Charting Academic Freedom: 103 Years of Debate is a Great Resource for Anyone Concerned with Preserving Free Speech on Campus
In a landmark report, the National Association of Scholars charts the decline in academic freedom on American college campuses from 1915 to present.
The report compiles historically significant statements by universities, key legal decisions, landmark events, and important scholarly works about academic freedom, and organizes them into an easily-understandable series of charts. As such, it is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to better understand the debate over academic freedom, and the historical distinction between academic freedom and free speech.
The report’s authors note that free speech is threatened on college campuses today, and the main reason for this is that college administrations are increasingly staffed by left-wing activists:
America faces a growing crisis about who can say what on our college campuses. At root this is a crisis of authority. In recent decades university administrators, professors, and student activists have quietly excluded more and more voices from the exchange of views on campus. This has taken shape in several ways, not all of which are reducible to violations of “academic freedom.” The narrowing of campus debate by de-selection of conservatives from faculty positions, for example, is not directly a question of academic freedom though it has proven to have dire consequences in various fields where professors have severely limited the range of ideas they present in courses. . .
This is the situation that confronts us today. Decades of progressive orthodoxy in hiring, textbooks, syllabi, student affairs, and public events have created campus cultures where legitimate intellectual debates are stifled and where dissenters, when they do venture forth, are often met with censorious and sometimes violent responses. Student mobs, egged on by professors and administrators, now sometimes riot to prevent such dissent. The idea of “safe spaces” and a new view of academic freedom as a threat to the psychological wellbeing of disadvantaged minorities have gained astonishing popularity among students.
Sadly, the report is quite correct both in noting that the decline in academic freedom and free speech is part of a broader historical trend, and in acknowledging the plight of conservatives on campus today—in America and abroad.
For example, the struggle of Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, against far-left transsexual activists calling for his resignation made international headlines, and turned Peterson into a reluctant celebrity:
And who could forget the Berkeley riots in 2017, where far left “Antifa” rioters shut down the university in an attempt to silence conservative speakers? This led to violent clashes between Antifa and those defending academic freedom and free speech:
Thankfully the tide seems to be turning: Americans, perhaps more than ever, are waking up to the fact that free speech is fragile and needs to be protected.
A recent poll found that 85 percent of Americans value free speech over political correctness, and 73 percent agree with Voltaire’s famous maxim: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Of course, it’s far easier to voice your opinion to a pollster in the comfort of your own home than it is to take meaningful action—but the numbers are promising.
If you’re interested in preserving academic freedom on campus, the report also aggregates other helpful resources and organizations, like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Spotlight Speech Codes Database and the Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges.