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.