NAS probably has more political conservatives than liberals, but it is non-partisan and takes no stances on issues not directly related to the campuses. Years ago, People for the American Way placed the NAS on its weblist of right-wing organizations, citing donations from some conservative foundations. This week the executive director of the NAS, Peter Wood, issued a response, saying that the organization is in fact opposed to intellectual and institutional developments that pose a danger to academic freedom, including politicization of the academy, curtailment of free speech on behalf of sensitivity, and race and gender preferences in admissions and campus hiring – but it is open to people of different views and is not part of the political right.

Wood wrote: “For the crime of standing against the tide of political correctness, the NAS was convicted as ‘conservative.’ It was a false label bestowed in an effort to marginalize critics who spoke not the language of William F. Buckley, but the language of Bacon, Locke and Montesquieu and who took their bearing not from Barry Goldwater, but from figures such as Jefferson, de Tocqueville and Weber. As political correctness moved from an expansion movement to a settled fact, the term ‘conservative’ expanded to include anything whatever outside the charmed circle of identity politics.” The attack on the NAS is another attempt to discredit dissent from campus orthodoxy.

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

3 thoughts on “NAS And FIRE Draw Fire

  1. Libertarians favour free markets and small governments, which sounds conservative to many. It is, in fact, a classically liberal position, but as liberals become more progressive, many conservatives have picked up the abandoned banner of classic liberalism.
    The result is a debauched system of political terms where the terms “liberal” and “conservative” can mean almost anything.

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