Taking the Fight to Higher Ed Leadership

David Acevedo

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 8/2

While the start of the fall semester fast approaches, cancel culture has continued apace without a summer break. The National Association of Scholars’ most recent count lists 54 cases of academic cancellations, out of which 23 occurred in the last six months. NAS is tracking academic cancellations here. The rate of cancellation, as well as the scope of ideological infractions that prompt it, have both increased dramatically these last few months.

We have reached a point where, in the vast majority of colleges and universities, any professor, administrator, or student who expresses a viewpoint outside of radical progressive orthodoxy is immediately at risk of retaliation. Some get off relatively easy, surviving a failed petition for termination and brushing off the inevitable scowls from colleagues and students. Others are not so lucky and suffer a permanently damaged career, suspension, or even firing for their heterodox beliefs. 

But beyond logging cases, what can be done to defend academic freedom in higher education amid its many threats? Colleges and universities have repeatedly proven themselves unworthy of the task among the student body and professoriate—it’s time for others to step in.

One viable avenue is individual advocacy. After punishment, cancelees rarely have the opportunity to fight back—many are at-will employees and therefore lack the ability to pursue legal recourse. Even if they could, colleges and universities can almost always out-lawyer any professor. But what about direct pressure from concerned scholars and administrators?

For years, NAS President Peter Wood has sent letters to college administration on behalf of besieged academics. In this week’s featured articles, Dr. Wood writes to four higher ed executive administrators who have done nothing to prevent, or have actively participated in, a faculty member’s cancellation. We seek to expose the schools’ and administrators’ malfeasance. Here are the cases:

Kathleen Lowrey - University of Alberta: Dr. Lowrey, a professor of anthropology is a self-described "gender-critical feminist," that is, she does not view biological sex as irrelevant to women's issues as some segments of the LGBTQ movement do. She expressed these views in one of her classes, provoking the ire of her students and colleagues. She has since been terminated, claiming that the university’s decision was based on these views. 

In response, Dr. Wood wrote this letter to Steve Patten, Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta.

William A. Jacobson - Cornell Law School: Professor Jacobson has run a popular conservative blog, Legal Insurrection, since 2008. During the racialist riots following the killing of George Floyd, Jacobson published two articles criticizing the Black Lives Matter organization. Students promptly created a petition for his termination. Cornell Law School issued its own statement denouncing Jacobson.

In response, Dr. Wood wrote this letter to Eduardo M. Peñalver, Dean of Cornell Law School.

David B. Porter - Berea College: Dr. Porter’s case is one of the most absurd. His crime? He dared to develop a survey to gauge views on academic freedom and hostile environments while teaching a course on industrial and organizational psychology. That’s it. The school’s response? Suspension and subsequent termination. 

In response, Dr. Wood wrote this letter to Lyle D. Roelofs, President of Berea College.

Tomáš Hudlický - Brock University: Professor Hudlický's essay "Organic synthesis — Where now?" was published by the prestigious German chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. In it, Hudlický expresses reservations about preferential hiring on the basis of race and sex in his field. Within a few hours, it became viral on chemistry Twitter. Angewandte removed the article, suspended the two editors who approved it, and denounced Professor Hudlický. Hudlický’s own statement can be found here.

In response, Dr. Wood wrote this letter to Lynn Wells, Provost at Brock University.

He writes in the letters:

Colleges and universities these days sometimes give short shrift to academic freedom because their administrators fear they too will be attacked if they do not heed the commands of the censorious activists. They fear for their reputations with this particular group of "stakeholders." We would like to remind them that a greater reputation is at stake: the reputation of their colleges and universities as bodies that protect and nurture free intellectual inquiry and responsible debate.

I’d say that speaks for itself. Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Diana Akhmetianova, Public Domain

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