The recent attacks on renowned Constitutional law scholar Josh Blackman and other scholars speaking on campuses has taken the front pages in the academic freedom debate. When Josh Blackman spoke at St. John’s in Spring 2017 the student body and professors on both sides of the aisle were very receptive to the issues him and Professor Anita Krishnakumar brought up in their debate. I was very surprised at the backlash and disrespect of the students at CUNY during his presentation there this past spring. This encouraged me to research the origins of the academic freedom debate.
William F. Buckley Jr, the great conservative intellectual, published “God and Man at Yale” in 1951 and it discussed the origins of the academic freedom debate that is encountered today in campuses across America. It is uncommon on campuses to have equal time devoted to both sides of the ideological spectrum. In many cases, the voice of conservative thought or commentary is not spoken of or if it is, it is belittled and chastised. This creates an uncomfortable learning environment and fails to provide students with a fulfilling learning experience. I encourage reading this book to learn about the foundations of the problem.
With one side seemingly dominant in many cases, the students are trained to not have an openness of the other perspective. When opportunities are presented to challenge that way of thinking, a certain hostility develops in response, as seen in many examples such as Josh Blackman and Ben Shapiro’s talks on campuses. There are sensationalist outcries without even considering what is presented. This reflects a sad state of America and for the future of higher education if nothing is done to bring reforms.
Buckley takes us to the beginning of the educational breakdown. It began in the philosophy, psychology and sociology departments at institutions of higher education.
This book provides a narrative at Buckley’s personal experience at Yale, first as a student and later as an interested alum concerned about the direction of the school. A common theme across the novel is the attack against religion and freedom of belief across the campuses. It led to a breakdown of values and essentially an indoctrinated mass of young people graduating the schools who would late become leaders in society.
He discusses in his work how many students would enter college with an understanding and appreciation of God in their life, largely from the example of their parents. Upon entering college, however, the students would eventually fall prey to philosophy and social science departments that either did not include religion in any context or at the very least failed to provide equal attention to an understanding of religion and God in several courses where it would have been appropriate. Buckley also cited examples at Yale where some professors would take a hostile approach to religions and mock its influence in society. By silencing voices critical to their perspective, the professors largely hollowed the cause of academic freedom.
Although published in 1951, the trend still continues across campuses today. The student is left in a difficult position, to either stay silent and be intimidated or speak out and risk compromising the final course grade.
Marxism is the main culprit and has spread into many avenues on campuses, from economics departments to english departments and philosophy departments. While students studying or having an understanding of Marxism is not inherently problematic, the problem arises when there is a failure to adequately balance it with equal time to alternate theories such a free-market capitalism or other theories in philosophy that generate different conclusions than Marxism. The student should attend university and be exposed to a balance of theories, not just be viewed as the latest prototype in a larger project to groom the next generation of social activists. This is a disservice to the student in university seeking to attain a full education experience. When intolerance is bred in the classroom with something as basic as theories, it translates into intolerance as professionals.
One of the greatest examples of collaboration between both sides of the aisle on this front is between renowned liberal scholar Cornel West and renowned conservative scholar Robert George. Both of these scholars could not be more different in terms of ideology, yet they both believe in freedom of expression and academic freedom in our institutions of higher learning. If more of this sentiment was reflected on campuses across this nation, we would have a society with a heightened intellect capable of understanding both sides of issues. There would be less intolerance and more professionalism prevalent in society.