Close by the editorial staff
The editorial office
Mar 9, 2021 6:48 PM ET
People walk through the Princeton University campus in New Jersey on April 5, 2018.
Seth Wenig / Associated Press
Having communities call private firefighters is not a sign of good fire management, and it is not a sign of health in American higher education that organizations defending academic freedom are proliferating.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has grown rapidly in recent years as threats to freedoms on campus increase. The Heterodox Academy was established in 2015 to promote diversity of opinion in the progressively dominated social sciences. This week comes the Academic Freedom Alliance, a cross-minded group of scholars whose goal is to defend the rights of faculty members to engage in unpopular speeches and advocacy.
The group that was announced on Monday says on theirs website “Our members will defend the freedom of thought and expression of faculty members in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens.” Some of the 200 members have written for these sites, including political scientists Keith Whittington and Carol Swain and economist Luigi Zingales.
The group is also advised by trial lawyers such as First Amendment liberal expert Floyd Abrams and prominent Conservative appellate attorney Paul Clement. “The AFA will help provide legal support to the faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by violations by institutions or officials of constitutional, legal, contractual or educational rights,” it says on its website.
The final year of the pandemic, stalemate and political upheaval has resulted in an alarming decline in political tolerance, not least on campus. Princeton faculty sponsored a petition calling for a “committee” to oversee “the investigation and discipline” of scholarships deemed to be racist. The Stanford Faculty Senate passed a resolution essentially censoring Scott Atlas, a former coronavirus adviser to the White House, for political positions. The pressure on academics to withdraw politically unpopular papers has increased. including A Science of Science study of mentoring women by three NYU-affiliated researchers.
The AFA could give institutional weight and prestige to the old-fashioned view that society is served by free inquiry, rather than political control, of science. Efforts may seem hopeless in the short term, but critics outside the academy should support those who are working to reform from within.
Wonderland: The collapse of the liberal elite under a left offensive has been underway since the “Summer of Love”. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
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Published in the print edition on March 10, 2021.