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February 05, 2005

Free Speech In the Academy? Yeah, Tell Me Another One

Instapundit quotes Richard Posner's observation that universities are actually the last place one should go for untrammelled self-expression:

But no one who has spent much time around universities thinks they've ever "encourage[d] uncircumscribed intellectual explorations." The degree of self-censorship in universities, as in all institutions, is considerable. Today in the United States, most of the leading research universities are dominated by persons well to the left of Larry Summers, and they don't take kindly to having their ideology challenged, as Summers has now learned to his grief. There is nothing to be done about this, and thoughtful conservatives should actually be pleased. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, when one's ideas are not challenged, one's ability to defend them weakens. Not being pressed to come up with arguments or evidence to support them, one forgets the arguments and fails to obtain the evidence. One's position becomes increasingly flaccid, producing the paradox of thought that is at once rigid and flabby. And thus the academic left today.

I agree with the beginning and partially join and partially dissent from the ending.

Yes, Posner is right about an orthodoxy enforced by official policy and official consequences making that orthodoxy weak and subject to easy demolition. But that's really only true when the contrary point of view is allowed to challenge the orthodoxy, and I don't think that's true, except to a trivial extent, in the academy today.

I take the statement overall as reinforcing my big point on this: universities allow near-absolute free speech rights for professors so long as they're on the left. When they're on the right, they could face professional consequences for being too strident... and that assumes they're even there at all. Most can't even become professors, or tenured professors, because the hiring committees strongly prefer like-minded leftists.

So why on earth should we defend a "right" of Ward Churchill's which is only extended to similarly-minded fools and no one else? Either the right is one to be extended to all or extended to none.


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posted by Ace at 05:36 PM

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