WASHINGTON, March 8, 2018. – Across the country, assaults upon free speech and academic freedom at American Universities are growing dramatically.
Summers, a scholar who has great respect, is known for her criticism of contemporary feminism. Her work includes the books “Who Stole Feminism?” (1994) and “The War Against Boys” (2000). She has written for The New York Times, Time Magazine and The Atlantic.
Law students vocalizing their contempt for free speech
Sign-wielding protestors rushed to the front of the classroom where Summers was attempting to speak and drowned out her talk.
A day earlier, the Portland National Lawyers Guild, Minority Law Students Association, Black Law Students Association, Women’s Law Caucus, Immigrant Student Group, Jewish Law Society, Latino Law Society Outlaw, and Young Democratic Socialists of America, issued a joint statement condemning the Federalist Society for inviting Summers to speak.
If today’s law students have such contempt for free speech, our society is in more trouble than many may imagine.
This coalition of groups identifies Summers as “a known fascist.”
She was able to partially deliver her remarks but she so incensed the crowd that a university dean approached the podium and asked her to quickly wrap things up.
Far from being a “fascist,” Summers’ views, whether or not one agrees with them, are hardly unusual or bigoted in any way. Her positions and writing have been characterized by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “equity feminism,” a classical-liberal or libertarian feminist perspective which
“suggests that the main political role of feminism is to ensure the right against coercive interference is not infringed.”
Summers has contrasted equity feminism with “victim feminism” and “gender feminism,” arguing that modern feminist thought often contains an “irrational hostility to men, and possesses an “inability to take seriously the possibility that the sexes are equal but different.”
The idea that men and women may be “different” is what many of Summers’ critics find most offensive.
Professor John McAdams
Dr. McAdams, a faculty member for more than 30 years, found himself suspended after writing a personal blog post critical of an incident that he viewed as a retreat from the school’s Catholic tradition. He had come to the defense of an undergraduate student who approached the graduate student instructor after a Philosophy of Ethics class.
The student explained that he did not favor same-sex marriage and was dismayed that the teacher had not allowed discussion of a viewpoint questioning same-sex marriage during class.
The instructor, he says, told the student that she considered his opinion “homophobic”and therefore out of bounds.
Viewing this as an attack on academic freedom, Dr. McAdams wrote:
“Like the rest of academia, Marquette is less and less a real university. And when gay marriage cannot be discussed, certainly not a Catholic university.”
The school chose to view this as “harassment” of the graduate student rather than as a defense of the undergraduate student and as advocacy for free discussion at the university. Marquette suspended Dr. McAdams without pay, ordered him to apologize and stripped him of tenure, in violation of his contract in which it promised to respect his “rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
Dr. McAdams’ case is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
McAdam’s is being defended by the Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to religious liberty. Andrew Bath, it’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, says that,
“Dr. McAdams is entitled to express his opinions on matters of public concern in an extracurricular public forum, even if they involve what happens at the university. The right to disagree on matters of public concern is protected by the First Amendment and by academic freedom, which the university agreed to respect in its contract with Dr. McAdams. For the university to punish faculty members…for their speech on public issues…amounts to an exercise in censorship, which contradicts the university’s commitment to academic freedom and violates the clear terms of Dr. McAdams’ employment with Marquette.”
Academic Freedom Challenges Continue
In another case challenging academic freedom, Texas, Arizona and 18 other states have passed legislation against the campaign supported by some critics of Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Groups that support a peaceful boycott, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, compare it to the peaceful boycott against apartheid South Africa and the Montgomery bus boycott.
The American Civil Liberties Union says such advocacy is fully protected by the First Amendment.
Yet, reports the Mondoweiss website, speakers at the University of Houston and Arizona State University were asked to sign a declaration stating that they did not support a boycott of Israel as a condition of being able to speak.
At Arizona State University, the Muslim Student Association had invited Dr. Bazian of the University of California at Berkeley to address them.
Dr. Bazian found a request to disassociate himself from BDS on the forms he was required to sign in advance of his talk on campus. He was unwilling to do so and his talk was canceled.
The Council for American Islamic Relations of Arizona is suing Arizona State University, the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Attorney General over the First Amendment implications of the law.
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, says that the biggest threat to academic freedom comes from students and faculty who believe
“…psychological safety from hearing viewpoints that they disagree with is more important than the ability to articulate arguments or listen to the opposing side in a sober, thoughtful manner. Early on, the great threat to academic freedom perceived by the movers and shakers of higher education was meddlesome trustees, big business and state legislatures who were willing to invade campus with narrow and parochial views and shut down the free speech of academics. Most of us think that is no longer the great danger. The great danger is not coming from outside of the university, but from within it.”
Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley are included in The Foundation For Individual Rights in Education annual list of the ten worst colleges for free speech.
The foundation’s executive director, Robert Shibley, says the students, faculty and administrators are going to:
“greater and greater lengths to justify muzzling expression on campus.This type of censorship makes for a sterile environment where lively debate and discussion can’t thrive.”
Dr. Bret Weinstein
Evergreen State College in the state of Washington made the list after students harassed biology professor Bret Weinstein into teaching off campus out of fear for his safety.
Dr. Weinstein had publicly refused to participate in a “Day of Absence,” in which all white people on campus were asked to leave.
The school ended up paying Weinstein $500,000 in a settlement because he and his wife, also a professor, were not able to return to campus safely.
Nicole Nelly, president of Speech First, has announced that colleges and universities that violate the First Amendment rights of their students may find themselves in court.
She said that colleges have been sending a clear message to students who oppose prevailing orthodoxies, “Shut Up and keep your opinions to yourselves.”
This, she said,
“…is wrong. Censoring speech infringes the rights of students to express their opinions on campus. just as important, it harms the rights of other students to listen to the speech—to challenge, debate and learn from the views of their fellow students.”
Speech First is composed of faculty, students, alumni, parents and concerned citizens. In Nelly’s view,
“Free speech is something that all sides should be concerned about. This is not a partisan issue by any means.”
Let us hope that these assaults upon academic freedom and free speech will produce a backlash, involving liberals, conservatives, and all who value our democratic traditions and the wisdom the Founding Fathers exhibited in crafting the First Amendment.