E-Pluribus | May 25, 2023
Another college president speaks up for free speech; the rehabilitation of diversity; and the insidious authoritarianism of the endless emergency.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Richard Vedder: Collegiate Leadership and Free Expression: Improving?
It’s easy to be pessimistic about the direction of campus free speech, but Richard Vedder at Minding the Campus says there are some silver linings. Vedder points to his alma mater Northwestern University, where the new president has voiced strong support for free expression tempered by appropriate civility.
As the Ivory Tower and the Real World have grown further apart, public support for higher education has plummeted. Typically, markets impose severe costs on private businesses for becoming unpopular (remember Eastman Kodak cameras?), leading to what Joseph Schumpeter aptly called “creative destruction.” In the academy, however, massive government subsidies and private philanthropic support have cushioned colleges and universities from suffering severe financial losses.
There are signs that this is changing. The increasingly dire financial condition of our national government and the weakened political position of progressives in Washington have combined to make these outsized federal higher education subsidies unlikely to continue. Fed-up state legislators, governors, and wealthy alumni, especially in red states, are adding to the pressures on academic administrators.
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[T]his year, Northwestern [University] got a new president, Michael Schill, whose rhetoric on free expression sounds great. He told Northwestern magazine that “Freedom of speech needs to undergird all civil society. And for universities, that’s our bedrock. If you can’t give your views, even if they’re unpopular views … I not sure what value our institutions of higher learning hold at that point. In addition, I will defend freedom of speech with a passion.” To be sure, Schill adds that one should show civility and respect for others as well: “I believe you should be mindful of the way those comments will affect people around you.”
[ . . . ]
Sometimes, frenzied policy fixations rise rapidly before a rapid fall. In the early 1950s, the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy, anti-Communist concerns brought mandatory loyalty oaths to some campuses, but by the late 1950s they were in sharp decline, and McCarthy was literally dead. I am hopeful, even optimistic, that something similar may be happening with DEI on American campuses, and the accompanying decline in civil debate and free expression.
Read it all here.
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Mark Mutz, Richard Gunderman: The Demise of Diversity in College Admissions
The DEI movement has given diversity a bad name, but Mark Mutz and Richard Gunderman write for Heterodox Academy that the right kind of diversity can serve a useful purpose. Diversity is not an end unto itself nor an indication of justice achieved, but particularly in a university setting designed to expose students to a wide range of ideas, appropriate diversity can enhance the learning experience.
Implicit in much of the discussion today is the view that certain levels of diversity mean that justice has been achieved within a community. Severing the link between diversity and justice will require a more explicit focus on justice, that is, what the members of a community owe one another. These are difficult questions that will require careful consideration of empirical data and much practical wisdom. But once the distractions of diversity have been cleared, this is where our attention should be fixed.
Even once diversity has been separated from racial justice, it will still be sought after. In a democratic, pluralistic society like the United States, diversity of certain kinds will still be desirable, and a lack of diversity will continue to raise questions about whether discrimination has occurred. But diminishing diversity’s moral overtones should make it possible for leaders to become more discerning about the purposes for which diversity should be pursued and what kinds and amounts of diversity are likely to further those purposes. For example, if the purpose of diversity in higher education is to promote the discovery of truth, it is questionable whether diversity measured in terms of race and ethnicity is valuable.
At one time, racial and ethnic diversity might have seemed a good proxy for a diversity of viewpoints. But with the social and economic gains that members of racial and ethnic minorities have made and their ascent to leadership positions in society, it is no longer assured that merely being a member of these minority groups means enhanced diversity of views or backgrounds. A variety of institutions will need to evaluate the extent to which diversity furthers their missions. If the purpose of a symphony orchestra is to perform music beautifully, what kinds of diversity, if any, are likely to further it? Likewise, how does diversity enhance a law firm’s efforts to serve its clients and ensure justice?
Because of the conflation of diversity and remedying racial wrongs, many organizations have simply assumed that racial and ethnic diversity will make them better. Once appropriate distinctions are drawn, these organizations will be forced to think more critically about diversity’s role in pursuing their missions.
Read it all.
Jacob Sullum: The Perils of 'Rule by Indefinite Emergency Edict'
In April, I wrote National Emergencies: Necessary Evils or Creeping Authoritarianism? here at Pluribus. Now at Reason, Jacob Sullum comes down largely on the side of the latter option. Give an emergency inch to the government and they will surely take a mile.
[A]s Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch noted last week, "executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale," amounting to one of "the greatest intrusions on civil liberties" in U.S. history. That experience made it clear that legislators needed to reconsider the definition of emergencies and impose limits on the powers they confer.
The context of Gorsuch's comments was a case involving public health orders that allowed immediate expulsion of unauthorized immigrants, including asylum seekers, ostensibly based on the fear that they would exacerbate the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first such order in March 2020, citing the authority granted by 42 USC 265, and the policy was repeatedly extended by the Trump and Biden administrations.
Those Title 42 orders inspired litigation by opponents and supporters, resulting in conflicting district court decisions. Meanwhile, the public health rationale for the orders, never very persuasive, became steadily less credible.
Ultimately, it became clear that maintaining the orders had nothing to do with curtailing the spread of COVID-19. As Gorsuch remarked in December at an earlier stage of this case, "the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis," and "courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency."
Read the whole thing.
Glenn Greenwald thinks Western liberals have come a long way on free speech. The wrong way.
And finally, making stereotypes great again!