Category Archive 'Academic Freedom'

09 Apr 2015

Princeton Votes For Freedom of Speech

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Nassau Hall, Princeton University

The faculty of Princeton voted earlier this week to adopt the principles of the 1967 University of Chicago Kalven Report, affirming the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech within the university community.

First Things:

Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.’ . . . Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community ‘to discuss any problem that presents itself.’ Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas. In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.

Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission. As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

Freedom of Expression at Yale was affirmed by the 1975 Woodward Report.

20 Feb 2014

Academic Freedom Under Question at Elite Universities

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Sandra Y.L. Korn, no liberal she, (who is already contributing to the Nation, as an undergraduate at Harvard) editorialized recently in the Harvard Crimson against academic freedom.

[T]he liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do.


Meanwhile at Swarthmore:

Robert George ‘77 and Cornel West’s [appearance] on Monday, hosted by the Institute for the Liberal Arts, culminated a campus-wide discussion on the meaning of discourse at Swarthmore. The Princeton professors, known for their friendship despite of their strongly opposing viewpoints, intended to build community and discuss questions like “What does it mean to communicate across differences regarding what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong?’”

The event was expected by many to be controversial, with rumors of student-led protest in the form of a boycott of the event or a rally after the collection, but no such protest occurred during the collection. Prior to the event, many students voiced concerns with the College’s choice of speaker in George, who is known for his strong opposition to abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage. Some queer students attended the event wearing shirts that read “Beneath Human Dignity,” a reference to a George quote in National Review magazine about the New York gay marriage decision in June 2011. Students also created a zine which opposed tolerance of George’s viewpoints, stating that by doing so, we would be “condoning homophobia.”

After the talk, many students expressed dissatisfaction with the event, saying it did not accomplish any meaningful community-building or address substantive issues.

“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion. I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society. We should not be conceding to the dominant culture by saying that the so-called “progressive left” is marginalizing the conservative,” Erin Ching ‘16 said.

Really old people like myself can remember the radical left’s adroit use of the so-called Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the early 1960s. Allowing outside agitators representing the extreme left to recruit, propagandize, and proselytize on campus was, way back then, a vital issue of “free speech.”

Now, fifty years and a Gramscian long march later, the radical left effectively controls all our elite universities and the discussion of whether there is any real value in free speech, academic freedom, or diversity of opinion is now on the table.

09 Feb 2011

More on Political Bias in Academia

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Megan McArdle contemplates yesterday’s New York Times academic bias against conservatives article. She does not pretend to have a solution, but thinks it would be nice if liberals actually recognized their own biases.

[L]iberals, who are usually quick to assume that underrepresentation represents some form of discrimination–structural or personal–suddenly become, as Haidt notes, fierce critics of the notion that numerical representation means anything. Moreover, they start generating explanations for the disparity that sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility. Conservatives are too stupid to become academics; they aren’t open new ideas; they’re too aggressive and hierarchical; they don’t care about ideas, just money. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.

Besides, liberals suddenly argue, we shouldn’t look for every sub-population to mirror the composition of the population at large; just as Greeks gravitated towards diners in 1980s New York, and the small market business was dominated by Koreans, liberals are attracted to academia, and conservatives to, well, some other profession. …

I don’t actually know many conservatives who want quotas for conservatives, either–I’m sure they’re out there, but even David Horowitz didn’t go that far. Most of the people I talk to think, like James Joyner, that this may be a problem without a solution. It is just my impression, but I think what conservatives want most of all is simply recognition that they are being shut out. It is a double indignity to be discriminated against, and then be told unctuously that your group’s underrepresentation is proof that almost none of you are as good as “us”. Haidt notes that his correspondence with conservative students (anonymously) “reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s”:

    He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal. “I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

Beyond that, mostly they would like academics to be conscious of the bias, and try to counter it where possible. As the quote above suggests, this isn’t just for the benefit of conservatives, either. Just as excluding blacks and women from academia by tacit agreement allowed for a certain amount of wrong-headed groupthink, so does excluding people with different political views. No, I’m not saying you have to hire a Young Earth Creationist to be a biology professor, but I don’t see why it should matter in a professor of Mathematics or Sociology.

Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.

08 Feb 2011

Diversity, the Lack Thereof, in the Social Sciences

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The New York Times has an amusing item about the professional bias investigators of the modern academic world finding themselves confronted with powerful evidence of a very large beam in their own collective eye.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”


The social sciences are build around left-wing assumptions and perspectives, so it isn’t all that surprising to me that Sociology and Anthro departments are overwhelmingly populated by left-wing democrats, but lack of political diversity in American colleges and universities notoriously extends far beyond the social sciences. English and History departments are scarcely more diverse in their political representation.

Steven Hayward, at Power-Line, describes the well-known phenomenon of conservative fear and isolation on the modern university faculty.

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link referred to in private email correspondence by a younger person from Yale, now teaching English at a major university. As is the custom, I mentioned his name as my source for the post in a final “hat tip.” A few hours later, I received an email from that university professor, thanking me for the courtesy, but asking me to remove his name from this blog for fear that the association with Never Yet Melted might possibly out his unacceptable personal political views and jeopardize his candidacy for tenure. Conservative faculty members all over America today live in real, and well-founded, fear of being victimized by discrimination on the basis of their political views.

18 Oct 2009

Moral Bankruptcy of Academia

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Peter Berkowitz discusses prominent cases in recent years of the response to controversy at Duke, Yale, and Harvard, in each of which instances faculty and administrators failed to defend freedom of thought and expression or members of their own community against the excesses of political correctness.

Professors have a professional interest in—indeed a professional duty to uphold—liberty of thought and discussion. But in recent years, precisely where they should be most engaged and outspoken they have been apathetic and inarticulate.

Consider Yale. On Oct. 1, the university hosted Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. His drawing of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban became the best known of 12 cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. That led to deadly protests throughout the Muslim world. On the same day, at an unrelated event, Yale hosted Brandeis Prof. Jytte Klausen. Her new book, “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” was subject in August to a last minute prepublication decision by Yale President Richard Levin and Yale University Press to remove not only the 12 cartoons but also all representations of Muhammad, including respected works of art. …

To be sure, Yale’s censorship—the right word because Yale suppressed content on moral and political grounds—raised difficult questions. Can’t rights, including freedom of speech and press, be limited to accommodate other rights and goods? What if reprinting the cartoons and other depictions gave thugs and extremists a new opportunity to inflame passions and unleash violence? Can’t the consequences of the cartoons’ original publication be understood without reproducing them? Weren’t the cartoons really akin, as Yale Senior Lecturer Charles Hill pointed out in a letter to the Yale Alumni magazine, to the depictions of Jews as grotesque monsters that successive American administrations have sought to persuade Arab newspapers to cease publishing? And isn’t it true, as Mr. Hill also observed, that Yale’s obligation to defend free speech does not oblige it to subsidize gratuitously offensive or intellectually worthless speech?

These are good questions—to which there are good answers.

Rights are subject to limits, but a right as fundamental to the university and the nation as freedom of speech and press should only be limited in cases of imminent danger and not in deference to speculation about possible violence at an indeterminate future date. One can’t properly evaluate Ms. Klausen’s contention that the cartoons were cynically manipulated without assessing with one’s own eyes whether the images passed beyond mockery and ridicule to the direct incitement of violence.

Even if the cartoons exhibited a kinship to anti-Semitic caricatures, it would cut in favor of publication: a scholar would be derelict in his duties if he published a work on anti-Semitic images without including examples. And finally, if Yale chooses to publish a rigorous analysis of the Danish cartoon controversy, which affected the national interest and roiled world affairs, then the university does incur a scholarly obligation to include all the relevant information and evidence including the cartoons at the center, regardless of whether they are in themselves gratuitously offensive and intellectually worthless.

The wonder is that Yale’s censorship has excited so little debate at Yale. The American Association of University Professors condemned Yale for caving in to terrorists’ “anticipated demands.” And a group of distinguished alumni formed the Yale Committee for a Free Press and published a letter protesting Yale’s “surrender to potential unknown billigerents” and calling on the university to correct its error by reprinting Ms. Klausen’s book with the cartoons and other images intact. But the Yale faculty has mostly yawned. Even the famously activist Yale Law School has, according to its director of public affairs, sponsored no programs on censorship and the university.

Alas, there is good reason to suppose that in its complacency about threats to freedom on campus the Yale faculty is typical of faculties at our leading universities. In 2006, even as the police had barely begun their investigation, Duke University President Richard Brodhead lent the prestige of his office to faculty members’ prosecution and conviction in the court of public opinion of three members of the Duke lacrosse team falsely accused of gang raping an African-American exotic dancer. It turned out they were being pursued by a rogue prosecutor. To be sure, it was only a vocal minority at Duke who led the public rush to judgment. But the vast majority of the faculty stood idly by, never rising to defend the presumption of innocence and the requirements of fair process. Perhaps Duke faculty members did not realize or perhaps they did not care that these formal and fundamental protections against the abuse of power belong among the conditions essential to the lively exchange of ideas at the heart of liberal education.

Similarly, in 2005, Harvard President Lawrence Summers sparked a faculty revolt that ultimately led to his ouster by floating at a closed-door, off-the-record meeting the hypothesis—which he gave reasons for rejecting only a few breaths after posing it—that women were poorly represented among natural science faculties because significantly fewer women than men are born with the extraordinary theoretical intelligence necessary to succeed at the highest scientific levels. Before he was forced to resign, Mr. Summers did his part to set back the cause of unfettered intellectual inquiry by taking the side of his accusers and apologizing repeatedly for having dared to expose an unpopular idea to rational analysis. Apart from a few honorable exceptions, the Harvard faculty could not find a principle worth defending in the controversy over Mr. Summer’s remarks.

As the controversies at Yale, Duke and Harvard captured national attention, professors from other universities haven’t had much to say in defense of liberty of thought and discussion either. This silence represents a collective failure of America’s professors of colossal proportions. What could be a clearer sign of our professors’ loss of understanding of the requirements of liberal education than their failure to defend liberty of thought and discussion where it touches them most directly?

What indeed?

28 Feb 2009

Thought Crime at Central Conn

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A student at Central Connecticut State University who had the temerity to argue that allowing concealed carry of firearms on campus might save lives in cases of violent episodes like the murders at Virginia Tech soon found himself asked to come down to the campus police station to identify what firearms he owned and where he kept them.

Questioning a fundamental article of liberal faith at many Northeastern colleges today is sufficient to brand a student as an outlaw and potential threat to society.

CCSU Recorder:

For student John Wahlberg, a class presentation on campus violence turned into a confrontation with the campus police due to a complaint by the professor.

On October 3, 2008, Wahlberg and two other classmates prepared to give an oral presentation for a Communication 140 class that was required to discuss a “relevant issue in the media”. Wahlberg and his group chose to discuss school violence due to recent events such as the Virginia Tech shootings that occurred in 2007.

Shortly after his professor, Paula Anderson, filed a complaint with the CCSU Police against her student. During the presentation Wahlberg made the point that if students were permitted to conceal carry guns on campus, the violence could have been stopped earlier in many of these cases. He also touched on the controversial idea of free gun zones on college campuses.

That night at work, Wahlberg received a message stating that the campus police “requested his presence”. Upon entering the police station, the officers began to list off firearms that were registered under his name, and questioned him about where he kept them.

They told Wahlberg that they had received a complaint from his professor that his presentation was making students feel “scared and uncomfortable”. …

Professor Anderson refused to comment directly on the situation and deferred further comment.

“It is also my responsibility as a teacher to protect the well being of our students, and the campus community at all times,” she wrote in a statement submitted to The Recorder. “As such, when deemed necessary because of any perceived risks, I seek guidance and consultation from the Chair of my Department, the Dean and any relevant University officials.”

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