April 25 2014

The Closing of the Academic Mind

Charlotte Hays

Lead of the Day:

From Brandeis on the Atlantic to Azusa on the Pacific, an iron curtain has descended across academia.

--Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard

That’s Kristol’s lead to a piece on “The Closing of the Academic Mind.”  It of course echoes Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech, and is triggered by two recent examples of liberal thought police stopping genuine intellectual diversity on campus.

We’ve written about Brandeis’s cowardly decision to appease the forces of Islamic extremism and political correctness by cancelling a speech and plans to confer an honorary degree on the courageous human rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali (here, here, and here).

The second incident is the cancellation of a speech that was to have been delivered at Azusa Pacific University by libertarian scholar Charles Murray. It was felt that Murray’s presence might offend some students. In an open letter to the students of Azusa, Murray wrote:

You’re at college, right? Being at college is supposed to mean thinking for yourselves, right? Okay, then do it. Don’t be satisfied with links to websites that specialize in libeling people. Lose the secondary sources. Explore for yourself the “full range” of my scholarship and find out what it is that I’ve written or said that would hurt your faculty or students of color. It’s not hard. In fact, you can do it without moving from your chair if you’re in front of your computer. …

The task of the scholar is to present a case for his or her position based on evidence and logic. Another task of the scholar is to do so in a way that invites everybody into the discussion rather than demonize those who disagree. Try to find anything under my name that is not written in that spirit. Try to find even a paragraph that is written in anger, takes a cheap shot, or attacks women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else….

Azusa Pacific’s administration wants to protect you from earnest and nerdy old guys who have opinions that some of your faculty do not share. Ask if this is why you’re getting a college education.

 While Azusa refused to host Murray on campus, the modern university does protect some people who have—uh—interesting ideas. The cancellation of the Murray speech wasn’t the only notable event that day in academia:

The same day, at Eastern Connecticut State University, a professor told his creative writing class that Republicans are “racist, misogynist, money-grubbing people” who “want things to go back—not to 1955, but to 1855,” and that “colleges will start closing up” if the GOP takes control of the Senate this November. If only!

“Our faculty has academic freedom to conduct their classes in whatever way they choose, this is not a university matter,” a university spokesman said regarding the professor and his rant.

The always optimistic Kristol concludes , however, that, depressing as the modern campus is when it comes to allowing diversity of ideas, all is not lost:

But there is an alternative to Liberal Orthodoxy. It is liberal education. Liberal education can be pursued today, as it has been for most of history, outside the official “educational” institutions of the society. Those institutions have embraced their closed-mindedness. But that doesn’t mean the American mind has to close.

There is a great country out there beyond academe. In it, free speech can be defended and real education can be supported. Liberal education can be fostered even if the academy has become illiberal. The fact that our colleges and universities have betrayed the cause of liberal education means the rest of us have the grave responsibility—but also the golden opportunity and the distinct honor—to defend and advance it.

 

 

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