Latest News and Commentary: National

May 15, 2021
By Kathy Zonana
Stanford Magazine

Summary: John Etchemendy shakes his head. He unclasps his hands, then clasps them again. “I’m terribly worried,” he finally says. “I think that academia has not been going in a good direction in terms of academic freedom.” After 16 years as provost and four years pursuing his intellectual passions, he can’t shake the concern that the academy is becoming increasingly one-sided and less tolerant of people with different perspectives. And without the ability to pressure-test ideas, the public trust in universities can erode. “You know, up until fairly recently—I think it’s fair to say 10 years ago—support for academia was completely bipartisan,” Etchemendy says. “Science was good. That has completely become a partisan issue.”

During recent campus controversies over science, politics and speech, Etchemendy, PhD ’82, has been the center. Not at the center; literally the center. His fretting over academic freedom might seem esoteric. But what’s at stake is nothing less than the university’s—and, by extension, society’s—ability to search for truth.

May 14, 2021
By Jarrett Stepman
Daily Signal

Summary: Though critical race theory as an academic pursuit began in the 1950s, minority critics of the theory claim that it ultimately seeks to undo the progress of the civil rights era. According to them, critical race theory undermines social unity by convincing a critical mass of Americans that their country is built upon the broken core values of racism and hatred. Some critics even go as far to argue that proponents of critical race theory are deliberately poisoning the well; sowing division and undermining unifying values and principles in order to empower their own ideas and designs.

May 14, 2021
By Jonathan Turley
jonathanturley.org

Summary: The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO), which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Eduction rates as a “red light” school for free speech protections, prohibits any “insulting” or “demeaning” comments by students, staff, or faculty, which includes insults or criticism regarding political views. UWO is a public university, and thus such a policy is unenforceable, but it nevertheless may have a chilling effect on academic freedom. Of greater concern is the uneven application of this type of policy. Insults against right-wing views and firing campaigns against conservative faculty often go ignored, while similar attacks on left-wing thought and faculty often elicit major backlash from fellow faculty or students. Speech policies like UWO’s are not just a failure of free speech principles, they are essentially impossible to carry out fairly. 

May 13, 2021
By Kelly Weill
The Daily Beast

Excerpt: As the Los Alamitos, California Unified School District board convened for a virtual meeting about sensitivity training for teachers, a crowd of protesters gathered outside their vacant offices.

“This is part of a large indoctrination mess that you see going on from the progressive left, from decrepit, corrupt government entities wanting to destroy the family and push the culture of death,” one of the demonstrators, self-described anti-LGBT activist Arthur Schaper, said on a livestream.

Rather than embracing far-left political ideology, the southern California school district was simply voting on whether to approve a modest program of social-justice guidance for teachers. But a series of online rumors alleged that the school was implementing “critical race theory,” an up-and-coming bogeyman on the right. The result: escalating rhetoric around public school board meetings that eventually got so bad that police advised the district to close its meeting to the public on Tuesday, while demonstrators raged outside.

 

May 13, 2021
By David Brooks
The New York Times

Excerpt: My friend Rod Dreher recently had a blog post for The American Conservative called “Why Are Conservatives in Despair?” He explained that conservatives are in despair because a hostile ideology — wokeness or social justice or critical race theory — is sweeping across America.

In the view of not just Dreher but also many others, it divides the world into good and evil based on crude racial categories. It has no faith in persuasion, or open discourse, but it shames and cancels anybody who challenges the official catechism.

I’m less alarmed by all of this because I have more confidence than Dreher and many other conservatives in the American establishment’s ability to co-opt and water down every radical progressive ideology. In the 1960s, left-wing radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism. We ended up with Whole Foods. The co-optation of wokeness seems to be happening right now.

 

May 13, 2021
By Eugene Volokh
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason

Summary: A correspondent of Eugene Volokh, who is a tenured professor at a major public university, called attention to a mandatory online training in which he had to answer the question: “How Common Are False Accusations?” The professor was unable to proceed with the training until he selected the “correct” answer: “rarely.”

While universities are within their rights to require employees to complete trainings and other procedures, this particular training appears to cross a line. None of the answers are quantitatively defined, and this particular question appears to be aimed at enforcing intellectual compliance instead of ensuring that the recipient of the training understands the relevant facts.

Likewise, a professor is within his or her rights to ask a student to report on controversial material taught in class, but not what the student really believes about the controversial subject.

 

May 12, 2021
By Emma Pettit
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: Republican lawmakers have long been frustrated with higher ed’s liberal tilt and its supposed quashing of conservative viewpoints. Now, they’re taking a new tack: Instead of resolutions and bills to protect the speech of visitors on the campus quad, the recent wave of legislation often steps into the classroom to restrict what can be taught. It’s part of a larger battle playing out in state houses, schools, and the media between dueling versions of American history.

While some of the bills have died, Idaho’s is now law. In late April, Gov. Brad Little signed legislation meant to prevent colleges and public schools from compelling students to “affirm, adopt, or adhere” with what the legislature considers critical race theory. Whether or not such a law can be enforced or would hold up in court, experts say it could have a chilling effect, if not cause an outright freeze, on classroom conversations.

 

May 12, 2021
By Jack Miller
Real Clear Public Affairs

Summary: As an increasing number of American students enter college almost completely cemented in the belief that the country and its free-market system are inherently evil, the problem appears to stem from a failure of the country’s school systems to teach a careful, informed reading of the nation’s founding documents. In order to address the problem, the Jack Miller Center and other groups are working to improve the quality of American civic education, and give teachers resources to better teach the history and context of the United States’ foundational ideals.

May 11, 2021
By David Lopez and Kimberly Mutcherson, co-deans of Rutgers Law School
The Washington Post

Excerpt:  As a community, we are learning from the incident in which a White first-year student at Rutgers Law School used the n-word while quoting a legal opinion. We recognize the hurt that the involved students experienced following this incident, and we know that none of the parties acted with any ill intent. This situation raised critical issues about law school pedagogy and provided us with a welcome opportunity to talk as a community of faculty, students, staff and administration committed to anti-racism about productive ways to teach about race in our classrooms.

We are not contemplating policies, rules or speech bans. We have made clear to the Rutgers Law community, including our faculty, that we will not be stifling academic freedom, ignoring the First Amendment or banning words, and we are not seeking to alter existing university policies that protect academic freedom and free speech in the classroom.

 

May 11, 2021
By Jonathan Turley
jonathanturley.org

Excerpt: Mount Allison University Professor Rima Azar feels a strong identification to Canada. Born in Lebanon during a civil war, Azar developed a lasting appreciation for the freedoms of Canada, particularly free speech. An accomplished academic in the field of health psychology, she often discusses her views of political and social issues on her personal blog, Bambi’s Afkar, from her unique perspective. However, she recently ran afoul of an individual who spotted comments denying that Canada is a racist country and criticizing Black Lives Matter as an organization.  The individual compiled an array of what was viewed to be objectionable positions and triggered a movement to have Azar fired. In a direct attack on free speech and academic freedom, the University then suspended Azar without pay.