The Looming Danger for Dissident Professors

Manchurian Candidate

Dissenting from the powerful progressive currents on our nation’s campuses can be very dangerous. Those who challenge the orthodox norms find little support among faculty, students, and administrators and can be severely punished socially and professionally.

As I wrote here last week, students know that asking certain questions or holding particular public views can result in being bullied; many students across the ideological spectrum live in fear of being on the wrong side of a liberal mob.

Students are not alone here. It is also the case the professors – even those with tenure – are deeply concerned with being labeled a dissident as viewpoints that are not part of the progressive wave or do not publicly comply with liberal norms that dominate the discourse are not welcome. As such, many professors are now afraid to speak their minds as the professional and personal consequences to them can be severe.

Negative Reactions Hem in Professors

In 2017, I asked a national sample of faculty and administrators, “How often, if at all, have you avoided expressing a particular point of view on an issue because you expected a negative reaction from other students or faculty?’ Two-thirds of conservative professors stated that they simply avoided sharing their opinions because of fear of negative reactions compared to just one-third of liberals. This significant difference is strong evidence that viewpoint diversity is being silenced. Conservative professors – an endangered minority on campus – are well aware of the possible ramifications of sharing their views and fear professional repercussions for disagreeing with their liberal faculty and administrative colleagues.

[How ‘Social Justice’ Undermines True Diversity]

Although Sarah Lawrence is proud of its extremely liberal bent, it turns out that I had a target on my back on my first day of teaching. I was told by various colleagues shortly after joining the community that I was a “diversity hire” because I was not an extreme progressive but an empirical social scientist who cares about facts and empirics and leans to the right. I could feel the derision and suspicion almost immediately from my colleagues, and relations deteriorated over time because I failed to virtue signal strongly enough to many. Working on the Sarah Lawrence campus began to feel like some uncomfortable high-school movie with powerful cliques and groups and me as the outcast. I would walk on campus and pass groups of faculty who would turn away as my views were regularly marginalized or ignored in various faculty and administrative settings.

It became unambiguously clear in 2018 that I became a persona non grata at the College after I wrote in The New York Times that I was concerned about the ideological imbalance of extracurricular programming at both Sarah Lawrence and around the country.

With that op-ed, virtually all of my social and professional relationships with other faculty and various leaders at the College disappeared. My colleagues essentially abandoned me and any defense of free speech; they wanted my views to disappear. The College president seemed taken aback despite my known work on viewpoint diversity, and a hostile and dangerous environment was allowed to develop around my family and me.

Bizarre Web Pages

I could feel the contempt everywhere. I was no longer asked to participate in alumni and public events; my writings and press mentions were not being promoted on the college’s newsfeed, the few friendly colleagues that I had ceased communicating with me; I was excluded from college professional and social gatherings in which I had earlier taken part or had particular expertise and should have been invited; numerous emails went unanswered that were directly related to work; and faculty whom I barely knew posted nasty slanderous material online or created bizarre web pages about me.

[Diversity Requirement at UCLA Threatens Academic Freedom]

In fact, even before my op-ed appeared and explicitly becoming an outcast, Sarah Lawrence College paid only lip service to me and the idea of intellectual and viewpoint diversity.

Early in 2018, the College featured me in its magazine and highlighted my work on viewpoint diversity and the fact that my students – who are mostly liberal – attended a Trump rally so that they could see opposing views and escape their bubble. Moreover, I had regularly been talking about needing more viewpoint diversity campus, I often taught courses called “Polarization” and “Community and Civility,” and my students even met with leading free speech advocates such as Jonathan Haidt. So it came as a total surprise when the president launched an initiative called “Difference in Dialogue” this academic year which was intended to be a “reflection of our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence.” However, the president never directly contacted me for any real feedback or asked me to have a hand in planning any of the events.

Sarah Lawrence is a small school, and if the school and its president were genuinely interested in real intellectual diversity, I would have been contacted, but I was not.

Pushing for Viewpoint Diversity

In short, my story reveals that questioning prevailing orthodoxies is professionally dangerous, and it is clear that Sarah Lawrence College – students, faculty, and administration – wanted little do with me once my ideas and intellectual questions came to the forefront and challenged the progressive monoculture. My future at Sarah Lawrence College will be a challenge, but I intend to push for real viewpoint diversity and will demand that the College actually live up to its stated history and storied past in support of freedom of expression.

[How to Stop the Censoring Mobs on Campus]

I share all of this because the same 2017 national aforementioned faculty survey shows that 90% of professors agree with the idea that, “university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.”

While these stated values are laudable and are often espoused across higher education, they are not truly protected or exemplified for if they were, faculty and administrators would have stood up in support of my right to academic freedom and they simply did not. The punishing of dissident professors must stop.


  • Samuel J. Abrams

    Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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11 thoughts on “The Looming Danger for Dissident Professors

  1. The only way any of this will change is for alumni to stop donating money. Its not just Sarah Lawrence that is guilty. So, find out where your your alma mater stands on issues like this, and when they hold their annual fund drive, do not give them any money if you are not satisfied with what is happening on campus.

    Schools like Sarah Lawrence are heavily dependent on alumni donations, and the only true sound administrators will listen to is the sound of wallets closing. So be sure your alma mater is not part of the problem before making any further donations.

  2. To build on ABlackConservative’s comment, the issue is that progressivism is a religion. It is a set of beliefs founded (for the followers, at any rate) on *belief*, not reason or investigation. This is why feelings are so important.

    It’s why so many simply cry out “Racism!” or “Sexism!” or “Homo/Transphobic!” These are shaming words, not founded in a desire for discourse, but for casting out – as “Witch!” or “Heretic!” once were among some Christians.

    Sadly, this heralds a descent back into medieval superstitious thinking, not an ascent into the claimed higher realms of thought. Progressive academia may need to be destroyed, as I fear it cannot be reformed.

    1. I agree, it is a religion — so (in public universities) why isn’t there an issue with the establishment clause? The government is establishing a religion.

  3. Great story about the decline of higher education at the Nation’s colleges and universities.

    James H. Rust, retired professor of nuclear engineering from Georgia Tech

  4. The reason for liberals’ hostility is that they are afraid.

    They are afraid that in a debate over ideas, that they will lose to the more logical and self-consistent ideas of conservatives/libertarians.

    Their entire belief system is based on their emotions to do what they think is right and to believe in what they think ought to be true, usually divorced from reality. Time and again, liberals strongly promote policies that simply do not work as they think they should. Worse, when they recognize their policy is not working, they want to do more of it.

    1. Put another way, in a battle of wits with those who disagree, libs are unarmed. Guess that makes sense in light of their views on self-defense and the 2d Amendment.

  5. The only way to change this ideological war is when major groups stop hiring from these bastions of single ideology. This is already happening. Any student who attends these institutions of propaganda is in danger of a huge college debt and the inability to actually get a real job with real pay.
    Cut off funding, cut off student debt in these schools, cut off summer support and force standards on them as a way to clean up the mess. Just talking about it is exactly why we have the problem in the first place.

    1. International accounting giant Ernst & Young stopped requiring college degrees 3 years ago — the whole calliope will go crashing to the ground when (not “if”) others follow suit.

      One financial advantage to employers is that employees without massive college debt can afford to work for less — you can have employees at the socioeconomic level you wish for less money if they aren’t servicing college debt.

      In years past, college graduates commanded a higher price (i.e. higher wages) because they knew more and could do more, and hence were worth more to the employer. That no longer is true….

  6. I sent my son to Sarah Lawrence to ‘get a taste of the liberal perspective’ as we’ve given him a conservative perspective as parents. We had to pull him out after 6 weeks the environment was so toxic. Sending your kids to places like Sarah Lawrence is a form of child abuse I have concluded.

    1. We toured the campus with my older son, and it seemed nice on the tour, so I see how you could have gotten sucked in. There are enough stories in the press now so that there’s little doubt of how it really is.

      Or, if SL believes this is wrong, I await their rebuttal. And shaming the messenger / insisting that their politics are the only right and honorable way won’t do it.

  7. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “All sheep and no shepherd, everyone is the same, everyone wants to be the same — anyone who is different goes voluntarily to the Madhouse.”

    Notwithstanding all of the purported liberal views, what exists today in academia is nothing but textbook fascism. Everyone is the same. Everyone wants to be the same. And anyone who differs from the mob is inherently “crazy & dangerous.” “Dangerous” because they believe that anyone engaging in “cognitive aggression” (i.e. expressing & defending a dissident viewpoint) will inevitably progress from the use of words to the use of automatic weapons — unless stopped. Hence the overwhelming effort to silence dissent and the repeated references to “safety.”

    This is why I keep coming back to the Behavioral Intervention Teams and the increasing influence of the Psychologists in Education. This is where this stuff is coming from and the more I study it, the more truly terrifying it becomes — and I say this as someone who does not frighten easily, someone who comes from a commercial fishing background.

    In order to brainwash someone, you must first isolate the person from all other support networks and anything that confirms the legitimacy of the views/values which you wish to eliminate. “Gaslighting” ceases to work when the subject of it is able to obtain independent confirmation that he/she/it isn’t imagining things. In the play, the gas lights really were dimming because the husband was using the gaslights upstairs (which dropped the pressure in the lines) — it took the police detective confirming that he also saw the lights dimming for her to believe what she saw happening with her own eyes. Likewise, psychological “gaslighting” falls apart when the subject is able to obtain independent confirmation of what he/she/it believes to be true.

    Professor Abrams is thus dangerous because he essentially confirmed that the gaslights are dimming. People can’t be told that they’re imagining things anymore because they now have an academic citation defending their perception of reality.

    And his willingness to persist in the defense of his views notwithstanding the overwhelming gauntlet of opposition he is enduring — well, there is a reason why I consider Behavioral Intervention Teams to be both scary and dangerous.

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