In the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Christ gives his followers a specific directive—usually called the Great Commission. He said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” By spreading the good news of his atonement and resurrection, Jesus hoped his followers would win the salvation of many. But throughout the Gospels, he also made clear that relatively few would respond positively to the call to faith—and that many would reject salvation outright.
Two thousand years later, another man from a Jewish family began preaching a different gospel. Back in 2015, Jonathan Haidt—the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business—saw that the American university was also in need of saving. He worried that draconian speech restrictions, the weaponization of Title IX, and the politicization of sectarian grievance was making our institutions incapable of achieving their mission. That mission was the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and truth—an indispensable guide for any modern democratic society.
Haidt’s plan for salvation? With two colleagues, he founded Heterodox Academy—an advocacy organization whose mission is to “[advance] the principles of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement to improve higher education.” Heterodox Academy now boasts thousands of members who believe the mission of our colleges and universities have been compromised.
When I heard about Heterodox Academy in 2017, I eagerly joined. I had recently fought off a fraudulent Title IX complaint at my own university and I was committed to working toward reform. Since then, I have soured on the organization. I never stopped believing in the importance of viewpoint diversity on campus. But after the annus horriblis of 2020, it became startlingly obvious to me that the universities hadn’t merely forgotten the centrality of open inquiry to their official mission. No, they fully understood the key role of viewpoint diversity in fulfilling the traditional aims of the institution.
Instead, the problem was that an unofficial mission had displaced the official one: the majority of faculty and administrators now view higher education first and foremost as a vehicle for enacting a radical, dogmatic vision for “social justice.” Then education is reduced to partisan indoctrination, things like “open inquiry,” “viewpoint diversity,” and “constructive disagreement” become intolerable obstacles to the covert ideological objectives of the university. In short, universities aren’t ignorant of Haidt’s gospel. They know it well. And they haven’t simply rejected it—they view it with open hostility.
No better example of this can be offered than last week’s congressional testimony from the presidents of 3 elite schools: Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Pennsylvania. The three women were brought in to explain their tolerance for the outbreak of antisemitic vitriol that has occurred on their campuses since the October 7th attack on Israel. This tolerance is especially suspect since the universities usually employ a “safety first” approach that punishes any speech that could be found offensive —regardless of intent.
Rep. Elise Stefanic (R-NY) asked each president some variation of the following question: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate your university’s rules or code of conduct?” The answers were illuminating. MIT’s President said that you may call for genocide—as long as those calls aren’t “targeted at particular individuals.” Pres. Magill of Penn explained that calls for genocide only break the rules “if speech turns into conduct.” Rep. Stefanic rightly noted that this means there is no violation until campus antisemites actually begin trying to kill Jews. Harvard’s Pres. Gay agreed that students only run afoul of the code of conduct if they target an individual. Given multiple opportunities to amend her position on whether calls for a pogrom will be tolerated on campus, Ms. Gay could only repeat that it “depends on context.”
One might expect that a man like Haidt, coming from a Jewish family, would be uniquely alarmed by this testimony. Instead, he took to X to express his “sympathy” for the “nuanced” answers that the ladies provided. Continuing, he said that what “offends” him is that “since 2015, universities have been so quick to punish ‘microaggressions,’ including statements intended to be kind, if even one person from a favored group took offense.”
Take note: it’s not the refusal to condemn calls for genocide that offended Haidt, it’s the selective enforcement of rules for speech on campus. He goes on: “If you’re not going to punish students for calling for the elimination of Israel and Israelis, it’s OK with me, but ONLY [sic] if you also immediately dismantle the speech policing apparatus and norms you created in 2015-2016.”
Although two out of the three university presidents who testified have since attempted to walk back their comments, free-speech advocates shouldn’t hold their breath.
It’s as though Haidt believes that these women—and all university administrators of their type, which is most—are unaware of their hypocrisy. They most certainly are not unaware—and if their constant, smug smirking during their testimony doesn’t convince Haidt, I don’t know what will. The “speech-policing apparatus” that he decries isn’t broken. It’s working exactly as intended, as a brutal weapon for censoring speech from disfavored groups and perspectives—whites, Jews, males, conservatives, Christians, etc.
Further, it is a weapon that will never be deployed against favored groups—blacks, Muslims, gays, leftists, women, etc.—because the unofficial mission of the university aims at a “just society” that will grant “systemic” privileges to these “historically-marginalized” cohorts. Does anyone believe that if campus groups were openly calling for the extermination of black people that elite universities would be extolling the primacy of the First Amendment?
The selective enforcement of the rules is a feature, not a bug, of the current system. What Haidt can’t—or, more likely, won’t—understand is that professors and administrators across the country have heard the Gospel of viewpoint diversity. They have thoughtfully considered it. And they have rejected it en masse, as they correctly see it as a major hindrance to achieving the Leftist goals to which they have sworn allegiance.
Coming to grips with this refusal is hard—especially for “liberals” like Haidt—because it means recognizing that open debate and productive disagreement will no longer be sufficient for saving the university. The Magills, Gays, and Kornbluths of the academic world will not be convinced, and they will not compromise. This leaves us with two options: accepting the Left’s Reign of Terror on campus as “the new normal” or deploying much more aggressive, forceful measures to restore the original aims—and democratic functions—of the university.
Faced with repeated, explicit rejections of the Gospel, Jesus counseled his followers that they shouldn’t waste any more time throwing their “pearls before swine.” One is left to wonder: how many more pearls do Haidt and Heterodox Academy stand to lose?
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