Academic freedom? Gone—And Good Riddance


Academic freedom? Gone—and good riddance. This was the primary thought that ran through my mind as we attended the National Association of Scholars’ shindig Academic Freedom in the Age of Political Correctness at the First Things offices (good wine!).

Now that central thought depends on the definition of academic freedom. There are only two versions, paralleling the cultural definitions: freedom to do whatever you want and freedom to do what’s right. Only the latter is worth saving. But it is the latter that is under attack, where those who want to be left alone to do what is right, which is the freedom to do what is wanted when what is wanted it the good, are told they cannot do what they want and they have to do embrace progressive ideology or quit.

Make sense?

Maybe not. Consider that the Do-What-Thou-Wilt-Shall-Be-The-Whole-Of-The-Law version of academic freedom leads to Womyn’s Studies, Black Studies, LGBT Studies, comic book studies, racism studies, math experience, government-defined science, et cetera, et cetera. How can you argue any of these are wrong and should be proscribed if academic freedom means “studying” whatever you like?

Anyway, it’s clear to all that by the loss of “academic freedom” means the silencing and chasing away of scholars aligned to Tradition and Reality.

There are pockets of resistance, of course. Some whole schools have built moats to keep away the barbarians, and even some departments in major schools are like oases. But overall it’s bad. Just you try and name a school that does not have an officer or dean whose job description doesn’t involve Diversity. Go on. Try it.

Diversity is our weakness, for with it comes the fatal disease Equality.

The humanities are the walking dead with the few remaining survivors trying not to give away their positions, the sciences are limping along addicted to poisonous government money, maybe direct technology departments are fine but only because they’re the areas most aligned to Reality. But social justice warriors will get to them, once they’ve infected everybody else. And so on.

“Okay, Briggs, but what did the experts say?”

The first was Jay Schalin of the Pope center. Schalin summarized a history of the idea of academic freedom (PDF here), ending at the same horror stories we all know. Speech codes, politicization of research, restrictions on teaching, you name it. Schalin’s solution is rely on lawyers tramping through campuses putting the fear of lawsuits into administrators. Sounds expensive, limited, and crass to my ear.

Peter Wood is boss of the NAS. He steered away from tales of woe and instead looked at roots. He also has a white paper The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom. Wood’s history lesson in the white paper is more practically minded than Schalin’s; he outlines the balance between freedom to do what is right and the leeway that is necessary because not everybody knows what the right thing to do is. (But because not everybody knows is not proof nobody knows and that therefore anything goes.) Wood says:

Intellectual freedom and its highly contextualized embodiment, academic freedom, exist in a final sense to make students into free men and women, capable of responsible stewardship of a free society.

Last to bat was KC Johnson, from Brooklyn College, and author of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Beside the book, he had a popular blog on the Duke fake rape case.

Incidentally, how many Duke professors screaming for blood of those white boys suffered for their lies and calumnies? Hint: It’s a number less than one.

Johnson accurately said, “The primary threat [to freedom] always comes from within the academy and not without.” That threat is both from ambitious and cowardly administrators and professors and also by snot-nosed students who enter school thinking they know all the need to know and so view protesting as more important than studying.

I should do a better job summarizing the speakers ideas, but beside the primary thought I had, I was also struck by a secondary realization. Everybody on the dais and in the audience was, God bless them all, in a sense, a progressive. Conservative progressives, but progressives just the same. Each had an idea that the corruption in colleges could be fixed. It’s not that any of their (and the audience’s) suggestions for course corrections were wrong, but the idea that any actions we could now take (besides withdraw into moated castles) would hold off the Leftist singularity seem to me false.

The best we can hope for is that SJWs start turning on themselves. Once the bloodletting stops, we can move back in and salvage what is left, if anything. I don’t give this scenario much credence, though.


  1. Randall Shepherd

    I generally eschew “isms” of every sort.

  2. Fr. John Rickert

    Juan Donoso Cortes, in his Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism, argues quite convincingly to me that true freedom is the ability to love the good. This explains why God is supremely, infinitely good, while we on this earth are slaves to sin. See the book for a very well thought out presentation of this argument. It is a book worth reading cover to cover.

  3. Marty Gwynne

    Are the problems a direct result of the absence of learning in early life. Maybe the cure are the students entering into academia and who will be the future curators of human knowledge?

    The separation of the family unit by the state. ” take your child and program them to meet our needs”. The extraction of the mother under the pretense of equality and the economic need of ever decreasing salary worth. Do these things serve to retract from the human child to kid to teen to adult? Is this compounded zealous nannyism, the prevention of the young to grow natural intelligence through life experience?

    “Thinking” revolution is generational, and from root to tip, not tip to root, so let us foster the roots to sprout the change at the tip. To do this, there are very strong forces that nee to be defeated, and I mean defeated, the state, and it’s mechanical monster of special interests, do I need to say Gates and common core.. state curriculum and teachers that hate their jobs, or that schools are prisons, or that we start education far too young to actually learn, but young enough to be trained?

    Or do I ramble 🙂

  4. “How can you argue any of these are wrong and should be proscribed if academic freedom means “studying” whatever you like?” These things are fine, if the person studying pays in full for the freedom to study what they want. No government assistance, no scholarships, etc. Freedom to study what one wants does not mean “free studies”.

    Many people still fail to understand that language splitting because of the Tower of Babel was not a reward, but a punishment. The Libs understand—it prevents anyone from resisting the Progressive Gods who rule. Too bad those who are being ruled can’t or won’t get it. Funny how well dependence and stupidity sell, isn’t it. Okay, not funny, tragic.

    The only solution is independent, bright people who don’t want safety, handouts and protection in a cage. Sadly, these are in short supply, especially since the LIbs removed the visible cages. People are stupid—they just are. (This is not cynicism, it’s reality.)

    Don’t worry—SJW’s always turn on themselves as they reach for more and more ludicrous ideas (get ready—they’re not there yet) and cull their groups as some finally reach their limit of tolerance and object to new radical ideas.

  5. David in Cal

    Somewhere along the line, many scholars decided that as long as some subject was taught with the usual academic trappings, it qualified as proper academic knowledge. E.g., professors can write papers about comic books and publish them in journals. Lectures, homework, dissertations and tests can all be written about comic books. Ergo, comic books are as valid an academic subject as mathemetics or history.

  6. Sander van der Wal

    Aren’t the student SJW’s the same students that pay more for student loans than ever before? And aren’t the professors the people most benefitting from that extra money?

    Clearly these people deserve each other.

  7. I think you’re focusing too much on a particular subset of academia, and a constantly transient one focused itself on only a few ‘disciplines’ at that. This is silliness, not fascism. And the best way to deal with silliness is to pay it due mind, for whatever that’s worth (a little?). Overall, throughout the world, the American university system is considered the very best. Sure, there’s some weirdness in there, but one of the strengths of the system is it’s diversity. We study everything! We can thank the importation of European theoreticians a century ago for that. Before that, American academia was just a national trade school system, all practical no theoretical. Sure, most theoretical study is stupid, or pointless, or inane, or redundant, etc…, but those adjectives do not describe the intrinsic value of study in the first place. Anything and everything should be studied. And we do have that today. You just don’t like some of it.


  8. The way to go is to be elitist, as was the English system in the 19th Century. Scholarships to those who were truly bright, rewards for intellectual achievement, and let those who can’t or don’t want to achieve go to trade schools. We can always use plumbers, electricians, contractors.

    By the way the current state of academia, including the sciences is nicely illustrated by a post in NRO about a scientific paper on nuclear / atomic physics accepted by a Conference on that topic. Only problem: the paper was composed by a computer programs given a leading sentence.

  9. Frederic

    I’m sure all the dead Tsarists post 1917 would identify the same
    pattern of thought perversion which at the time was considered
    radical and fleeting.

  10. Anon

    Many colleges have gutted their Western Civ curriculum (in the wake of the student protests of the 1960s and 1970s). To be fair, not only do the students know nothing, so do their professors. As for preserving, maintaining, and disseminating the wisdom enshrined in comic books and popular tv shows, this is more a job for the dedicated amateur than for the chaired professor.

  11. Ray

    When I started college, the Dean of the electrical engineering school addressed us new students and informed us that our tuition only paid about 1/3 of the cost of us going there and the rest was paid by the taxpayers. If we didn’t study hard and get good grades they would get rid of us and replace us with somebody who would because they didn’t want to waste the taxpayers money. Today if any dean talked to the students like that, the Dean would probably be fired.

  12. Levantine

    [ academic freedom ] There are only two versions, paralleling the cultural definitions: freedom to do whatever you want and freedom to do what’s right. Only the latter is worth saving. But it is the former that is under attack….

    It looks to me you’ve made a lapsus. “And it is the former that is left alone, while the latter is under attack” is more like it should read.
    This lapsus, if real, suggests some flaw in your mental processes that may do other damages.

    “Everybody on the dais and in the audience was, God bless them all, in a sense, a progressive.”

    I know what you mean. It permeates everywhere, my mind included.
    My seat-of-the-pants scheme of hope? Disconnect from as many things as you can, make a record of your actions and thoughts, show it, see effects. Repeat the process as you see fit. … Maybe in a hundred and fifty years it will be more productive.

  13. John W. Garrett

    For those of us who are acronym-challenged, “SJW” appears to stand for “Social Justice Warrior” rather than “St. John’s Wort” or “Socialistische Jonge Wacht” (Dutch: Socialist Youth Guard; Socialist Workers Party youth organization) or “South Jersey Wheelmen.”

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