A Chilly Climate on the Campuses
Rarely has the climate on college campuses seemed such a cause for
Over the summer, two broad coalitions issued major new statements
reaffirming academic freedom and autonomy. The American Council on
Education and 27 other higher-education organizations said they were
responding to university presidents, who need guidance in the face of
increasing challenges to those principles. Almost concurrently, the
presidents of 16 major universities around the world, also citing
constraints on intellectual discussion, brought out their own statement
reaffirming academic rights and responsibilities. The American
Federation of Teachers weighed in too, calling for stronger opposition
to recent attempts to involve the government in university business.
Scientists warn that antiterrorism measures and public controversy over
such issues as stem-cell research and evolution are making it more
difficult to conduct and share research. Historians worry about the
rapidly increasing level of classification of government documents.
Foreign students and scholars say they face new obstacles in the wake of
September 11 to studying, teaching, and publishing in the United States.
At the same time, conservative students and scholars are calling
attention to the hostile climate they say they have long felt on
campuses. The campaign by David Horowitz, a leading conservative
activist, for an "academic bill of rights" that he says would promote
intellectual diversity has garnered nationwide attention, and variations
of the measure are making their way through several state legislatures.
An organization of concerned parents, NoIndoctrination.org, has begun to
post allegations of bias against students in the classroom on the World
What is notable is not that so many people are talking about a big
chill, but that so many different people -- representing very different
perspectives -- are doing so. Scientists see efforts to promote the
teaching of intelligent design as a threat to their intellectual
integrity; religious believers say they and their beliefs are still
unwelcome in the academic marketplace of ideas. The president of Harvard
touches off a firestorm with remarks about women's aptitude for science
-- a sign to many of his critics of the chilly reception women find on
campus, to his defenders that some topics are off limits today. Jewish
students complain of anti-Israeli bias among professors; scholars in
Middle East studies say they are being harassed by pro-Israel groups.
Affirmative action, immigration, ethnic studies, gay studies -- the
topics spark more and more public controversy. Some professors suggest
they are censoring their comments on them.
Is today's intellectual climate chillier than it once was? If so, for
whom? Why? The Chronicle asked a number of commentators for their views.
Freer for Some, More Inhibited for Others
By ROBERT M. O'NEIL
Close observers of American higher education are regularly asked to
assess the campus climate for free inquiry and expression. Their
responses tend to be disappointingly eclectic -- disappointing, that is,
to those outside the academy who seek a simple answer.
Any honest appraisal of the current condition of campus speech is mixed,
an amalgam of good news and bad news. Some sectors of American campuses
seem freer to speak than ever before, while others may be inhibited to a
degree not seen in quite some years. The resulting paradox largely
accounts for the news media's fascination with the issue.
Three groups have benefited from increased tolerance and attention. Gay,
lesbian, and bisexual students and faculty members, who until recently
revealed their sexual orientation and related views at grave risk, may
not yet be free of artificial constraints, and are surely not fully
accepted at all institutions. Yet, even at the highest levels of
administration, they are more widely accepted than in the past.
Much the same can be said of politically conservative students, whose
views were not always welcome, especially during times of political
turmoil like the Vietnam War era. Through the efforts of concerned
national groups like NoIndoctrination.org, and of advocates like David
Horowitz and his allies -- who include legislators, alumni, and other
policy makers -- the far-right end of the campus political spectrum now
seems better protected in speaking freely on national policy, course
offerings, fee-allocation rules, and most other topics.
Finally, and ironically, among the beneficiaries are those who utter
sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks. Mercifully, the speech-code mania
of the late 80s and early 90s has abated. Offensive slurs and the like
may be no more acceptable these days than ever, but they are less likely
to be proscribed by campus rules. Informal constraints do and should
exist, including condemnation by senior administrators, but such
uncongenial people need not be punished or banished.
There are also some prominent casualties in the current mixed climate.
Some outspoken liberals who have been Horowitz's targets have clearly
felt constrained by legislative interest in his academic bill of rights,
and by direct inquiries in several states into allegedly biased
classroom dialogue. Notably inhibited on many campuses are those who
hold deeply emotional views on either side of Middle East tensions.
Whether pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, strident critics of American
policy risk being labeled "an enemy of ____" or "anti-____" simply for
making a strong public statement about current events in this profoundly
troubled part of the world.
Least definite among dimensions of the current intellectual climate is
speech related to September 11, the Iraq war, and other
national-security issues. Outspoken antiwar professors have, for
example, fared better than one might have anticipated four years ago.
Plaintiffs in suits challenging the USA Patriot Act and other measures
seem to have suffered no reprisals. Yet foreign scholars, even from
relatively nonsensitive parts of the world, have found this country less
hospitable than it was before September 11, and even their ability to
collaborate on research projects with American scientists is now subject
to growing constraints. On this one point, the jury is very much still
Robert M. O'Neil is founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for
the Protection of Free Expression and a professor of law at the
University of Virginia.
The New McCarthyism
By JONATHAN R. COLE
A rising tide of anti-intellectualism and intolerance of university
research and teaching that offends ideologues and today's ruling prince
is putting academic freedom -- one of the core values of the university
-- under more sustained and subtle attack than at any time since the
dark days of McCarthyism in the 1950s.
As professors are publicly savaged for their ideas, often by outside
groups, colleges are coming under pressure to fire them or control what
they say in the classroom. Witness the furor last year over a purported
"documentary" by the Boston-based David Project, Columbia Unbecoming,
that charged professors with anti-Israel bias, or the Orwellian efforts
by the national group Students for Academic Freedom that -- in the name
of ending the alleged politicization of the academy -- attempt to limit
legitimate scholarly discourse.
As political ideology trumps scholarly consensus, the government is
undermining the peer-review system and the norms of scholarship.
Conservative ideologues in Congress, for example, are trying to place
political appointees on committees to monitor area-studies programs; the
Bush Administration and its followers on Capitol Hill and in statehouses
are trying to intimidate professors whose work on topics like global
warming or the transmission of HIV calls into question administration
priorities. Such arbiters of truth are selectively bullying professors
by investigating their work or threatening to withdraw federal grant
support for projects whose content they find substantively offensive. In
resisting stem-cell research and supporting teaching intelligent design
along with evolution, they have cast doubt on scientific expertise and
legitimated the latest form of anti-intellectualism in America.
The USA Patriot Act allows the government to secretly monitor what
students and faculty members read or transmit over the Internet; and the
Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of
2002 places such extraordinary constraints on laboratory scientists that
some of our most distinguished immunologists are abandoning important
research -- for example, on vaccines to prevent smallpox, anthrax, and
West Nile virus -- that could help deter terrorism. Foreign students and
researchers from scores of nations are finding it increasingly difficult
to obtain visas to study or work in the United States, disrupting the
flow of the best talent to American universities.
The current attacks on academic freedom are not the only threats to free
discussion in the university: Too many subjects, like those related to
identity politics and challenges to reigning academic dogma, are also
considered off limits. The result is that it has become increasingly
difficult within the academy itself to have an open, civil debate about
many topics. Scholars and scientists are often exercising their right to
remain silent rather than face the potential scorn, ridicule, sanctions,
and ostracism that challenging shoddy evidence and poor reasoning on
politically sensitive topics can invite.
Why does that matter? Universities remain perhaps the last sanctuary for
the relatively unbridled and unfettered search for truth and new
important ideas. Without a climate of free inquiry, creativity and
discovery will suffer. Today American research universities are the
single most important source for major new discoveries that improve the
health and social and economic welfare of people around the world. Tie a
tourniquet around that free flow of intellectual energy, and we will
halt the production of knowledge that is necessary for conquering
disease and poverty and for improving the quality of everyday life.
The sad fact, however, is that few academic leaders and prominent
members of their faculties are rising to the defense of academic
freedom. Where is the Robert Hutchins of today, who protected the idea
of the university against ideological foes during the 1940s and 1950s?
As Hutchins said, it is "not how many professors would be fired for
their beliefs, but how many think they might be." It is time to
recognize the seriousness of the current attacks, analyze carefully the
bases for them, scrutinize evidence on their incidence and consequences,
and organize a defense of the university against those intent on
undermining its values and quality.
Jonathan R. Cole is a university professor and former provost and dean
of faculties at Columbia University.
The Ideological Corruption of Scholarly Principles
By MARK BAUERLEIN
To listen to the professoriate and the scholarly organizations, one
would think that a purge was being readied. The sullen alarm, the
feverish visions of witch hunts, the "chill" -- it's the Red Scare all
over again. The most protected labor group in our time, tenured faculty
members, regards conservative sallies as nothing less than the harbinger
of "New McCarthyism."
But however much they raise the specter of persecution, there is a
difference. People lost jobs and reputations 50 years ago. Today the
attack on left-of-center bias doesn't jeopardize anybody's job, and to
be criticized by the right is a distinction. Has anyone been materially
damaged by NoIndoctrination.org or the American Council of Trustees and
So why are professors upset? Because something is, indeed, threatened:
the ideological grip of liberals and leftists on campuses. Under the
public eye, they can no longer propagate their viewpoints as if they
possessed the only rational and moral approach to cultural or political
That is a reasonable limitation, but it strikes professors as a
predatory incursion -- which just shows how insulated professors are.
They've lived too long without challenge, and the dissenting voice comes
off as evil-spirited or stupid. So much conformity has an institutional
effect: Liberal and leftist beliefs are so abiding that they have sunk
deep into academic practices and acquired a disciplinary sheen.
That conversion of ideological belief into scholarly principle was
exemplified by Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American
Association of University Professors, in a defense of liberal bias at an
American Enterprise Institute symposium last February. In anthropology,
he explained, the focus lies "on questioning religious and cultural
myth, particularly myth that celebrates national, cultural, or racial
superiorities." He continued, "Sociologists tend to inquire on the
origins of inequality as a source of alienation," while political
scientists "focus on questions of legitimacy" and historians "look at
progress frequently in terms of overcoming inequalities of the past."
Each of those tendencies, Bowen acknowledged, matches progressivist or
liberal premises, with scholars playing adversarial roles. How easily
they slide into measures of competence! What if a graduate student in
history argued in a job talk that what has been termed "progress" has,
in fact, introduced new and pernicious forms of inequality? His work
wouldn't be recognized as authentic history. Hence an ideological
judgment may be expressed as a disciplinary one.
Disciplines should be based on subject matters and rules of evidence,
not on agendas such as questioning social hierarchies. Once professors
began to make certain political aims essential to the disciplinarity of
humanities and social-science disciplines, they institutionalized their
politics and impoverished their campuses. Here is where conservatives,
libertarians, and traditionalists have felt a chill for decades. When
the professoriate worries as much about bias at the root of disciplines
as they do about conservative proposals for balance in the classroom,
then we can take their reactions seriously.
Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University.
We Are Part of the Problem
By MARC H. BRODSKY
Recent responses by scholarly societies, professional organizations,
publishers, and professors to what they perceive as government
restrictions or public disapproval illustrate the adage that the most
effective censorship is one that is self-imposed. That's a real danger
for scientific discourse today.
Consider reactions to the threat to freedom of speech posed by
regulations that the U.S. Department of Treasury issued through its
Office of Foreign Assets Control (known as OFAC). The regulations, which
have a long history, authorize the president to impose trade embargoes
against nations deemed to be enemies. In 1988 Congress explicitly
exempted "informational materials" from such regulations, subsequently
making it clear that it did not intend to stop publishers, directly or
indirectly, from importing or exporting information protected under the
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite that, in 1999 the
Treasury Department's office ruled that editing and other steps normally
taken by publishers with imported information from embargoed countries
were not exempt from regulation.
Alerted by the government in 2003, some publishers sought interpretation
of how much processing, like editing and peer review, they might do with
manuscripts from embargoed countries. The Treasury Department reiterated
its unfounded regulations on editing imported materials. But instead of
challenging the regulations, several publishers -- academic,
professional-society, and commercial -- censored themselves and stopped
handling articles and books from Cuba and Iran.
Even I, a firm advocate of free speech unfettered by government
regulation, at first found myself parsing OFAC statements and rulings.
But upon reflection, I said to myself and my colleagues that such an
exercise was a waste of time, as the rulings clearly contradicted
well-established freedoms and supporting legislation, as well as my
mission to disseminate scientific information. We needed to continue
publishing and to challenge OFAC in court. Nevertheless, many
respectable organizations persisted in self-censorship, even after OFAC,
subsequent to our court challenge, backed down by issuing a general
license (but still insisting it had the authority to issue regulations).
Even now, some publishers, out of fear, still occasionally censor
Similarly, while some scientists have stood up to religious groups that
present "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution, too many
have not. Today some religious conservatives, in the guise of a
nonexistent scientific controversy, advocate presenting intelligent
design in school science courses as just as valid as evolution -- which
they claim is only an unproven theory. Evolutionary theory is
well-documented science. Intelligent-design advocates have many
fallacies and hypocrisies in their arguments, but nevertheless there is
an insidious result: self-censorship by some academics and
schoolteachers. Rather than explain to their students that evolution is
one of science's most valuable and well-established bases for scientific
progress, they withdraw from the fray, fearing pressure from religious
groups -- and even the White House -- that seek a role for religious
alternatives in the science classroom.
I fear that such chilling pressure is winning in a struggle over
scientific discourse today. What this means is that academics must
reflect on their basic mission. They need to avoid letting pressures
from government and others lead them to self-imposed steps that would
undermine the dissemination of correct and valued science.
Marc H. Brodsky is executive director and CEO of the American Institute
of Physics and chair of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing
Division of the Association of American Publishers.
Rights for Some People, Not Others
By CHON A. NORIEGA
For those of us who study minority issues, today's intellectual climate
is -- as it has always been -- contentious. But it's becoming chilly in
new, and frightening, ways.
Within an hour of releasing a policy brief on noncitizens and voting in
California, our Chicano-studies center here in Los Angeles received a
deluge of fax and e-mail messages and telephone calls. Most expressed
unbridled hatred and disgust for the report, its author, and our center,
vowing to fight our alleged campaign "to turn the United States into
Mexico." And oh yes, they promised to ask the state to cut off our
funds. Both talk radio and anti-immigration groups continued the effort
for several months before turning to other incidents.
What had we done? The report -- written by Joaquin Avila, an expert on
minority voting rights who had twice argued successfully before the U.S.
Supreme Court and been awarded one of the MacArthur Fellows Program's
"genius grants" -- drew upon recent census data that showed an
increasing number of California cities with large noncitizen adult
populations. Avila acknowledged the limited prospects for political
integration in the state, but nonetheless recommended further debate and
research on noncitizen participation in local government. That included
neighborhood councils, but also voting for local office, something that
already occurs in Chicago, New York City, and Maryland.
While some of those who protested were open to reasoned debate, most
contented themselves with comments like, "Mexicans need to learn birth
control." Perhaps more troubling, everyone (including the news media)
conflated noncitizens with "illegals," conveniently ignoring the status
of legal resident. In the process, they quickly slid into assuming that
only U.S. citizens were entitled to civic participation or protection of
the law. What was most surprising was that those who contacted us --
even those who made explicit threats -- signed their names and, in some
cases, provided their phone numbers and addresses. No one wanted
"balance" on this issue; they simply wanted us to go away and were
confident they spoke for all Americans and taxpayers (assuming the two
were the same).
If there is a chill taking place on the campuses, it stems from those
kind of presumptions: Some people have rights -- including freedom of
expression -- and others do not. One of the consequences of this turn is
that the public university is now seen as the advocate, if not the
author, of the research its faculty members produce, rather than as a
site for presenting, examining, and challenging ideas. The CNN host Lou
Dobbs exemplified that attitude when he criticized our report: "And it
has the imprimatur of UCLA, one of the nation's most respected
universities, calling for voting rights for illegal aliens?"
Of course, protests against immigrant and minority rights are nothing
new. Several colleagues have spoken to me matter-of-factly about the
filing-cabinet drawers where they keep angry letters they have received
over the decades. One still receives hate mail for a study noting that
more than half of all births in California are now to Latinos, as if he
were personally responsible!
What is new is that recent critics are more emboldened: An organized
sector of the electorate, with significant access to the mass media,
prefers to silence public efforts to study the profound demographic
changes and social disparities in our society. If those efforts succeed,
our society will fly backward into the future, like Walter Benjamin's
angel of history, our gaze fixated on a past that will seem like "one
single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage." Oddly
enough, that effort to restrict knowledge and rights is touted as a
vision of progress.
Chon A. Noriega is a professor of film, television, and digital media
and director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of
California at Los Angeles, and editor of Aztl: A Journal of Chicano
The Chill Is Nothing New
By GREG LUKIANOFF
There is a chill on campus, but that's nothing new. For decades, campus
speech has been chilled by speech codes and other attempts to prevent
expression that might offend. Some would like to imagine that the
excesses of "political correctness" are ancient history, but repression
in the name of tolerance hasn't gone anywhere. Oppressive speech codes
are not only still around -- they have actually multiplied, even after
numerous court decisions declared them unconstitutional.
Within the past year, college students have been punished for such
things as expressing a religious objection to homosexuality and arguing
that corporal punishment may be acceptable. Students in Illinois were
told they could not hold a protest mocking affirmative action. Christian
students in Florida were banned from showing The Passion of the Christ.
A student in New Hampshire was expelled from the dorms after posting a
flier that joked that female students could lose weight by taking the
stairs. Those are just a few examples. The riskiest speech on campus is
still religious or conservative expression or satire of the university's
Another longstanding source of the campus chill is as old as college
itself: the desire of administrators to avoid public criticism.
Instances from the past few years are, again, easy to find. Several
institutions, including Harvard Business School, have reprimanded
student journalists for being critical of the administration. A
University of Oklahoma faculty member was marginalized and relegated to
a basement office, apparently for creating an "uncollegial environment"
that happened to include blowing the whistle on university impropriety.
At Shaw University, a professor was summarily fired for criticizing the
The growing bureaucratization of colleges also contributes to the chill.
To avoid liability, campus policies banish speech to tiny "free-speech
zones" and regulate pamphleteering, romantic relationships, and
countless other aspects of academic life. Unfortunately, recent legal
decisions in Massachusetts, California, and Illinois have confused what
were once clearly distinct student rights and administrative duties,
threatening to make matters worse.
What is relatively new, however, is the public backlash against the
academy. That has been provoked by comments like those of a University
of New Mexico scholar who quipped on September 11, 2001, that "anyone
who can bomb the Pentagon has my vote"; of a Saint Xavier University
faculty member who condemned an Air Force cadet as a "disgrace"; and of
a professor at Columbia University who called for "a million Mogadishus"
in Iraq. And who hasn't heard of Ward Churchill, of the University of
Colorado, who likened the victims of September 11 to Adolph Eichmann?
The University of Colorado was absolutely correct, however, when it
concluded that speech like Churchill's is fully protected. As
student-rights advocates have argued for decades, free speech means
nothing if it does not include the provocative, unpopular, or even
Unlike other threats to campus candor, those cases have truly caught the
academy's attention -- perhaps because faculty members now see their
free-speech rights in question. While decrying increased public
scrutiny, higher education has been hesitant to accept that it might
share the blame for the erosion in public confidence. Those inside the
academy may see their institutions as paragons of enlightenment, but the
outside world increasingly views them as bloated corporations with
frightening power over their children's future. Now that the cost of top
colleges has skyrocketed to more than $40,000 a year -- close to what
the median American household makes annually -- the very least students
should be able to expect is that their basic rights be respected.
There are certainly new and potentially serious threats to free speech
presented by the Patriot Act, intellectual-property law, and dangerously
vague legislative proposals. But colleges could do much to restore their
credibility and prevent greater "outside interference" by confronting
the free-speech problems that have plagued them for years. The academy
would do well to remember: The first step to recovery is admitting that
you have a problem.
Greg Lukianoff is the director of legal and public advocacy for the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The Uncertain Consequences of Political Pressure
By MICHAEL B_UB_br>
Is it becoming more difficult to speak openly on campus or to share
information? I think so, and I fear that untenured and adjunct faculty
members are the most vulnerable.
In the past two years, we've seen a national campaign on the part of
conservative activists to get state legislatures directly involved in
academic oversight. That campaign is being conducted under the banner of
"intellectual diversity," and one of its goals is to investigate
instances of liberal "bias" in classrooms. Conservatives, who have
become increasingly outraged at the fact that most college faculty
members tend to be liberal, have promoted a couple of recent studies
purporting to show that liberals actively discriminate against
conservative scholars in hiring and promotion, just as we allegedly
discriminate against conservative students in the classroom. How
conservatives intend to combat the liberal tilt of some fields --
especially in the arts and humanities -- remains unclear, since they do
not seem to be encouraging promising young conservatives to undertake
graduate study in such fields.
Of course, conservatives have been complaining about liberal campuses at
least since the publication of William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale,
in 1951. But since September 11, 2001, liberalism has been on the
defensive throughout the country, and some right-wing pundits have gone
so far as to speak of liberals as traitors and enemies. Indeed, it seems
to me that many of the "movement conservatives" who make up the
Republican base are animated less by opposition to specific liberal
beliefs -- like support for stem-cell research or affirmative action --
than by a more general opposition to pockets of political independence.
Independent journalists, independent judges, independent filmmakers,
independent professors -- all are anathema. So the ravings of a Ward
Churchill, who compared the victims of September 11 to Nazis, are seen
as emblematic of the professoriate as a whole (whereas I consider them
simply the ravings of Ward Churchill).
In my own state, David Horowitz has succeeded in getting the
Pennsylvania House of Representatives to approve, along party lines, HR
177, a bill that creates a select subcommittee to determine, among other
things, whether "students are graded based on academic merit, without
regard for ideological views, and that academic freedom and the right to
explore and express independent thought is available to and practiced
freely by faculty and students." The subcommittee will hold hearings and
conduct investigations until June 30 of next year (and possibly until
November 30). An amendment to the bill provides that faculty members be
given at least 48 hours' notice of any allegation against them before a
hearing, and that they be allowed to testify.
It's clear from the political rhetoric, however, that although the bill
emphasizes providing students with an academic environment conducive to
learning, the people who wrote and passed it don't seem too worried
about whether African-American or gay students enjoy such an academic
environment for learning. No, they're thinking about conservative
students bringing allegations against liberal professors, and they've
kindly offered those liberal professors 48 hours' notice and the chance
to face their accusers.
The truly curious thing about the bill is that it may not wind up
pitting libertarian students and fans of the free-market economist
Friedrich von Hayek against leftist professors who allegedly want the
state to run our lives, and it may not target professors working on
race, gender, or sexuality. Instead, according to reports I've seen, the
constituency that seems most pleased by HR 177 is the local religious
right, some of whom see it as their best chance to get intelligent
design taught in biology classes. They draw strength from
Horowitz-inspired initiatives like the one in Pennsylvania, just as they
are inspired by President Bush's recent endorsement of intelligent
design, and they view it as a way to combat the Darwinist "bias" of the
So it's not clear, just yet, how this attempt at legislative "oversight"
will play itself out.
Michael B–Úb_s a professor of English at Pennsylvania State
University at University Park.
The Pernicious Concept of 'Balance'
By ELLEN WILLIS
Demands for more political "balance" on the campuses are one of the
scarier developments in today's intellectual climate. David Horowitz's
campaign for a misnamed academic bill of rights and the related
legislative initiatives it has inspired aim not to enhance academic
freedom but to discredit the university as an independent institution.
"Balance" is a pernicious concept, implying as it does both that all
ideas are equally valid and that they can be unproblematically defined
in academe as liberal or conservative -- especially by outside observers
who have only passing knowledge of what is being said or taught. Some
conservatives have expressed outrage that the views of professors are at
odds with the views of students, as if ideas were entitled to be
represented in proportion to their popularity and students were entitled
to professors who share their political or social values. One of the
more important functions of college -- that it exposes young people to
ideas and arguments they have not encountered at home -- is redefined as
To a radical right that feels entitled to dominate not only government
but all social institutions, the academy is a particular irritant: It
not only allows liberals and leftists to express their views, but
provides them with the opportunity to make a living, get tenure, publish
books, and influence students. Indeed, the academy is inherently a
liberal institution, in the sense that it is grounded in the credo of
the Enlightenment: the free pursuit and dissemination of knowledge for
its own sake.
But the right's charge that the professoriate is dominated by liberals
requires some, pardon the expression, deconstruction. For the right,
"liberal" has become an epithet -- roughly equivalent to the "Godless
Communist" of an earlier era -- that applies to anyone who is not a
conservative Republican or a Christian fundamentalist. Most people who
are attracted to academic life fit that definition for fairly obvious
reasons: We prefer reading, writing, and research to business; care more
about job security than the chance to get rich; and are comfortable with
(secular) Enlightenment values. The balance-mongers make much of polls
purporting to reveal that most professors vote Democratic, but that says
less about the liberalism of professors than about the fact that what
used to be the right-wing lunatic fringe is now the Republican
As a practical matter -- no matter how much proponents of balance
protest that they are merely trying to raise awareness of this issue --
redressing the "underrepresentation" of the far right in academe
requires coercion: the intimidation of offending liberal professors by
students or infiltrators who monitor their classes, and pressure on
legislative officials, donors, and trustees to influence faculty hiring
decisions and the curriculum.
That said, it is equally important to acknowledge serious internal
obstacles to intellectual freedom and diversity on the contemporary
campus. The real political debates in academe have mainly to do not with
voting behavior but with the social implications of scholarly and
pedagogical methods and disciplinary paradigms. And those debates are
too often settled, or stifled, by the ubiquitous tendency of academic
departments to exclude or marginalize scholars whose approach diverges
from prevailing orthodoxy. While conservatives talk as if that practice
is confined to the academic left, in fact the disciplinary police are
often profoundly conservative. Economists' exclusion of dissenters from
free-market libertarian orthodoxy; psychologists' ostracism of
psychoanalysts; philosophers' marginalizing of those who emphasize
social and political rather than linguistic problems -- all contribute
to a pervasive positivism that silences critical thinking about the
present socioeconomic system. Nor is the phenomenon absent from the hard
sciences: It may be harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a
needle than for a biologist working on something other than the genome
to get a job or a grant these days.
All these pressures for conformity come at a time when the mainstream
public conversation has diminishing space for serious social criticism.
Trade publishers by and large refuse to publish it; leading review media
tend to ignore it; fewer and fewer periodicals feature it. There is
increasing disdain for the essay, the traditional vehicle for much
social critique. The need to make a living has pushed more writers into
the academy (whether they are really suited for it or not). Now good
academic jobs are drying up as universities hire fewer tenure-track
faculty members. That, too, is chilling.
Ellen Willis is a professor of journalism and director of the Cultural
Reporting and Criticism program at New York University.
The Death of John Stuart Mill
By STANLEY KURTZ
For conservatives it's been tough to speak openly on campus for decades.
Knowing the politics of my field (anthropology), and mindful of Stanley
Fish's 1990 call to bar some members of the National Association of
Scholars from curriculum and tenure committees at Duke University, for
years I avoided joining the association. When I finally threw caution to
the wind (still carefully directing mailings to my home, not college), I
discovered that my clever association chapter in Boston used envelopes
with no external identification. That reminded me of how, during the
McCarthy era, my father had to get his subscription to the leftist I.F.
Stone's Weekly delivered to an empty apartment.
Consider postcolonial studies, one of the most influential paradigms in
today's academy. Begun by the late Edward Said, ostensibly as a
theory-inflected political analysis of colonialism, postcolonial studies
in effect has introduced a new form of blacklist. Said attacked numerous
prominent scholars and intellectuals as anti-Muslim bigots in league
with "the Zionist lobby." Chastising them with imposing the colonial
stereotypes of "Orientalism," he found them guilty of daring to note
connections between some strains of contemporary Islam and terrorism.
His followers have used the label to tar their opponents, thus enabling
a takeover of substantial parts of the academy, particularly in the
humanities and social sciences. Nowadays, in Middle East studies,
postcolonialists are everywhere, while the generation of successors to
scholars whom Said attacked, like Bernard Lewis, has been lost.
Further, entire subfields are defined by their politics. In
anthropology, it is typical to see job listings calling for a specialist
in "critical-race theory," "medical justice," "critical-medical
anthropology," "gender and social justice," "postcolonial studies," or
just plain "critical theory." All those are open code for someone on the
Leftist professors treat mere calls for balance as suppression of
speech, usually saying they are defending liberal principles. Yet many
of those same professors junked John Stuart Mill's classic defense of
the marketplace of ideas -- the need for multiple and clashing
intellectual perspectives -- long ago. Like Said, they follow Michel
Foucault in dismissing the call for intellectual balance as a ruse of
power. Such scholars rationalize their near-total dominance of the
academy by picturing it as the last beleaguered redoubt of an embattled
left. After all, Republicans control the White House, Congress, and soon
perhaps the courts, they reason. So why can't we control the academy?
With only narrow Republican majorities in our political system, each
party is compelled to debate and compromise with the other. How is that
a justification for an academy where you can sooner find a military
recruiter on campus than real debate? The erstwhile campus marketplace
of ideas has been bought out by a monopoly. Mill is dead, and the
professors killed him.
And now that students and the public have complained -- now that the
problem has been named by continuing complaints in the blogosphere,
empirical studies of faculty bias, and student protests at Columbia and
other universities -- the academy cries foul. Those who for years have
trashed liberalism appeal to it -- as if their hiring practices and
intellectual manners embodied a sort of Millian paradise. Too late.
Liberalism now lies with their critics.
Stanley Kurtz is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a contributing
editor at the National Review Online.
Religious, Philosophical, and Socioeconomic Diversity
By CAROL M. SWAIN
I have found myself an outsider in a place that values conformity. What
makes me an outsider are my roots in the lower class, my strong
Christian faith, and my race.
The chill I feel on campus is that of an accomplished woman who, more
often than not, finds herself devalued. Navigating a campus is difficult
if your path, like mine, is nontraditional. When I first entered college
as a high-school dropout with a GED, I encountered professors who warned
me that I would not perform as well as other students. I defied their
Now, as a professor who has five degrees and several prizes under my
belt, I find myself an outsider for new reasons. As a born-again
Christian since 1999, I have encountered overt and subtle forms of
intimidation. Often this takes the form of openly disparaging remarks
made by colleagues about the intelligence of believers.
There is hostility directed against anyone who refuses to conform to the
prevailing ethos of his or her institution and to the secularized
liberal elites who decide who and what has value. I have watched
helplessly as bright, conservative students are victimized again and
again by faculty members who use the power of grading to push them
toward conformity. Those students who fight back usually end up with
reduced grade-point averages and fewer opportunities to matriculate at
elite professional institutions.
I believe institutions of higher learning can, and should, do better.
Many operate in ways that reveal no real desire for diversity or
inclusion beyond the visible differences of gender and race. They have
little interest in diversifying their faculties in terms of political
philosophy or religious beliefs. Instead, the elite institutions, with
which I am most familiar, have seemingly decided that they are in sole
possession of the intellectual knowledge, values, and insights needed to
train future leaders -- and that such knowledge is secular and material.
Never mind that the great universities of our nation, from Harvard on
down, were in most cases founded by God-fearing men and women with
different perspectives from today's.
Institutional leaders should urge faculty and staff members to reject
ideological conformism, and they should honor forms of diversity now
neglected, including religious, philosophical, and socioeconomic
diversity. If universities are to be true to their educational missions,
they must cease and desist from their tendencies to exclude. Alas, the
recent high-profile focus by activists such as David Horowitz on this
longstanding issue is long overdue.
Carol M. Swain is a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt
University and founding director of the Veritas Institute for Racial
Justice and Reconciliation.
Academic Freedom or Government Intrusion
By AMY GUTMANN
In preparing students for lifelong learning and democratic citizenship,
today's great universities are more open than ever to intellectual
diversity. Students learn to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries
when they examine issues like AIDS and global terrorism from the
multiple perspectives and with the methodologies that faculty members
bring to the classroom.
Why, then, the perception of a chill among people who complain that
certain views are not allowed full expression on our campuses? Perhaps
it derives from the fact that universities are considering some of the
most controversial issues of our time, like the ethics of stem-cell
research and the future of the Middle East. Moreover, we are living at a
time when the right and left are quick to seize upon flash points -- a
single course, a controversial article, an isolated incident -- to take
the full measure of a faculty member or a university campus.
More broadly speaking, it is easy to forget that American colleges and
universities derive their greatness not by echoing the conventional
views of society, carrying the partisan banner of governments, or giving
aid and comfort to purveyors of prejudices. Rather, they do so by
protecting the freedom of professors and students to read widely and
explore topics in all their complexity, to think critically and debate
issues where there are grounds for reasonable disagreement, and to
imagine and express new ideas and new worlds without fear of reprisal or
retribution. Many of the most powerful critiques of society, along with
compelling solutions to the world's seemingly intractable problems, have
issued from university scholars and students.
Is there, then, a problem? If so, how should we rectify it? Not by
outside regulation, as some critics urge. Guided by established
procedures of self-governance, universities must be steadfast in their
commitment to the principles of academic freedom -- which is not a
license to suppress student dissent or engage in partisan proselytizing
in the classroom. Upholding academic freedom does require universities
to furnish a safe haven for free inquiry and discussion. And it
recommends that we provide a respectful hearing to all debatable
opinions and to external criticisms of the academy, rather than dismiss
those who question us as "barbarians at the gates," against whom we must
We must also make a better effort to describe the nature of
faculty-student interactions. We should begin by explaining that we
teach young people both to think critically and to support their
arguments with reasons, regardless of which way the political winds are
blowing on the campus or off. Students in any class may not feel
comfortable being challenged by a viewpoint with which they strongly
disagree. But neither should they ever feel inhibited or afraid to
disagree with their professors.
For two decades, I taught a course on ethics and public policy that
dealt with the controversial topics of our time, such as terrorism,
abortion, affirmative action, and bioethics. My students knew that
agreeing with me on a given issue would have no bearing on how I treated
or graded them. Those who brought solid evidence and original thinking
to bear on their arguments, and who responded effectively to the
strongest counterarguments, earned the highest grades.
For their part, instead of making their case through reasoned arguments
in academic forums, some critics of higher education are promoting
legislation to regulate professors. In doing so, they are violating the
spirit of academic freedom and threatening to poison the collegial
atmosphere of robust and respectful debate that has enabled American
universities to contribute so much to our democracy. By demonstrating
our steadfast commitment to protecting the freedom of faculty members
and students to engage in vigorous discourse across the political
spectrum without government interference, we can prevent the threat of a
chill from becoming a devastating frost.
Amy Gutmann is president of the University of Pennsylvania.