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E-Pluribus | December 14, 2021
The Return of PC; the long road to, and back from, campus illiberalism; and balance books, don't ban them.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Greg Lukianoff: The Second Great Age of Political Correctness
Although “political correctness” has given way to “woke,” Greg Lukianoff writes at Reason that the underlying philosophy is just as dangerous as ever, and is infecting the right as well as the left. Given his position at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Lukianoff focuses on the impact on colleges and universities and what needs to happen to rescue higher education from this revival of the spirit of PC.
Amid the Second Great Age of Political Correctness, American higher education has become too expensive, too illiberal, and too conformist. It has descended into a period of profound crisis wrought by shifts in hiring, student development, and politically charged speech codes developed during the Ignored Years, when too few were paying attention. American campuses should be bastions of free expression and academic freedom. Instead, both are in decline.
We cannot afford to just give up on higher ed. College and university presidents can and should do the following five things:
Immediately dump all speech codes.
Adopt a statement specifically identifying free speech as essential to the core purpose of a university and committing the university to free speech values.
Defend the free speech rights of their students and faculty loudly, clearly, and early.
Teach free speech, the philosophy of free inquiry, and academic freedom from Day One.
Collect data and open their campuses to research on the climate for debate, discussion, and dissent.
Those who donate to colleges should refuse to do so without demanding these changes.
But we need to do more than reform our existing institutions. We need alternative models to traditional higher education.
The bottom line is that the opinions of professors and students should be ferociously protected, and that those who run universities must reject the idea that colleges and universities exist to impose orthodoxies on anyone. Over the past decade, too many academic institutions have grown used to promoting specific views of the world to incoming students.
Radical open-mindedness would be wildly out of place at most contemporary universities. Getting there will take substantial cultural and political change.
Read it all.
Tevi Troy: The Long and Winding Road to Campus Illiberalism
Speaking of illiberalism at colleges and universities, Tevi Troy traces the evolution of the problem for Discourse Magazine. Despite many examples of the suppression of free expression, Troy says there is reason to be optimistic as some progress has been made in beating back the rising tide.
Free speech is so devalued on campuses today that there is little cost to those seeking to squelch unfashionable views. When MIT recently canceled a speech by University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot because he had questioned non-merit-based hiring, the left saw nothing wrong with MIT’s illiberal action. In a widely noted comment in an article about the incident, The New York Times quoted Williams College geoscience professor Phoebe Cohen as saying, “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated.”
To dismiss the tradition of intellectual debate as some kind of vestige of a white male era seemed to many a nail in the coffin of the very concept of free speech and open inquiry. Unfortunately, this recent episode is only the latest of many similar incidents.
In 2017, a violent mob prevented the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray from speaking at Middlebury College, injuring a liberal professor who had been escorting Murray in the process. Other speakers prevented from speaking on campuses in the past decade include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As free speech on campus defenders Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have described it, “[a] movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”
The ACLU, once the stalwart defender of free speech for all, even the unpopular and unsavory, has backed away from the concept, especially when it comes to campus-imposed speech limitations. According to Ben Wizner, head of the ACLU’s free speech project, “At the A.C.L.U., free speech is one of 12 or 15 different values.” This should come as a big surprise to those who long recognized that free speech was the organization’s primary value. With the ACLU largely absent on the issue, a new organization—the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—has emerged, albeit without the ACLU’s long tradition or name recognition. FIRE is needed because, in The New York Times’ characterization, the ACLU is now “AWOL on campus.”
Read it all here.
Stanley Kurtz: Don’t Ban Woke School-Library Books, Balance Them
Colleges and universities are not the only educational institutions where free expression is under assault and the subject of debate. The impact of Critical Race Theory on K-12 education is hotly disputed and rightly so, but some of the responses are problematic in their own way. Stanley Kurtz at National Review addresses the issue of public school libraries and an alternative to outright bans.
Yet a crusade on the rise always risks overreach. Lately, some parents and public officials fighting woke education have considered pulling books from the shelves of public-school libraries. That isn’t always inappropriate, even for strong defenders of free speech. Libraries serving K-12 students legitimately take criteria like age-appropriateness and community standards into account when it comes to explicit sexual material. Because those lines are notoriously difficult to draw, battles over sexually explicit school library books are sure to play out for years.
Bracketing the issue of age-appropriateness and explicit sexual content, however, I want to suggest that the best way to deal with woke school library books is not to ban them, but to balance them. If Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is on your school-library shelf, don’t ban it. Have your library buy a copy of John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, instead. If your school library has a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, have it order a copy of Heather MacDonald’s The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. And so on.
It’s true that a public K-12 school is not a public university. Public universities stock their libraries with books representing multiple points of view. They also grant professors freedom to conduct classes in their areas of expertise as they see fit. All this is on the theory that college students are old enough to choose their schools, their courses, and then decide for themselves the truth or falsity of the various perspectives they encounter. Public K-12 is different. Students are essentially a captive audience, and are young enough to be swayed by teachers who indoctrinate. That is why state laws barring certain content from K-12 teaching are permissible to begin with.
Nevertheless, preparing the young for mature citizenship means exposing them to contrasting perspectives. The pernicious new educational practice of “action civics” allows biased teachers to draft whole classes into after-school political protests for course credit. I’ve argued that instead of forcing students into one-sided after-school political advocacy, schools ought to return to the tradition of high-school debate. That’s where students learn to take both sides of current controversies, which builds respect for all. Ensuring that our K-12 libraries are stocked with books that offer arguments on both sides of our most controversial public-policy issues is very much in the spirit of high-school debate, and entirely appropriate to K-12.
Read the whole thing.
Part of a thread from Acadia University lecturer Jeffrey Sachs on the conservative response to CRT (including a reference to the Stanley Kurtz article above,) with an assist from David French. Click through for the whole thing.
Glenn Greenwald (click through for more) on the left’s selective outrage over free speech:
Finally, Colin Wright on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”: