May 12 2014
The trend at colleges and universities to refuse to allow speakers who disagree with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy to deliver commencement addresses seemed particularly evident this year.
The remarkable Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born advocate for women’s rights in Islamic societies and a former member of the Dutch parliament, was invited and then disinvited by Brandeis University. Libertarian scholar Charles Murray faced the same fate at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college. Meanwhile, former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice announced that she would not speak at Rutgers after the university erupted in protests.
What gives? Wasn’t the university supposed to be a place for the exchange of ideas? The scholar and Harvard professor Ruth Wisse explains what is behind the politicization of the university this morning in the Wall Street Journal:
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail. …
Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.
Wisse writes about the depressing “ideological hegemony” that prevails on American campuses, where students who “admit no legitimate opposition to their ideas” feel free to shut down debate.
Wisse, who sees the fruits of this university culture in contemporary Washington, urges students who want intellectual diversity to fight back:
So far the university culture has not been able to destroy the two-party system, but its influence on the current administration in Washington gives some sense of what may lie ahead unless small "d" democrats—which these days means mostly conservatives—begin to take back the campus. Through patient but persistent means, they ought to help students introduce speakers, debates, demands for courses and all the intellectual firepower they can muster in favor of American exceptionalism, the moral advantages of a free economy and the need to protect democracy from enemies we are not afraid to name.
In short, let the university become as contentious as Congress. In Nigeria, Islamists think nothing of seizing hundreds of schoolgirls for the crime of aspiring to an education. Here in the United States, the educated class thinks nothing of denying an honorary degree to a fearless Muslim woman who at peril of her life, and in the name of liberal democracy, has insisted on exposing such outrages to the light. The struggle for freedom is universal; would that our universities were on its side.
It strikes me that, while academia has been left-leaning for some time now, what Wisse has described is utter transformation in academia. This new, closed minded academia is wildly at variance with the western idea of the university. It is time for students who support intellectual freedom to fight to bring to campuses speakers who traffic in what are now considered dissident ideas.