Academic freedom: professors must unite against students

Recent events at Yale confirm my suspicion that universities are oppressively Leftist places not because of professors but because of students.  The university’s initial warning against “insensitive” Halloween costumes was silly but harmless; it was then criticized as such by another professor, but it was only when some students got wind of the fact that someone on campus was defending freedom of expression that the freakout began.

I joined the faculty at my university in 2010, a time of significant financial strain in higher education.  Departments were told to cut their budgets by 5-10% years in a row.  I remember one time talking with another professor about the likely effects of the most recent round of budget cuts.  His concern was that with declining state funds, a larger percentage of the university’s income was coming from tuition, and once tuition became a clear majority of the funding the dynamics of the university would be ruined:  we would become employees of the students.  This seemed like a strange worry to me at the time–shouldn’t we be at the service of our students?–but although the older professor was more liberal than me in the ordinary political ways, he had thought things through from a more properly reactionary perspective than I had.  Society is not a social contract; the sovereign’s duty is to his subjects’ good, but he is not under their authority.   His master is God.  The university is not a business; the faculty’s duty is to our students’ good, but we are not their servants, and they are not our customers.  Our master is truth.

In previous discussions of academic freedom, JMSmith, Bruce Charlton, and I pointed out that the freedom in question has always been understood as the autonomy of the academic guild against interference by some outside force like the Church or the state.  It has little to do with the freedom of individual scholars against their peers, even though it is often formulated so as to seem to be about this.  In other words, “academic freedom” is the defense of a particular authority, which makes it easier for me as a reactionary to get behind it.  It also seems that to effectively mobilize the faculty to defend their authority, the outside subversive threat must be identified and acknowledged.

Today, the main threat to academic freedom on campus is the students.  Not all or even most of them, of course.  There is a vast silent majority that just wants to learn and/or be credentialed.  That silent majority doesn’t matter, though.  When a howling mob of grievance majors comes for your scalp, none of the students who appreciate the time you put into constructing lectures, helping them during office hours, etc. is going to be there to defend you.  What matters is the howling mob.  They are now the most feared and most powerful force on campus.  Now they even dare to challenge us, we the professors who should be their masters!  With impunity they attempt to intimidate some of our own number, demanding apologies, demanding resignations.

My fellow professors, for a thousand years, we have ruthlessly advanced our dominion over the university system, fighting off all rivals to our power and prestige.  And right we were to have done so, because authority’s first duty is always to preserve itself.  Today, a new rival has arisen from among our own students.  While they are certainly terrifying, we should not quit the field of battle yet.  They are demos, we are logos.  The university is just a circus unless we’re in charge.   Really, there is no reason we should tolerate mobs at all.  This is not free inquiry or individual expression.  When a mob forms around an isolated target and starts shouting or chanting, this is an attempt at intimidation, pure and simple.  Protests should never be allowed on campus, not even “peaceful” ones, because to gather a large crowd of impassioned youth simply is to threaten violence.   Anyone caught at one should be immediately expelled.  Anyone disrupting class should be expelled.  Anyone caught faking a hate crime should be expelled.

On paper, the position of the faculty is still formidable.  If it weren’t for a party of Populares from within the ranks of the faculty itself, we could perhaps have already neutralized the threat.  Then again, on paper, the position of the pope and episcopate in the Catholic Church is formidable.  On paper, they control everything.  However, having allowed themselves to be subverted from below, these official princes of the Church are utterly impotent.  The university is not nearly so far gone as the Catholic Church.  We are still in many ways a functioning hierarchical society.  Unlike the clergy of the Church, the professorate still inspires both admiration and fear.  Whereas the homily in an average parish will have little relationship to official Catholicism, a lecture in a calculus class still at this late date will be a close match to “official” calculus.  But the example of Catholicism shows how quickly a hierarchical society can be subverted.  Come, professors, you don’t want us to end up as miserable as priests, the academy as trashed by Leftist acting out as the Catholic Church, do you?

22 Responses

  1. I still think you’re letting academia as a whole off the hook a bit too easily for this sort of campus leftism – the folks making up the mob are regurgitating general attitudes and specific talking points that were cooked up by tenured professors at some other university teaching in a field with a name that ends in “studies”.

    Even the less noticeable dorks petitioning the residence life department (or whatever your university calls the department that runs the dorms) for “gender neutral” (read: mixed-sex within both floors and rooms) “housing” (read: dorms) and similar juvenile fantasies sometimes made reality by incompetent, cowardly or sympathetic administrators aren’t coming up with these ideas themselves.

  2. Watching the video of the showdown on the quad at Silliman College, I was struck by the young woman’s insistence that she had a right to feel that the college was her “home.” The college should have told her that any student who wished to be at home was welcome to go home.

    Christians and conservatives can take ironic satisfaction in all of this, since universities have for years been telling us that it was their duty to challenge our beliefs and take us out of our comfort zone. They called that “free speech,” too, and there was very little a Christian or conservative student could do when being freely spoken to by his professors. In the university view of things, he was a hick who deserved whatever “free speech” might come his way. It is wonderful to see the university (in the person of Professor Cristakis) paralyzed by complaints coming from a direction against which they are utterly defenseless.

    Just for fun, imagine a world where every boorish remark by a tenured atheist could be parlayed into a couple of new faculty positions in orthodox theology, or perhaps a shiny new Christian Student Union. Alternate reality, I know.

  3. Professors don’t believe in their own authority.

  4. Looks to me like the conflict is the diversity-complex versus the rest of the college, not students versus professors. I’m betting that most students do not care about this issue, and would rather the protestors just go away. Furthermore, if it was a group of Catholic students protesting some anti-Christian Halloween costume, I’d bet dollars to donuts that neither the university nor anyone else would pay any attention.

    Universities have a vast number of diversity officials and organizations. These organizations need to justify their own existence, so they have to keep saying what a hard place college is for minorities, they have to say that minorities need a cultural organization and attentive officials in order to have their voices heard. As the number of real, objectionable offenses decline, trivial offenses must be trumped up and exaggerated.

    The top officials live in fear of offending this diversity-complex, and thus apologize and capitulate at every turn. The official ideology is that “offensive behavior” is whatever emotionally riles up diverse students — they are the judges of their own case. Who are we to deny their emotions, to deny what hurts them? This only encourages cry-bullying/offense-bullying. Nobody can tell the girl screaming at the professor in that video, “If you are offended by the video, the problem is with you, not with us.” What you condone, you get more of.

    The question is: how do you shut down a diversity-complex that has no further reason for existing?

  5. Some good ideas here – but it surely can’t be right to say that an institution funded by student fees is therefore an institution run by the students – the faculty of prestigious private colleges have usually had far more autonomy that the faculty of state funded institutions.

    I think there are new factors at work – or at least factors that were new back in the mid 1960s. I think there are several interlocking factors –

    1. The mass media. Campus protests are invisible and ineffective except for media coverage. The reason the administration are afraid to suppress them is media coverage. This goes back to the mid 60s when the media would always take the protesters’ side. Media images of the 60s are often romantic, glamorized pictures of protesters handsomely posing throwing cobblestones, prettily posing with flowers, or pitifully suffering from unjustified violence and so on…

    2. Fifth columnist revolutionaries in key faculty and administrative positions – lots of them – enemies of academic freedom on both sides.

    3. Bureaucracy. Lack of personal authority and responsibility. All significant decisions are made by committees – and any individual who makes a tough but correct long-termist decision will likely be overridden by a committee voting it down because of the short term problems it causes.

    4. General cowardice and careerism everywhere – especially among the administration and faculty – ultimately traceable to the nihilism, alienation and despair caused by secularization. So people don’t want the right thing enough to suffer anything for it, if there seems an easier way out.

    5. Feminization. This is how feminized institutions always are.

    There’s probably more – which is why this is an almost insoluble problem. With higher education institutions, it’s a case of rip it up and start again – the majority of bad mediocre incompetent people (increasingly appointed since the 60s) is so large that it cannot be overturned by the handful of good ones.

  6. The question is: how do you shut down a diversity-complex that has no further reason for existing?

    There will always be a state religion. The only question is which religion will it be?

    Our current state religion is so demented that it will surely be swept away before too long. I’m not especially sanguine about the next one, however. In Europe, it will likely be Islam. In the US, it will likely be whatever the Nazis choose to call whatever they set up.

  7. Well, somebody has to pay the bills and salaries of the university, either student or State. Is there any particular reason why State would be a better master than students? Students have their interests in pursing knowledge directly aligned with their professors. Further, today student activists are bad, but Obama’s Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has been extremely aggressive in pushing for new campus sex policies and infringing on academic freedom.

    Is there anything so bad about expecting student tuition to be the main source of revenue for a school? That was how the medieval universities operated.

  8. Aren’t some of these student groups organized by and both openly and implicitly encouraged by some professors.

  9. I have no evidence whatsoever for this, but based on history, it would be unsurprising if there were agents provocateurs on campus.

  10. “Well, somebody has to pay the bills and salaries of the university, either student or State”

    What about billionaires and tax exempt foundations!

  11. I’m farther along in my academic career than Bonald seems to be, and one thing I have noticed is that faculty at an R1 university are deeply committed to merit — you may not always agree with their standards of merit, but I think the fact that value merit highly is a conservative tendency. My fellow faculty members give lip service to diversity, but for anything that really matters, merit wins out every time. The administration is a different matter…

  12. A lot of this stuff is driven by a small minority of students. Activists took over the TA union and made transgender bathrooms their top priority in negotiations with the administration.

  13. Sounds to me like a problem that could be fixed with a few judicious nightsticks to the teeth. Deus Vult.

  14. Josh–

    Agent provocateurs contra whom?

  15. Touche. More specifically, I mean that there might be paid clandestine agents trying to conjure and direct these mobs for strategic ends that they, or their employers, are consciously aware differ from the ends of the mob proper.

    Or to put it more simply, maybe its all a CIA black-op or something. who knows? It seems like the entire 20th century was basically a social engineering experiment that nobody told us about.

  16. Spot the patterns between these controversies and USG’s strategy for French minorities:

  17. This kind of thing reeks of deliberate misdirection by the financial elite and government agencies.

    Much like the sudden promotion of gay rights following Occupy, which did – so very, very rarely does anything – spook them.

  18. I think Bonald’s thesis that the students are the ultimate threat is basically correct.

    In How Should We Then Live, Francis Schaeffe, said that the 60’s campus radicals did something the professors never did, and actually applied their revolutionary rhetoric. The professors were relatively comfortable and bourgeois, whereas the students were young and idealistic. Having nothing to lose, they put the radical ideas into action.

    Then there is the fact that the campus radicalism is always carried out on behalf of the students. As Lawrence Auster pointed out, the basic liberal morality play sees virtuous women, nonwhites, homosexuals, non-Christians, foreigners and so on set upon by dastardly men, whites, heterosexuals, et al, requiring salvation by virtuous liberals. In this scenario, the student is the virtuous victim, and liberalism’s dirty work is carried out in the name of saving him.

    If, then, the students were to repudiate their victim status, or refuse to act the part of the storm troopers of the left, the campus threat would largely be neutralized.

  19. In the above comment, it should say Francis Schaeffer.

  20. […] In light of the latest round of hysteria unleashed on college campuses, Bonald has a superb essay on Academic Freedom. […]

  21. Re: social change being caused by students.

    Student social change leaders and movements are backed by the Ford Foundation, which trains and promotes them, funds them strategically, and integrates them into their networks.

  22. […] In response to the student mobs intimidating faculty at Yale, I wrote […]

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