Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.
CounterCurrent: Week of 12/13
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted a timely event titled What Is To Be Done? Confronting a Culture of Censorship on Campus. The web conference was co-led by the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of Postsecondary Education and featured a full slate of speakers, beginning and ending with Principal Deputy General Counsel Reed Rubinstein.
Rubinstein noted in his opening remarks that, by the time the Iron Curtain fell, communism and its intellectual offshoots were seen as laughably foolish by the vast majority of the American public. The USSR, China, Cuba, and Cambodia were just a few examples of how 20th-century communist regimes went horribly wrong, invariably leading to the death of millions and ruined nations that are still picking up the pieces to this day.
However, despite the obvious and deadly flaws of socialism and communism, there is one place where its proponents remained alive and well: academia. As Thomas Sowell famously said, “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” Well, ignore and evade they did, and now socialism, either in its economic or cultural varieties, dominates most of American higher education.
This, Rubinstein reminded us, has serious consequences. Not only do far-left academics promote these ideologies through their work—they also perceive any and all contrary ideas as a direct threat to their project, and ultimately, the cultural revolution. Rubinstein put it well: “Those who cancel ideas, who burn books, end up canceling people and burning them as well.” Plain and simple. Though many will deny it, today’s so-called “cancel culture” is a direct result of yesterday’s socialist totalitarianism. We may have won World War II, but we are certainly losing the war in our colleges and universities.
Hence the crucial question after which the event was titled: What is to be done? To answer this, ED assembled a series of speakers with firsthand experience of cancel culture, including two of the “cancelees” we’re tracking, Bret Weinstein of the now-infamous Evergreen State protest of 2017 and Joshua Katz, a Princeton classicist who just last summer was maligned by faculty, students, and his own university president after speaking out against the school’s so-called “anti-racism” initiative.
Both of these speakers and several others essentially had the same message: “Be courageous. Do not allow yourself to be silenced. We will only win this battle if we stand together.” While these are indeed vital sentiments, they seem a bit nebulous in practice, particularly for those un-tenured faculty members who feel that they need to walk on eggshells in order to advance their careers. Can anything be done for them, or must they simply choose between hiding and risking it all?
In his speech, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Robert King put forward one counter-cancel culture measure: the Free Speech Hotline. The hotline, which can be reached at [email protected], exists for reporting first amendment violations in higher education. Secretary King assured that all complaints will be reviewed, and that ED will open investigations when appropriate. The Department is already investigating the cases of two of our cancelees, Norman C. Wang of the University of Pittsburgh and Stephen Hsu of Michigan State.
Cancel culture must be stopped before it is too late, and the Free Speech Hotline is an excellent start. Will the Executive Order which establishes the hotline be reversed when Joe Biden takes office? Probably. But Biden, Harris, and the next Department of Education will have to answer for why they will turn a blind eye to free speech violations in our colleges and universities. To allow the problem to fester is no solution.
For now, we encourage you to use the hotline and hold your institutions accountable if you or a colleague experiences censorship on campus. And I commend the full ED webinar to your viewing—my own descriptions of the speeches can only go so far. I encourage you to hear these stories for yourself.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.
Image: LearningLark, Public Domain