Due Process Is Essential to Higher Learning

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.

Image: IMCBerea College, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, cropped.

David B. Porter

David B. Porter, DPhil, Col, USAF (Ret), is a professor in exile in Berea, KY. He may be reached at dave.porter.berea@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “Due Process Is Essential to Higher Learning

  1. “Letting all students know that they are welcome and cared for goes a long way toward increasing participation and diversity of expressed opinions.”

    As a “lily-white WASP” who literally went from the deck of a lobster boat to college, I find this infuriating — I was far less prepared than the Black student who’d already spent the prior summer on campus in a special program preparing him for college.

    It’s always been about chosen groups, not diversity in general. And hence it has always been bad…

    1. Dear Anonymous, I don’t understand your fury. I have consistently advocated for inclusive education rather than special treatment for special groups, and I tried to express this in the statement you’ve indicated has angered you. My experience as an educator, both at the AF Academy and Berea College, has focused on achieving excellence by increasing the involvement and efforts of all students. I’ve found that letting all students know they are welcome (even lily-white WASPs like me), is a good place to start.

  2. The Jews run the “education” systems in the West. And they consider the “due process” of their Messiahs – Lenin and Stalin – to be sufficient!!!

  3. ” 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.”

    I say again, this is yet more evidence of a Behavioral Intervention Team — the secretive Star Chambers that were created after the Virginia Tech tragedy and quickly re-tasked to destroy all conservative thought in academia.

    What’s not widely known is that an accusation of mental illness is an end run around any scintilla of due process — in part because the end purports to be helpful instead of punitive.

    The Soviets knew this and it is why they created the concept of Sluggishly Progressing Schizophrenia — defining any dissent as evidence of mental illness and progressing on that basis. Forty years later, the concept has come to American academia.

    And as I warned the NAS a decade ago, it would only be a matter of time before professors were also tried & convicted in absentia before these secretive star chambers.

  4. Reading this article I couldn’t shake the feeling. How naive. The goals of diversity and inclusion are important and overdue claims the author. To whom? Certainly not the institutions forced to live with these ideas.

    The diversity, equity and inclusion mania today is nothing more than a warmed over rehash of affirmative action programs that surfaced in the early 1970s. They too had “laudable goals” and were merely correcting “past injustices”. It wasn’t the philosophy that was the problem—it never is—the implementation was the problem. Affirmative action was implemented using racial hiring quotas. Affirmative action programs sanctioned and codified in law racial discrimination in hiring, promotion and government grant awards.

    Yes, I am cynical. I believe those who thought they were doing good by getting involved in outreach programs and diversity initiatives are often just used. Their efforts were never really appreciated. People don’t want “allies”, they want submissive participants. Any when you play with fire, eventually you’re going to get burnt.

    1. Well, I’ve been called many things far worse than naïve, even recently. I think diversity and inclusion can be important and valuable to institutions. About 25 years ago, the American Association of Colleges and Universities hosted summer workshops on inclusion, engagement, & achievement. They suggested the order of these activities was important for classroom teachers. Without a sense of security, it is difficult for some students to engage in the learning process. As most classroom teachers understand, student’s lack of preparation and participation in discussions can thwart even the most brilliant lesson plans. Letting all students know that they are welcome and cared for goes a long way toward increasing participation and diversity of expressed opinions. This is the kind of diversity that is most beneficial to groups (including organizations and institutions). One small contribution of demographic diversity is that it cans serve as a reminder of the value of diversity (i.e., we all don’t always see things the same way and often our solutions needed to be considered with reference to other cultural values and expectations). However, I suspect the effect of this is pretty small. As John Stuart Mill (1859) suggested over 150 years ago, viewpoint diversity challenges us to refine and enhance the way we think about almost any subject. The only ones who don’t benefit from such diversity are those he identified as suffering from the illusion of infallibility… Hopefully acknowledging my naivete helps protect me from this predicament.

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