Even Liberal Professors Can’t Navigate the Topsy-Turvy World of Political Correctness

There is an odd ideological dynamic playing out across college campuses. The highest share of students since the 1970s consider themselves left of center and yet they are also more likely to hold illiberal views, such as demonstrating hostility to free speech.

Every year the Higher Education Research Institute surveys incoming freshman about a variety of topics. The most recent study, which included 141,189 full-time, first-year students, found that students aren’t just increasingly leaning liberal, but the highest share of freshman since the polls inception label themselves “far left.”

But the survey also found that 43 percent said they agreed that “colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers from campus,” which is about twice as high as average from previous decades. There also seems to be a related creep in the kinds of voices being labeled “extreme.” Very few honest definitions of the word would include the likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, celebrated researcher Charles Murray, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathleen Parker, each of which had their invitations to speak revoked or spoke under protest by students.

In the bitterest of ironies, even Claire Gastanaga of the American Civil Liberties Union was shouted down by students at the College of William and Mary.

“Liberalism is white supremacy,” shouted some students. Others chanted: “The Revolution will not uphold the Constitution.” Ultimately, Ms. Gastanaga was prevented from speaking and the event, called “Students and the First Amendment,” was cancelled.

If the ACLU, of all groups, is now deemed too conservative because of their decision to contribute to the legal defense of the First Amendment then it’s plain to see how far the playing field has shifted. Unsurprisingly, some liberal professors have failed to keep up with the dramatic evolution of progressivism’s leftward push. Take, as one example, the experience of left-leaning professors Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, both of whom were forced out teaching positions at Evergreen State College for taking a stand against racism.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” Weinstein wrote after white students were asked to leave campus for the annual “Day of Absence.” “The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.

“I would encourage others to put phenotype aside and reject this new formulation,” Weinstein continued. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak—or to be—must never be based on skin color.”

The letter prompted protests, which resulted in a mob blockading the library and detaining Weinstein. Students who supported Weinstein were harassed and doxed. Ultimately, Weinstein was told to get off campus since campus police couldn’t protect him and had in fact been told to stand down.

Weinstein and Heying join a growing list of liberal professors who have failed to navigate the topsy-turvy set of new illiberal rules designed to stifle argument and demand submission. They write in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner:

For today’s social justice warriors, only one narrative shall be allowed. It is unquestionable. Those who dissent are guilty. The “equity and inclusion” movement, cloaked in words that sound benevolent and honorable, is a bludgeon. To the outside world, Evergreen’s implosion looked like a student-motivated response to conditions on the inside. But the terrible conditions don’t really exist, and the real power dynamics, between administrators and faculty, were obscured by a narrative constructed to make resistance impossible.

The script showed up at our public, liberal arts college, and we, the evolutionary biologists, are now gone. It showed up at Duke Divinity School, and Paul Griffiths, a Catholic theologian, has resigned after being vilified for questioning training in racial equity. His words are to the point: “Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.”

History is lost on this unruly crowd. The mob of supposed social justice warriors who have draped themselves in a cloak of political correctness don’t want an education. As Frank Bruni wrote for the New York Times, they desire a “smooth, validating passage across the ocean of ideas.” But such repressive rules have no place in higher education. Students need, and colleges owe, turbulence. Without we drift towards authoritarianism borne out of a growing unwillingness to listen to intelligent dissent.


Photo Credit: Amariotti. See more HERE.