Don’t Tread on Me

Carol Iannone

In his Second Inaugural Address, President George W. Bush declared that “freedom is the permanent hope of mankind,” and, moreover, that “the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul.”1 But can we speak of freedom without defining and contextualizing it? There are many types of freedoms and many different conceptions of what freedom might entail and many cultures in which freedom must find its place and take its form. The volatile incidents occurring on college campuses starting in the autumn of 2015, in which students protested invitations to certain speakers, demanded the silencing of certain subjects, and sought “safe spaces” where they could be protected from “microaggressions,” could be seen as springing from a desire for freedom—freedom from what is unpleasant or offensive. The application of Title IX to sexual assault in the college setting could also be seen as done in the name of freedom, in that the presumed victims of such harassment are in theory being denied their right to enjoy the freedom of an equal education.

When reproached for violating the freedom of speech of those with whom they disagree and whom they seek to silence, some of the protesters in the recent campus upheavals responded by insisting that they themselves were exercising their own freedom of speech. Has no one told them that freedom of speech applies only when it is reciprocal, that is, if we don’t respect the rights of others to express their views and opinions, what we are doing is not exercising our freedom of speech but asserting our will to power? And, indeed, given the lists of demands these protesting students have presented to their universities, entailing millions of dollars to further what they believe are minority interests on campus—most of which have been granted by cowed administrators, by the way—one can only conclude that the lessons being taught and learned are about the assertion of power and not the expression of freedom. Are those who desire freedom willing to grant others their right to exercise freedom? That is the question, more than the hope or call of freedom itself.

The recent, often racially tinged events at such earnestly integrated campuses as University of Missouri and Yale may seem all the more puzzling since we have been told that this generation of young people is quite comfortable with racial diversity and multiculturalism. One suspects that common courtesy has been jettisoned along with so much other traditional wisdom in the establishment of the counterculture. It is not just potentially racist or insensitive remarks that are the target of protest, however, but any view that runs contrary to the current progressive diversity agenda, no matter how well argued or evidenced. In a major document already posted on the NAS website, which we publish here For the Record, “The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom: A Statement of the National Association of Scholars,” Peter Wood takes a step back to consider the issue of freedom on campus today from its foundations and on the basis of first principles. He makes vital distinctions among the separate demands and domains of freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, and academic freedom. As Wood asserts,

[W]e are concerned about the recent emergence of versions of academic freedom that conflate it with intellectual freedom—and sometimes conflate both academic and intellectual freedom with First Amendment freedoms. This blurring of key distinctions puts all three at risk. Universities are not places where anything can be said anywhere and at any time. They are places where the truth is pursued by disciplined means, where a hierarchy of knowledge prevails, and where intellectual authority is maintained. These matters are sometimes rhetorically downplayed but in practice they are rigorously upheld.

Once we establish the idea of freedom with more specificity, subtlety, and nuance, the rest of our articles in this issue represent “Infringements,” one or another type of the violations and encroachments on free inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom to teach, and freedom to learn that have been the concern of the National Association of Scholars from its inception.

John Agresto takes on “Snowflakes and Stormtroopers,” his terms for the current brand of campus radical, the “cry bullies,” so sensitive to any affront and yet so vicious in demanding their own way. Agresto drily notes that “the regime of contemporary multiculturalism and diversity” has unfortunately failed to bring about the “enhanced classroom dialogue” that the Supreme Court promised in a recent decision, or, we might add, that Justice Powell envisioned when he started the quest for “diversity” in his Bakke opinion so many years ago. Perhaps surprisingly, Agresto finds the current crop of campus protesters to be

considerably more ferocious—and more radical—than those of the 1960s and 1970s. They seek not to marginalize but to eliminate. Any attempt to consider multiple points of view on serious issues in the humanities or the social sciences now risks being labeled as aggression and offense. Where true liberal diversity once sought to recognize and understand points of view different, indeed contrary, to our own, obedience to this new brand of “diversity” demands silence and recantation.

But this tyrannical aggression can be successfully opposed. In “The Wisconsin Fight for Academic Freedom,” two professors and NAS members from the University of Wisconsin tell an edifying tale of successful defense of freedom at their school. Donald A. Downs and Stanley G. Payne describe how professors of all political stripes came together on the Madison campus as the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights to fight back against career-damaging political correctness and efforts to criminalize free speech there in the 1990s.

Echoing John Agresto’s title is Russell K. Nieli’s “Snowflake Jacobins: Black Rage on Campus,” in which the author explains the recent campus outbursts as rising from several sources, among them the affirmative action that has placed black students in academic environments for which they are not fully prepared. Nieli argues:

[W]hen angry black students demand the creation of “safe spaces” where they can be alone together, shielded from the condescending gaze of better prepared whites and Asians; when they demand mandatory “sensitivity training” for all university faculty and staff, and mandatory courses for fellow students on the history and travails of “marginalized people”; and when they demand the hiring of more black faculty and administrators, what they are actually doing is giving voice to the very real pain, alienation, and sense of “not belonging” they experience (but do not fully understand) that is a result of academic mismatching.

We’ve all heard the phrase “moral panic” but Matthew Stewart informs us that it is one of the most significant sociological formulations of the past century. Recent studies reporting that one in four or one in five women has experienced sexual assault on campus have been exposed as faulty and wildly inaccurate. Yet with many young men being accused and punished for sexual transgressions without benefit of due process or even elemental fair treatment, the campus rape crisis, so-called, would seem an ideal candidate for analysis as yet another “moral panic.” Stewart asks why sociologists have so far failed to make this connection in “The Campus ‘Rape Crisis’ as Moral Panic.”

Education expert Sandra Stotsky has long claimed that the shift away from literature to “informational reading” associated with the rise of the Common Core State Standards is highly detrimental to the development of basic reading ability in young people. In “What American Kids Are Reading Now,” Stotsky illustrates how the content-specific and even specialized vocabulary of informational reading works against the development of broader reading skill and vocabulary formation.

Daniel Subotnik details “How Diversity Training Hurts.” Such training as typically executed on campus today presents a clear violation of the crucial reciprocity entailed in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms. “In fact, diversity training is explicitly a one-way street,” he writes. “The emphasis rests on the perceived needs of ‘diverse others,’ about which whites must be educated.”

In “Duplicity at an Early Age: Jonathan Kozol’s Career,” Jeff Zorn exposes the corrosive effect on lower education and on teacher education of Kozol’s brand of anti-establishment theorizing. “When Kozol’s Death at an Early Age came out I, a college senior, fell for it and changed career plans accordingly,” Zorn recounts. “Later it dawned on me: Kozol had played me for a fool. Less than a decade before his brief teaching tenure, I had attended the Boston elementary schools he pilloried and knew they did not ‘guarantee’ failure for students.” Aside from exposing the flaws and fallacies of Kozol’s iconic first book, Zorn ices the cake by describing his own effective, efficacious early education in precisely the kind of school and in the same general geographical area as the schools that Kozol excoriates.

David Solway, a previous poetry contributor, supplies two new provocative poems that invite contemplation: “On Reading Harry Potter” and “Asemia.”

Michael Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, a jaunty analysis of the Frankfurt scholars who brought postmodern critical theory to America, gives reviewer Mary Grabar a chance to consider the feminist concept of “female empowerment,” while Edward Peter Stringham’s Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life gives reviewer Mitchell Langbert a chance to revisit some connections between private moral behavior and the rise of bureaucratic regulations on campus today.

To top off this issue, something we hope to have more of in future, a photograph, “to provoke thought and generate critical thinking,” as photographer Glenn Showalter puts it, plus Peter Wood’s latest installment of Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest.

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