Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Refreshingly Honest Harvard Student Argues Against Academic Freedom

 

In case you missed it, last week an undergraduate at Harvard made an impassioned plea against academic freedom. The author wants to replace academic freedom with a concept that she insists is more “rigorous;” one she dubs “academic justice.” This evidently means that “when an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.”

Under her preferred regime of “academic justice,” Harvey Mansfield, Richard Herrnstein, and Subramanian Swamy (by specific example; she would doubtless exclude many more professors) would be unwelcome at Harvard, whereas the BDS movement against Israel would “take the moral upper hand.”

While there has been some great criticism written about this article, including by my colleague Peter Bonilla at FIRE, I want to tell you what I love about this article.

First, I love her use of the word “rigorous.” The whole column would make a lot more sense if she substituted the word rigorous for words like “self certain,” “biased and subjective,” “anti-intellectual,” or just “convenient.” It’s always fun when someone uses a word to mean its opposite (e.g. “and by ‘rigorous’ I mean ‘not rigorous.’”)

The second thing I love about this article is that it has a kind of wide-eyed honesty about it. While, in my experience, some academics would like to have unquestioned dogma on many topics, they at least intellectually understand why academic freedom is important, even if only as a means of self-preservation. After all, many academics have been around long enough to see how dramatically the campus culture can turn against a set of ideas, so they at least want academic freedom as sort of a long-term life preserver. That being said, however, many of the same academics can be apathetic-to-indifferent about whether or not those principles get applied to, say, their peers who might run afoul of academic groupthink. And then, perhaps learning from this attitude at Harvard, we see a student just come right out and say “Hey, I’ve got an idea: why don’t we just have academic freedom for points of view that comport with our political agenda, and just get rid of everything else?” Refreshingly honest and scary all at the same time.

(What makes this even more interesting is that despite being at such an elite institution, she doesn’t seem to understand that this is a VERY old idea, and it often doesn’t end very well. Do they teach anything about Socrates, Galileo, or Lysenko at Harvard?)

Finally, I’m thankful for this article because within the FIRE office we often talk about the phenomena of “unlearning liberty.” (I may have had something to do with that!) When we talk about students “unlearning liberty” we generally mean students internalizing the lessons they have learned from administrators and, sadly, some professors, and learning to think like censors. Here, a student has proudly demonstrated in The Harvard Crimson that for a certain subset of students, wanting to do away with an open-ended, epistemologically humble, and truly rigorous system for inching away from falsity is not some dirty little secret. Instead, it’s considered a virtue that one should shout to the mountaintops. I owe thanks to the student and to the Crimson for helping me to explain what unlearning liberty looks like.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    Our young intellectual raises a very interesting question — how is the love of liberty to be taught? We on the center right treat liberty the same way we treat air and water. But how do we cultivate this view, this sensibility, in others? How do we pass it on to the next generation. The love of liberty does not appear to the default position for human beings. People seem to be inclined to despotism, to dominating others and shutting out any thought that questions their own view of things. Time to read Locke’s Education For Liberty by Nathan Tarcov.

    • #1
    • February 25, 2014, at 2:32 AM PST
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  2. Profile Photo Member
    Sorry, double post.
    • #2
    • February 25, 2014, at 2:33 AM PST
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  3. KC Mulville Inactive
    Nathaniel Wright: No. This is the demographic that the Republican consultant corps wants you to start paying attention to. Because this is what happens when you don’t.

    This comment deserves more than a like. Excellent, Nathaniel!

    • #3
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:12 AM PST
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  4. Profile Photo Member
    Greg Lukianoff: Do they teach anything about Socrates, Galileo, or Lysenko at Harvard?

    No, no, and most definitely no. At least, for the first two, you’d have to actively search it out. The third, well, good luck with that. A few years back, their History 101 equivalent Western history course taught that the Ukrainian genocide was just an accident of poor planning and that Stalin didn’t deliberately do it.

    Interestingly, there are only two mandatory classes that all incoming freshmen must take. The first is the ‘always ask permission before sleeping with an anonymous drunken hook-up’ date rape class, because feminism. The second is the ‘how to write an essay’ class, because so many of the best and brightest show up on campus having no idea what a thesis statement is. Great public schools we’ve got.

    Heather MacDonald has written some great pieces lately on the academy refusing to teach the greats of Western Civ to its students.

    • #4
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:31 AM PST
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  5. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Greg,

    This greedy child woman is the product of quota-based truth policies for the last 40 years. She hasn’t a clue what Justice means and has no concept of the relationship of Ethics to Liberty.

    Creatures like this can continue to throw their intellectual tantrums all they want. However, sooner or later the grownups will show up and take back control.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:39 AM PST
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  6. Richard Fulmer Member
    The young woman’s proposal is straight out of Herbert Marcuse’s essay, Repressive Tolerance:Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.

    Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.

    • #6
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:46 AM PST
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  7. Hartmann von Aue Member

    “When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.” 

    Well, what do you know, she’s calling for all research supporting the Palestinian cause, shilling for the Castros or Chavez/Maduro regimes, covering up the crimes of the Soviet Union, all research supporting the “global climate change” thesis, all anti-Catholic scholarship, all scholarship aimed at justifying the oppression of Christians and Jews in general, and all research in so-called “Queer Studies” that works to undermine the basis of marriage and the family to be terminated tomorrow. And I’ll bet she didn’t even know it, bless her poor little mind…..

    • #7
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:46 AM PST
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  8. Marion Evans Inactive

    Harvard takes up too much space. In everything: politics, law, business, culture etc. It isn’t because it is deserved but because we bow mechanically to any prestigious brand. The University of (insert your favorite state) is in most cases just as good, without as much culture-war baggage.

    • #8
    • February 25, 2014, at 7:47 AM PST
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  9. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff

    Oh yes, the founders of FIRE wrote a lot about the influence of Marcuse in The Shadow University. He’s a crucial figure. 

    Richard Fulmer: The young woman’s proposal is straight out of Herbert Marcuse’s essay, Repressive Tolerance:Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.

    Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.· 26 minutes ago

    • #9
    • February 25, 2014, at 8:19 AM PST
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  10. Profile Photo Member

    Next comes the Ministry of Truth and thoughtcrime. Orwell had it figured out pretty well. I read somewhere that NSA can look at you if your computer or TV are rigged right. He foresaw that with the mirrors that watched Party members day and night. I doubt Orwell is taught in the schools.

    • #10
    • February 25, 2014, at 8:27 AM PST
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  11. Danny Alexander Inactive

    #3 Richard Fulmer

    Excellent comment and aptly chilling quotation.

    #5 Greg Lukianoff

    Not enough is being *done* to counteract the Marcuse influence. And whatever is being done (and/or contemplated) should be extended and adapted for very explicit, very loudly proclaimed use on the campaign hustings by all and sundry. Unless and until we call out all those facing us in any and all fora *specifically* as being “Marcuse-indoctrinated,” and let everyone know what that means in an American constitutional republican context, we are going to be hosed every time.

    In any event, it’s articles like this totalitarian pisher’s that make me perversely (and only momentarily!) glad that I’m unemployed and financially incapable of throwing away valuable money on Harvard, my not-so-alma disowned mater.

    • #11
    • February 25, 2014, at 8:47 AM PST
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  12. MJBubba Inactive

    Thanks, Greg L.; F.I.R.E. is doing great work.

    • #12
    • February 25, 2014, at 8:54 AM PST
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  13. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    The Orwellian use of the word “justice” by the left is interesting. “Social justice”. “Academic justice”. These terms really refer to using unjust and illiberal means to achieve the ends desired by the left. These concepts entail wealth redistribution, designated victimhood, vilifying the successful, squelching free speech, and chilling unfettered academic research and scientific inquiry.

    So-called liberals are more and more often asking the question: “Can’t we just…[blank]?” Fill in the blank with “shut these people up”, “take away their wealth”, “disadvantage the advantaged”, “cut off their funding”, “take Fox off the air”, “fire those who disagree with us”, “use the IRS to silence our political opponents”, etc. 

    Their #1 cheerleader is the man in the Oval Office, who once said:

    So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.

    Can’t we just bankrupt the carbon emitters?

    Liberal Fascism, indeed.

    • #13
    • February 25, 2014, at 9:03 AM PST
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  14. Dr Steve Member

    The sad, amusing thing about this young woman’s essay is that she thinks she is being subversive and “speaking truth to power,” when in fact, as pointed out in previous comments, she is following someone else’s script. 

    It’s one thing to be a smug pseudo-intellectual (but I repeat myself), it’s another to think you are in any way edgy when you have a regular column in the Harvard Crimson.

    • #14
    • February 25, 2014, at 9:16 AM PST
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  15. Nathaniel Wright Member
    Nathaniel Wright Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    More conservatives need to be intimately familiar with the works of the Frankfurt school so they can call them out and ridicule them when they encounter them. I find there are many ways to undermine their premises, one just has to be aware of them first. This line of thought was once the norm in English and Crit Studies classes at universities (as Andrew Breitbart personally experienced in his “American Studies” days), but they are now taught in high school. Those who studied Crit Studies are now K-12 teachers. After all, what else can someone with a Crit Studies degree do?

    • #15
    • February 25, 2014, at 9:43 AM PST
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  16. KC Mulville Inactive

    No, of course, the whole class of young people shouldn’t be judged by one individual. Heaven forbid that the premier institution of higher education, churning out these opinions in the school newspaper, would possibly be revealing what she had been taught and had internalized completely. 

    So this is the product of an elite education? This is the “youth vote?” These are the shapers of public opinion in the decades ahead?

    This is the demographic that the Republican consultant corps want us to suck up to?

    • #16
    • February 25, 2014, at 10:32 AM PST
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  17. Profile Photo Member

    The ironic thing is that much of the curriculum in history, the softer social sciences, and obviously the lit and “studies” disciplines, have as their baseline methodology the “unmasking” of consensus about knowledge as a matter of power relations alone. Students are essentially taught to see any knowledge claim as a function of a socially-constructed consensus of powerful people whose very power lies in the exclusion of alternate viewpoints. This is at the heart of the Foucauldian approach which has been the most popular methodology in the humanities since the 1970s, and isn’t far afield from the Frankfurt School approaches mentioned above.

    Those who control the universities and set the order of discussion to follow their leftist orthodoxies are blissfully unaware that even under their own belief systems, therefore, they are engaged in an illegitimate use of power to exclude challenges to the consensus. And needless to say, it’s a consensus that rests on their power to control academic journals, presses, and appointments, not on the caliber of their ideas.

    • #17
    • February 25, 2014, at 11:53 AM PST
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  18. Nathaniel Wright Member
    Nathaniel Wright Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    No. This is the demographic that the Republican consultant corps wants you to start paying attention to. Because this is what happens when you don’t.

    • #18
    • February 25, 2014, at 11:55 AM PST
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  19. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff
    Dr Steve: The sad, amusing thing about this young woman’s essay is that she thinks she is being subversive and “speaking truth to power,” when in fact, as pointed out in previous comments, she is following someone else’s script. 

    Yup. 100% agree. I point out to students all the time that arguments like this actually support the power structure they think they are rocking. “I hereby demand more power for those already in power in the name of…um…justice?”

    • #19
    • February 26, 2014, at 1:14 AM PST
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  20. Ekosj Inactive

    Hi Nathaniel and KC. Regarding this being “the demographic that the Republican consultant corps wants you to start paying attention to. ” What, exactly does the Republican consultancy recommend? Is it a strategy to inform the members of this demographic about the benefits of liberty and dangers or totalitarianism? If so I’m all for it! Or would they recommend some amendments to traditional conservative positions in an attempt to make them palatable to this demographic? If that is what’s on offer, I think I’ll pass.

    • #20
    • February 26, 2014, at 12:12 PM PST
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  21. Richard Fulmer Member

    The young student’s viewpoint is understandable given that she’s likely been taught that conservative/libertarian views are not just wrong but evil. Would any of us want people we regarded as evil – Nazis, Klan members, or suicide bombers – to be invited to speak at universities?

    To lead her, or someone like her, to question her prejudice, we’d need to be able to convince her that we’re not evil, or at least that the issue is not yet “settled science.”

    • #21
    • February 26, 2014, at 12:31 PM PST
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  22. KC Mulville Inactive
    Ekosj: What, exactly does the Republican consultancy recommend?

    You know, it’s funny. The GOP consultant will happily tell you that certain positions don’t play well (or poll well) with women or minorities or young people. But they know that they’d be roasted if they came out and asked conservatives to drop our positions on these issues. So they leave the question dangling, hoping that conservatives will fall on our ideological swords, and make life easier for them – without them having to pay any penalty for suggesting it.

    It’s like having your travel agent saying he can get you a better deal on that tour of Europe if you just left two of your four children at home …

    • #22
    • February 26, 2014, at 12:55 PM PST
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