by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fabio Rojas writes for the Martin Center about conservatives’ precarious position in the higher education community.
The ultimate test of whether one is truly a member of the community is if the community comes to your defense in a time of need. For me, the ultimate example happened a few years ago when critics attacked the Freedom Center at Wellesley College. Housed at one of America’s most elite liberal arts colleges, the Freedom Center was founded by sociologist Thomas Cushman to foster a conversation about liberty, broadly understood. …
However, when the Boston Globe wrote a highly critical article on the Center and its funders, the academic community, for the most part, did not defend Cushman or the Freedom Center.
The main issue was that New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer was offended when the Center’s director said he would not invite someone like her to speak. As the Freedom Center’s assistant director wrote in National Review, it was not because he wished to suppress her views, but because her work is highly polemical and adversarial, rather than scholarly. If the administration truly valued the Freedom Center as part of its community, it would have quickly brushed aside the media coverage and simply said, “Wellesley professors can invite who they see fit speak on campus. That policy applies to the Freedom Center as it does to any other unit.”
Normally, a university would not allow a newspaper to guide its academic decisions. Instead, the university administration decided to conduct a review to “overhaul” the Center. Thankfully, the Freedom Center continues with different staff, but being the subject of a spurious review and “overhaul” is a highly stressful and painful experience for everyone involved.
Incidents like the Freedom Center controversy are infrequent, but they send a message to the broader society about higher education: Higher education may take your tuition dollars, and give you degrees, but the community is more exclusive than you might think.