Anthony Hennen of the Martin Center takes aim at activist academics.

The rise of activist professors has shaped the culture in higher ed for decades. As activists have become more prominent, a familiar process has changed academic departments, pushing scholars out and replacing them with professors who think in political terms and prioritize social change.

A new Martin Center policy brief, ‘Witches’ and ‘Viruses:’ The Activist-Academic Threat and a Policy Response, looks at that process and how activists conceive of their project. Joy Pullmann and Sumantra Maitra analyze two feminist papers that present strategies for capturing institutions and using universities to further political change. The politicization problem doesn’t stay within one or two marginal departments, either—it creeps across the many arms of the university and beyond, they argue:

“This process results in an ideological monoculture in several disciplines and departments, threatening more and more of academia. After activists change the academic culture, they can educate their replacements and other students who will become activists in government, media, nongovernmental organizations, the corporate world, and other professions.”

As the papers (published in high-ranking, not obscure, journals) show, activist academics are explicit about their desire to use colleges to further their political ideals. It is not some marginal accusation of a conspiracy by conservatives. Many academics are reluctant to hire professors who hold explicitly conservative ideas. Instances of de-platforming conservatives and liberals alike have grown more common in recent years.

The opposition to free speech on campus is a warning sign that activists are a growing force to be reckoned with and are becoming bolder. Tolerating their behavior on campus harms the integrity of scholarship and the value of a college education for students.

The first paper analyzed by Pullmann and Maitra argues that feminist scholars should attach themselves to interdisciplinary projects and shape students as a way to expand into “traditional and entrenched fields.”