Oliver Wendel Holmes’ “great dissent” to Abrams (1919) begins:
“Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition…”
Holmes’ compelling subsequent argument “that the ultimate good desired is better reached by a free trade in ideas” helped instantiate the right to free speech promised by the First Amendment. Without an equal commitment to due process, the freedoms promised in many institutional policies, programs, and regulations are jeopardized. Nowhere is the need for due process more urgent than in America’s institutions of higher learning.
The goals of diversity and inclusion are important, and further progress toward their realization is overdue. However, the perceived urgency of these goals is not sufficient cause to deny individuals’ rights to due process. A bevy of half-baked notions such as postmodernism, neo-socialism, and intersectionality have formed a philosophical concatenation that is attractive to those whose dedication to a cause has eclipsed their capacity for critical inquiry and reasoned argument. For example, Herbert Marcuse’s (1976) notion of liberation tolerance suggests that identity (and past privilege) justifies suspending or denying rights to someone like me (viz., “an old, white guy”). The postmodernist assertion that there is no such thing as “truth” obviates the value of collecting or considering objective evidence; it causes administrators to make decisions based on the mood of the mob rather than a fair consideration of the available evidence. Cancel culture has claimed the scalps of hundreds of academicians and staff members. Worse yet, its increasing dominance has cowed others into self-censoring submission and has chilled campuses across the country. Without open and unfettered debate, liberal arts education is impossible. The current pretentious parade of anti-racist training and indoctrination can only lead to intellectual mediocrity and more mindlessness.
Once upon a time, I was pleased when my students considered me to be “woke” and referred to me as an “ally” to their causes. Despite my 34 years in the military, I maintained solidly liberal social and political views. I had volunteered to serve as an Equal Opportunity and Treatment Officer and Race Relations Instructor in addition to my other career roles as a rescue helicopter pilot and aircraft maintenance officer. However, most of my Air Force career was spent at the Academy in Colorado, where I consistently supported and led efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. Our academic department had the highest proportion of women and civilians of any of the Academy’s twenty departments. By many measures, ours was among the most educationally effective academic programs.
In 2001, I retired from the Air Force and came to a small liberal arts college as the academic vice president. By working with a dedicated and adroit administrative team, we increased graduation and retention rates to historic highs while holding the cost of education steady. After receiving a stellar accreditation visit, I returned to the classroom as a professor of psychology and general studies. My course in composition and critical thinking, Questioning Authority: Science and Skepticism as Antidotes to Oppression, was among the most highly rated on campus. My post-tenure review showed that my courses were all rated within the top 10%, and my support for student research had earned 30 state and regional awards for my students. However, as I neared retirement, a clearly fabricated Title IX grievance was lodged against my department chair. As his faculty advisor, I witnessed an egregious process; the presumption of guilt turned investigations, hearings, and appeals into a series of charades enacted by a conspiracy of dunces. I could not have been more disappointed, but the chill that had already settled over the campus made it unlikely that anyone would join me in resisting the administrative abuses of due process.
The following semester, I was teaching an industrial/organizational psychology course. This too was a popular class; we had a tradition of using evidence to address institutional issues such as retention and graduation rates and problems with the College’s labor program. I worked with my students to develop a survey to assess the relationships among identity, beliefs, perceptions, and judgments of our campus community. This was an excellent study and has since received many positive reviews. However, the administration was not amused. In fact, within days of the survey’s posting, I was suspended from teaching, exiled from campus, and prohibited from communicating with students. The survey data were embargoed. The absence of due process I had observed in my department chair’s Title IX proceeding was brought to bear with a vengeance: I was assumed to be dangerous and incompetent; my tenure was terminated; and I was dismissed for cause. You may find more information at: https://davesfsc.com or https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/an-open-letter-to-lyle-d-roelofs-president-of-berea-college.
Administrative policy does not justify denying academic freedom or suspending due process. Institutions that fail to protect individual rights should not do so with impunity. If our government suspends, ignores, or otherwise diminishes due process requirements, it becomes complicit in the abuse.