Academic Freedom Under Assault—By the Academy

It’s increasingly clear that attacks on academic freedom from within the academy are only growing. I was recently invited to give two major speeches on the subject, one on academic freedom as such, the other more broadly on tolerance in a free society. And just a week ago I blogged here on the breaking news about the uproar at George Mason University over the GMU administration’s decision to rename its law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Just yesterday the Manhattan Institute and Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley recounted in the Journal his recent “disinvitation” to speak at Virginia Tech. It seems that faculty members were “concerned” that Riley’s writings on race in the Journal “would spark protests.” On today’s campus, we can’t have those—unless, of course, they’re politically correct protests, as at GMU. There, the protest only grows, with a lengthy report about it in today’s Washington Post and a sharp op-ed against the uproar in today’s Journal by GMU law professor Lloyd Cohen.

As Prof. Cohen outlines developments there, they arose from the university’s announcement in late March of a $10 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to expand law-school scholarships and $20 million from an anonymous donor to rename the law school in honor of Justice Scalia. In response, “a vocal group of professors, none of whom teaches at the law school itself, is now attempting to convince the university administration and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to reject the grant and abandon the school’s new name.” In late April the faculty senate passed a condemnation resolution. And just yesterday it voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution to delay any changes in the law school’s name.

In opposing the resolution, Prof. Cohen took the gloves off at the meeting—where, he reports, “several of my faculty colleagues interrupted me by calling for me to be prevented from speaking, a sad commentary on their tolerance for open debate and intellectual inquiry.” It’s worth citing in full the portion of his remarks that the Post highlights:

Consider the irony of this body’s proposed resolution: In purporting to take a stand in favor of academic freedom this body would adopt a statement that constitutes one of the most egregious attacks on academic freedom not only in the history of this university but in higher education in this country.

This body is prepared to accuse the faculty and administration of the school of law of selling out its integrity, independence, and academic values for a pottage — all while hiding under the gutless guise of expressing “concerns” about public perceptions and other weasel words designed to disguise what this really is — an unprecedented assault on the academic freedom of one unit of this university by a mob of faculty from the rest of the university.

And let’s not kid ourselves — the whole world knows what is going on here. If this were a gift from George Soros to create the Harry Blackman Law School we would not be here today.

The political agenda of this body is transparent.

And it is the transparency of this political agenda to attack academic freedom cloaked in the garb of a purported defense of academic freedom that leads me to call on every Senator to think about the principle that you would be voting for today if you go along with this statement.

Indeed, if this assault is in the name of defending academic freedom, then that concept has lost all meaning.