by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Martin Center column highlights threats to two pillars of our society.
Fifteen years ago, American higher education was beset with serious problems, especially rising costs, politicization of the curriculum, the mania over diversity, and falling academic standards. At that time, however, few people would have said that among its problems was the threat to freedom of speech on campus.
But one scholar who did see that freedom of speech was coming under attack was University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs. His book Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus was an alarm bell in the night. He saw that the forces of intolerance and repression were gathering strength.
Downs has now written a new book on this problem entitled Free Speech and Liberal Education: A Plea for Intellectual Diversity and Tolerance. He argues that each college and university ought to be an “intellectual polis” where people can study, teach, and research in an atmosphere of civility and respect. For most of our history, they were—but not so today. Intellectual freedom on our campuses is “embattled,” he writes.
At many institutions, we find “conspicuous displays of intellectual intolerance” by faculty and students. They have been “abetted by an ever-growing campus administrative state” staffed with people who “nourish anti-free speech thinking and activism.”
Among the many pieces of evidence Downs cites is the infamous riot at Middlebury College when political scientist Charles Murray tried to speak. A student mob forced Murray and the faculty member who was to serve as moderator, Allison Stanger, to flee, during which Stanger was injured badly enough to need hospitalization. That part of the Middlebury story is very well known. What is not well known (and equally disturbing) is the aftermath: some faculty members wrote a statement deploring the incident and supporting freedom of speech, but a majority of the faculty refused to accept it.