Tolerance of opposing viewpoints is being systematically undermined on many American campuses, as recently evidenced by the Fordham University cancellation of a talk by conservative icon Ann Coulter.
How did this situation arise?
Todd J. Zywicki, a George Mason University Professor of Law, takes a look at corporatism at institutions of higher learning and how academics and student liberties are impacted by the needs to properly “brand” schools.
Freedom of speech. The university has betrayed its mission of free thought, inquiry, and speech. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, only a very small number of universities fully protect free speech on campus. Students who swim against the politically correct orthodoxy find themselves routinely harassed and intimidated, providing a signal to other students to self-censor themselves rather than risk being outcast.
Furthermore, the fecklessness of university leadership can be illustrated by a few high-profile examples.
Consider the appalling saga of the Duke lacrosse scandal: a rush to judgment by some faculty, the university president, and a board of trustees that stood aside as the reputations of several Duke students were systematically trashed. Yet despite the debacle Duke’s president remains at the helm (his five-year contract was recently renewed), the bullying faculty members are unaffected and unrepentant, and the board of trustees has never accounted for its misfeasance.
To add a personal note illustrating that it wasn’t only Duke’s administration that allowed Duke students to be trashed, one Dartmouth undergrad joined a “Friends of Duke Lacrosse” site on Facebook. According to the student, Dartmouth’s dean of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership (not to be confused with the school’s Office of Diversity) learned of the student’s action and sent him an email upbraiding him for his lack of sensitivity.
Harvard’s president Lawrence Summers ran afoul of the “PC police” with some remarks given at an academic conference on the supposed underrepresentation of women in academic science and engineering positions. Summers famously refused to attribute the disparity to rampant sexism and discrimination by university faculty (a hypothesis on which I offer no opinion here)—and rarely has any public official received such a firestorm of criticism from a group for not being denounced as sexists. Soon Summers had a full-scale rebellion on his hands (there were other factors at work as well) and the board of the Harvard Corporation soon tossed him overboard.
Nor has Dartmouth (where I was elected as a write-in candidate by the alumni body to the board of trustees and served from 2005-2009) been spared the trend. During the era when Dartmouth was ruled by President James Freedman, the president launched an unprecedented personal attack on the editors of the Dartmouth Review and sought through kangaroo-court student disciplinary proceedings to destroy the students’ academic careers and to silence the independent publication. The board of trustees sat idly by as the president pursued his vendetta, costing the college hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and betraying its core values.