Campus cancel culture must be rejected

 Washington Examiner:

Georgetown University law professor Sandra Sellers was fired this month for saying in an accidentally recorded Zoom conversation that her black students scored at the bottom of her class. The university also suspended the professor to whom she made the remark for not correcting her. He subsequently resigned.

These comments are controversial and offensive to many. To others, including those who have followed the research of noted black scholars such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and Jason Riley, who have long argued that affirmative action programs at prestigious universities backfire, they are merely inartful. While the substance of Sellers's remark is debatable, her right to make it should not be. These Georgetown professors are just the latest victims of campus cancel culture, where faculty members are silenced for uttering unpopular views. This censorship threatens academic freedom, scholarship, and knowledge, from which we all benefit.

Colleges are held to a far higher standard of free speech than other workplaces because professors are generally granted tenure, which protects them from dismissal stemming from their political positions. Tenure "serves society and the common good by protecting the quality of teaching and research and thus the integrity of institutions of higher education," according to the American Association of University Professors. "If faculty members can lose their positions for what they say in the classroom or for what they write in an article, they are unlikely to risk addressing controversial issues."

The history of human thought and scientific breakthroughs proceed from minority viewpoints becoming increasingly popular. Imagine if the brave academics who challenged once-popular notions such as racism were silenced. Cancel culture threatens the advancement of minority scientific perspectives because it kills nascent theories in their cradle, before they can be studied and proliferated. Consider how difficult it is for today's academics objectively to study controversial topics such as affirmative action or climate change.

The campus cancel culture trend is growing.

In retaliation for similar comments about her black students in 2018, University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax was banned from teaching first-year students. Allan Josephson, a professor of psychology at the University of Louisville, was ousted in 2018 for expressing conservative transgender views. In 2019, Harvard University Dean Ronald Sullivan was forced out after student backlash to his representation of Harvey Weinstein. In a particularly ridiculous example from last year, Greg Patton, a University of Southern California professor, was suspended for using the Chinese phrase "nei ge" because it sounds similar to the N-word.

In today's political climate, conservative political opinions are silenced most often. But leftist professors are not immune. Jeff Klinzman, a college professor in Iowa, was fired in 2019 after admitting to belonging to antifa. And several years ago, University of Illinois incoming professor Steven Salaita was fired after making anti-Israel tweets. "Universities are meant to be cauldrons of critical thinking," Salaita said in his defense. "They are meant to foster creative inquiry and, when at their best, challenge political, economic, or social orthodoxy."

For every professor who is overtly silenced, thousands more self-censor to avoid personal and professional repercussions, limiting academic freedom and scholarship on a vast scale.


A robust debate should be allowed.  That does not mean one must accept violence like that of domestic terror groups such as Antifa. 


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