Food for thought: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
Have you thanked the teacher’s labor union today for this legacy:
It gets Mike Rowe in trouble and it is likely to get me in trouble for suggesting it: Higher education is not for everyone.
And. . . formal education cannot succeed when a one-size-fits-all approach is inflicted.
My friend, John, is a self-made millionaire several times over. At last count he held six Bachelor’s Degrees, four Master’s Degrees, and three doctorates. Although his academic accomplishments are more than noteworthy they are made more so by a relevant: John dropped out of high school at age fifteen, got his G.E.D. at sixteen, and earned his first Bachelor’s Degree at nineteen years of age. Before he was twenty-five years old he had his first Master’s Degree. By age forty he had accumulated all the degrees noted, and his net worth was more than 100 million dollars.
Another relevant fact regarding his accomplishments: He made his first million working as a plumber. He made his first ten million in the building trades, and he reached one hundred million dollars by including in his portfolio landscaping, electrical, farming, and ranching.
Compare John to another fellow named Jeff. Jeff started and quit college four times before he got a job working sixty hours a week on a manual assembly line. He went through a personal bankruptcy, three divorces, ended up broke, and living in a homeless shelter in the coldest part of the year before he took a class in woodworking, where he learned how to design and build quality furniture. He works for someone else, but shares in the profits, making an annual income of more than $100,000 per year.
And then there is Peter. He claims the only reason he graduated high school was because the school that he attended was overcrowded and they needed the seat. Peter got a job as a laborer on a cattle ranch, and twenty years later he is the ranch manager. He also has his own property, of more than five hundred acres.
To discourage charges of sexual politics, the following:
Kerri, who has a Master’s in Business Administration, who worked as a Program Director in corporate America for twenty years. After she was downsized for the fifth time she took a class in graphic design, and today she runs her own business, which has annual gross revenues of more than seventy-five million dollars. She also has more than fifty full-time employees.
Marta, who did not pursue college because she was told by her high school counselor that she lacked the smarts and discipline to do so. She got a job working in a movie theatre tearing tickets. By time her high school classmates had their Bachelor’s Degrees she had become the district manager for the movie exhibition company where she had first started, and when she complained about the conditions of the theatres under her management and was told to solve the problem she did: She started a business that cleans the restrooms for theatres, that does maintenance in and around the theatres, and remodels theatres.
Her company has gross revenues of more than one hundred million dollars each year, and she has more than three hundred full time employees.
There is a point here, and I believe Mike Rowe would agree: You do not need a degree to become a Writer or anything in Life. But you do need an education.
How you achieve that and what you do with it is up to you.
[A wise man once advised me not to pursue higher education beyond a certain point because – as he put it in polite tones – “The world has no further need of more bulls*** artists”. What he meant by his rather blunt remark was that I would do better in the real world, learning first-hand and learning from reading instead of being dependent on those who spent their days in ivy-covered towers, where an absence of validity through living was the status quo.
I chose to follow the advice and to accomplish the task at hand I built my own collection of books. I stopped counting how many volumes there are because I came to the realization and acceptance that the number of books I possess means nothing if I take little from them and apply their content to my life.
In today’s world, where books are given almost as much respect as The Writer I wonder what others think of me. I think another remark attributed to that wise man is appropriate: It does not matter.]
Surrounded by Books
John Lukacs –
Surrounded by books has been a main circumstance of my long life. So it is now, near the end of my 94th year, when I am in my large library of perhaps 18,000 books in the western wing of my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. So it was in the beginning: I was born in a sanatorium in Budapest, Hungary, wherefrom, after a day or two, I was translated home to my mother’s bedroom in an airy apartment that housed, among other things, many books. This I know and can see from photos in a family album, still in my possession.
What a miracle that the writings and the words of great people had been preserved for thousands of years even before an age of books came into existence! The word book was there in many languages well before the 16th century a.d. The Book of God was the Bible, people thought and said. Even now, the word bible (Gk., β?βλος) refers to and defines the meanings of books (bibliophile, bibliography, etc.) After about 1500 a new age began; wrongly named the “Modern” Age, it may even be named the Age of Books. Before that, books were written on wooden tablets or parchments or cloths. Now books were printed and fastened and bound and stored together. Their numbers and their availability increased in much of the world. In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, Erasmus wrote that the Middle Ages (a term then yet-unknown) were passing and something of a newer and golden age was about to begin. Today, few people possess that kind of optimism or know that the “Modern” Age, the Age of Books, is now passing.
The increase of books was a result of an increase of reading—or also the other way around. Who were their readers? That answer belongs to the history of the so-called Modern Age, to the idea and meaning of progress (another arguable word), and to the transition from the rule of aristocracies to that of democracies. Consider, if only for a moment, that history is what is still called public opinion. Public opinion was and is not identical with democracy. (Wikipedia says that “The desires, wants, and thinking of the majority of the people . . . is called public opinion.” Wrong.) The heyday of public opinions in most of Europe and in America were the 18th and 19th centuries, corresponding to the heyday of the Age of Books. The health of democracies, said and wrote many of the Founding Fathers of the American republic such as Jefferson, depended on the existence of educated people—of readers of books (and also of newspapers). By and large in the 20th century the rule of aristocracies no longer existed; and meanwhile the custom of reading books was declining.
That “meanwhile” is the main theme of this essay. Or perhaps of my awareness of what was happening. Knowledge is inseparable from its knower (whereby “objectivity” as well as “subjectivity” are illusions). So I am constrained to write about my surrounding books in the 20th century. I learned how to read and even to write some things at a very early age. I was much influenced by my father, who was a man of great learning. He was an eminent physician while being a patron of books. He must have had more than a thousand of them. His doctor’s office had three rooms, the first of which was his study. Still vivid is my visual (and perhaps even an olfactory) memory of that. At least one wall of it was filled with books surrounding his narrow sofa, above which I can still recall a small classic vitrine housing beautifully bound Greek and Roman authors. Some time ago I ran across a reference by Proust, written in 1923, to “this old house whose air was saturated with the bouquet of silence.” I was born the following year, saturated with a bourgeois existence. My father was urban and urbane. (Consider that citizen in most languages derives from the inhabitant not of a state but of a city.) There were at least three famous bookstores in the inner city of Budapest where my father was well known and where he permitted me to buy any book and charge it to his account. At home the bookcases were part and parcel of the furniture. My mother, too, loved books. They divorced when I was eight years old, a tragedy for me. I went on reading book after book. Ten years later I had many hundreds.
I was an unattractive boy and a middling student in a classical gymnasium. Yet two things happened to me then, both with fortunate consequences for my entire life. One was my burgeoning appetite for history and literature. This did not involve historical novels but something else: my eventually budding and then flowering recognition that history was more of an art than a science and, later, that science was but a part of history (and not the reverse). The other was my mother’s Anglophilia. An Englishman taught me English, and for two summers, I was sent to a private school in England, increasing my knowledge of English and introducing me to English literature. Thus I survived the years of my ugly adolescence.
And thus I survived the worst horrors and perils of the Second World War, the National Socialist and then the Russian conquest of Hungary in 1944 and 1945. I began to write here and there. By 1946, I recognized also that the Russian conquest of Hungary meant the imminent establishment of communism there. I chose to escape that, preferably to America. One small episode contributed to that decision. The Hungarian government was not yet communist, but the political police force was. One spring day in 1946, the police entered our now-rundown apartment, looking for this and that; they did not find anything, but they had come, of course, because of my connection with the American legation. After the Russians had occupied Hungary, their then-allies, Britain and the United States, sent a few diplomats to Budapest to form offices there. I had first gone to the British, offering them my services. They were not interested, but the Americans were. In July 1946, the U.S. ambassador gave me a fine letter of recommendation: “To Whom This May Concern.” I applied for an Hungarian passport, but that was refused me. I fled my native country illegally on July 22, 1946. That day, I saw both of my parents for the last time.
Exactly three months later I landed in New York, penniless and forlorn. Soon Providence and American generosity put me onto the first steps of a startling American career. Millions of U.S. veterans had just been entitled to enter colleges or universities in America. There was a sudden dearth of teachers. Extraordinarily, I became a temporary and part-time assistant lecturer in history at Columbia University. One year later, I became an assistant teacher at a small college in Philadelphia. From that moment on, my life in America and the world of books coalesced. One reason for (or, rather, source of) my loyalty to Chestnut Hill and La Salle colleges in Philadelphia was the astonishing help tendered me by their librarians. During my single year at the university in Budapest, I had started to advance in the direction of a professional academic historian’s career; I had begun to know a few things about archives, collections of documents, singular manuscripts, etc. And now, in these small libraries in Philadelphia, I found that, with the enthusiastic help of their librarians, I had little or no problem gaining access to documentary and other materials from other libraries to borrow. Indeed, I found that my entry into these other magnificent libraries was welcomed, here and there, by their librarians, too. Furthermore, any book I suggested to the librarians of my small colleges, they would quickly order. I remain forever grateful to these people.
At the same time, I was surprised at how many American students hardly read books at all. This was especially so in these small colleges, where many of them were the first college students from their families. Some of their teachers did not assign additional reading beyond their textbooks. Never mind: I did. I gave students in my classes schedules of my lectures for the semester and a compulsory reading list of six or seven books; evidences of their reading such were required in their examinations. Surprisingly, many of them did not mind that. Surprising, too, was my gradual realization that many of my social acquaintances did not read much either. Books were seldom subjects of dinner-party or cocktail-party conversations. Again, never mind: I found enough men and women who were readers. And then, after not more than six years in America, I met a famous Philadelphia lawyer who knew many splendid things and who read many books with enduring interest. In 1953, I married his daughter: How very intelligent, how ladylike, was the eventual mother of my two children! She read much and, even more, helped me with my work. Alas, she died 17 years later. Then I married my second wife, Stephanie, a treasure.
Meanwhile, over roughly 50 years, I wrote and had many books published. They were published by prime American houses; many of them had multiple editions; most of them were translated and then published in perhaps more than a dozen languages and countries around the world. Highly respected historians praised them. I had chosen a country life, separate and independent from most professional intellectuals. Still, my own library grew. At first it contained perhaps a thousand books in a small study in our house. I bought more and more. Then we added a large hexagonal library to our house, which I could afford, along with travel, because of the royalties advanced against my books from publishers. North of our house, I had a few acres of wilderness. In 1981, I convinced Stephanie to sell our house and build another one on the northern edge of the wilderness, along a small river, the Pickering Creek. So we did, in three years. Perhaps this was my most precious achievement: a handsome house, near perfect, at the end of a long driveway, for months surrounded by green and gold, flowers, and books—a large library on its western side, on two floors. More than saturated with a rich silence, this library is. It exudes an atmosphere. In this house and in its library, I have now lived a third of a century, from my early 60’s on. Each morning, trying to catch my breath, I stumble down from my bedroom to the library. There shuffling, I sit now at a narrow desk tapping at keys with my trembling fingers. Sometimes on late afternoons I go out to sit on my terrace, breathing in the view of a greensward; and yes, thanking God for having allowed me this. Then, soused with a stiff drink, I return to my surroundings until dinner.
The “Blessings of Old Age”? Oh, not at all. How very soon I shall be dead. In a year? In a few months? In a few weeks? I hope that I will not be constrained to move from here to a communal nursing home. I hope; but I cannot know. What I know is that, after my death, this library, this house, will instantly be changed. They are my inheritance for my children and my stepson. My house will be sold at once. My books will go to the library of the University of Notre Dame, thanks to the excellent Rev. Wilson D. (Bill) Miscamble, C.S.C. My furniture and the decorations, chests, vitrines, armoires, antique clocks, paintings, and etchings on the walls will be dispersed among my children or sold. They are still my surroundings, which in this country I assembled from an older America, England, France, Austria, and even one or two pieces from my family in Hungary, miraculously regained almost 70 years ago. Perhaps I have been not much more than an ephemeral owner of an outdated museum. I am not a survivor. I am a crumbling remnant. A remnant of the very end of the Bourgeois Age and a remnant of the Age of Books. Ave atque vale.
Five-hundred years after the beginning of the Age of Books, the mass of printed materials is still enormous, while the custom of reading and the numbers of readers have enormously declined. There are no useful statistics of this devolution, of which television has been a main instrument, but there were symptoms of that even before this decline. More and more people had been reading not books, but newspapers and other periodical publications. Then in the mid-1950’s, even the enormous Curtis publishing empire, whose monumental building in Philadelphia towered over Independence Hall, began to collapse. Its main publications were the Saturday Evening Post (with an enormous circulation in the early 20th century) and the Ladies’ Home Journal.
What Cicero was supposed to have said 2,000 years ago (“All I want is a book and a garden”) and a literate Englishman 200 years ago (“A study full of books is worth more than a purse full of money”) were statements from a long-faded past. But it was not until the end of the 20th century that the disappearance of large numbers of readers finally led to drastic changes in the publishing of all kinds of reading matter, very much including books. The massive influence of pictures and images had already preceded that (the movies). But the death of the Age of Books, and of newspapers and magazines, was, indeed, television, followed by the Internet. Already by the early 1990’s, many weeklies, magazines, journals, and quarterlies ceased to exist. Entire large and traditional publishing houses went out of business. Others cut their staffs to minimums. Bookstores began to disappear. In most schools there still was a minority of good students. Even they read very little.
All of these transformations may suggest one momentous change: the declining effect of words. “In the beginning was the Word”—and at the end of an age? The incredible spread and availability of communications holds little promise, because communications are only instruments of transmissions. Meanwhile, a great and deep consequence of the declining human respect for, and therefore the function of, words is the increasing evidence of the weakening of attention, seen in more and more spheres of life.
Still, history is unpredictable. God writes straight with crooked lines. And things are never quite as bad (or as good) as they seem. Books will always exist. Jefferson’s category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough. To educated we need to add interested. The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves. This awareness sometimes issues from reading.
In 1955, Harold Nicolson wrote, “I am confident that in coming generations the proportion of uninteresting people will be much diminished, whereas the proportion of interesting people will increase.” In 1950, the great English bibliophile Holbrook Jackson (borrowing from Aldous Huxley) declared, “the proper study of mankind is books.” I am uncertain about the first of these statements, but not about the second. Now consider that Jacob Burckhardt and Johan Huizinga, two of the greatest historians of the Age of Books, wrote their most famous histories less for professional academic historians than for what in their lifetime could still be regarded as an educated and interested public. And when on occasion someone asked Burckhardt how best to study history, the great man answered in three words: “Bisogna saper leggere.”
“You must know how to read.”
[Every time I mention the fact that I no longer partake in a formal education setting, specifically one of a “higher education” nature, the vitriolic response . . . well, it seems to be exponential in the last ten years or so. At the same time the number of people coming to my defense regarding my opinion and position also grows. What will come of formal education in the next decade, the next century remains unknown. But I suspect, based on the desire to learn, know, and understand, that this is not a losing battle for those desiring intellectual advancement and fulfillment.]
Address at Colgate University
President Robert J. Zimmer
Free Expression on University Campuses: The Chicago Principles
March 30, 2017
Thank you very much for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon. My topic today is free expression on university campuses. Thinking about this issue is at a critical juncture, with implications for the integrity of universities and the education we offer. There are spillover effects on our nation as a whole. So I am particularly pleased to share my views on this topic today here at Colgate, and I am appreciative of your commitment to tackle this issue with the seriousness it deserves.
Let me begin with a story about my first visit to China as president of the University of Chicago about nine years ago. I had been invited to deliver a keynote address at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou to an audience of about 150 students and a group of faculty and university leaders. My hosts asked me to speak about American universities in general, but also about why there were so many Nobel Laureates among the faculty and alumni of the University of Chicago. I was asked, as I have been asked regularly in my many subsequent trips to China, “What is the magic UChicago sauce?”
I replied that its key ingredient was ongoing intellectual challenge and rigorous questioning. So many leading economists, physicists, chemists, and other scholars have prospered at UChicago because of the strong cultural commitment on campus to discourse, argument, and lack of deference. I described the workshops in economics, where Nobel Laureates were not immune from intense, sometimes withering, questioning by colleagues and students. UChicago attracted scholars from around the world because they understood this environment was best for developing and sharpening their ideas. And while UChicago may be extreme in this culture among universities, I explained that the lack of deference, the openness to discourse, and ongoing mutual challenge was one of the great strengths of higher education in the United States much more generally. In fact, this attribute of American higher education institutions provided a magnet for talented individuals from around the world.
The students in China were fascinated by this description and how it related to many deep aspects of Chinese culture with its focus on duty, respect, and hierarchy. In fact, over the past decade, many leaders in the Chinese academic world have been explicitly working to inject into their own institutions a tone of significantly more questioning, and with it the accompanying inventiveness.
What I did not anticipate then was that the tone in American institutions of higher education would dramatically change for the worse over the next decade. During this period, academic institutions experienced proliferating demands for decreased freedom of expression, demands coming from within the institutions themselves. Invited speakers have been disinvited because a vocal segment of a university community found their views unsatisfactory; faculty have been pressured to make public apologies for their statements that some deemed offensive; and an entire culture has emerged in which free and open discourse, while still being formally embraced, is explicitly or implicitly being relegated to a lower priority than other concerns. Among a small sample of the disinvited are Laura Bush, Henry Kissinger, Christine Lagarde, Condoleezza Rice, and Larry Summers. While these are highly visible public figures, the list of the disinvited includes individuals from a wide range of fields and disciplines. Such episodes are now so commonplace that in some circles they are viewed as almost normal. The incident at Middlebury earlier this month was a deeply troubling escalation of the suppression of open discourse, with curtailment of speech accompanied by a disturbing level of violence. Thus, while the Chinese academy aims to inject more argumentation and challenge into their education, many American higher educational institutions are moving in the opposite direction, sacrificing a commitment to challenge and questioning. In doing so, they avoid the difficulties of opposing the chilling effects of an emerging discourse of political correctness.
While I will focus today on the threats from within universities to open discourse and argumentation on campuses, such threats also come from outside universities. These are particularly significant issues for public universities where overly enthusiastic public officials may have a misguided sense of protecting the public from various types of thought. External threats, both to public and private universities, have been present throughout the history of universities and often been more menacing than internal threats. They may appear in extreme forms, for example during the McCarthy era. External threats continue today. The external actors often have totally different perspectives than internal actors—but the intended impacts of both are to limit discourse. Nevertheless, while new threats may materialize quickly, the most active threats in recent years have been from within universities themselves.
These current developments undermine our universities. I would like to address three questions about this phenomenon: First, why is it important? Second, what are the Chicago Principles, affirming a commitment to free expression? Third, what are the drivers of this national shift in discourse within higher education away from free expression? Following these questions, I will discuss how reactions to the Chicago Principles illuminate the issues and close with some thoughts on what is necessary to repair the campus climate.
Let me begin the question of importance by saying what is not involved. I am sure this is well known in this room, but because there is a common misperception I want to emphasize that for private universities the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not directly germane to these issues. The First Amendment addresses the government’s ability to make laws that restrain speech. Private universities, by virtue of being private, are not subject to the First Amendment and cannot violate it. Thus, for private universities such as Colgate and UChicago, this is not a constitutional issue.
Rather, what is pertinent are the very purpose and mission of universities. That mission can be summarized in three words: education, research, and impact. Every question about universities’ actions and policies needs to be evaluated in light of these core missions. It is here that the roles of free expression and academic freedom—and their companions, free listening and open questioning—are essential.
Every student at a university deserves an education that deeply enriches their capabilities. This necessitates acquiring knowledge, but more importantly acquiring general skills and habits of mind that will enhance their approach to future challenges. They must learn to recognize and evaluate evidence of various sorts, challenge their own and others’ assumptions, effectively argue their position, grasp both power and limitations in arguments, confront complexity and uncertainty, synthesize different perspectives, understand that context matters, think through unintended consequences, and take account of change, trade-offs, and uncertainties. If the education we provide does not give students the opportunity to acquire these abilities, we are simply shortchanging them. They will be under-prepared to make informed decisions in a complex and uncertain environment, which is inevitably the world they will confront upon entering the workplace, independent of the particular path they choose.
Imparting these skills is a tall task. But it is evident from the skills I have listed that exposure to a variety of views and the arguments for and against them is not only critical to this process but lies at its very core. Conversely, permitting an environment in which students’ views and assumptions are not challenged, in which they do not develop the habits of mind of recognizing and evaluating their own assumptions, and in which they cannot fully and actively participate in discourse with multiple perspectives is shortchanging them. Simply put, if we want to do an excellent and responsible job of educating students at the highest level, an environment of free expression and open exchange of ideas is critical.
The same is true for an effective research environment. Deep and impactful research entails originality—and this requires seeing in new ways. The Nobel Prize winning biologist Albert Szent-Györgyi famously said, “Discovery is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” A climate that fosters this level of discovery relies on great intellectual freedom. Gary Becker, a Nobel Laureate in economics at UChicago and one of the most influential social scientists of the second half of the 20th century, provides an illuminating example. Becker, who had been a doctoral student at UChicago, began applying economic ideas to a sequence of societal issues—family, discrimination, crime, drugs, education, and more. For some time, his work was viewed by many either with alarm or as worthy of dismissal. The widely accepted understanding in social science at that time was that economics methodologies had no weight in these very human problems. But Becker persisted, in an environment at UChicago in which these unpopular ideas were free to be explored, challenged, tested, and developed. Ultimately, his ideas became widely accepted as one valuable approach to these matters and Becker himself was recognized as a great pioneer. If he had been hounded out of higher education because the academy found his ideas offensive, as many did at the time, our understanding today would be much more limited.
Why is this important not only for the nature of universities but for our country? Much of universities’ impact is through the power of their faculty’s research and the work of their alumni—and, as we have described, such impact at the highest level depends on an environment of free expression and its resulting climate of challenge. To be challenged is also why many of the leading ambitious young people from around the world have come to the United States. Such is the ultimate importance and stake for the country—will our higher education system continue to be the best in the world? Will our education continue to be the most impactful? Will we continue to attract highly talented people? Or will we lose focus on the mission of universities and allow other concerns to erode the efficacy of our institutions?
Now let me turn to the second topic, namely the Chicago Principles, which are a forceful statement of one university’s commitment to free expression. Unlike all the universities in the United States that preceded it, save Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago was established as a research university from its inception. From its early days, the leadership and faculty of the University articulated the importance of free expression to its missions of rigorous inquiry and providing an education embedded in intellectual challenge. Throughout its history, the University has stood against suppression of speech, with its faculty and many of its presidents—William Rainey Harper, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Edward Levi, and Hanna Gray as key examples—playing visible leadership roles.
It was in this historical context and against the backdrop of the shifts in the American academy over the past decade, that in July 2014, I appointed and charged a faculty committee chaired by UChicago Law School professor Geoffrey Stone. The committee was charged with “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.” In other words, the committee was asked to provide a concrete statement that encapsulated the underlying and broadly understood culture and views on free expression of the University of Chicago, a culture that had been present at the University since its founding. In response, the Stone Committee put forth a thoughtful, powerful, and clear articulation of the University’s stance, laying out a set of principles now becoming known as the Chicago Principles. I will summarize three such principles from the report.
The first principle is a statement of an unwavering commitment to free expression: “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”
In the same vein, relevant to current considerations, it states:
“It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
The second principle is that the University recognizes, indeed embraces, non-disruptive protest as a legitimate means of free expression, and as such supports the rights of all members of the University community to engage in such protest.
The third principle the report articulates is that disruptive protest or other means of limiting the rights of others to engage in free expression, work, and open discourse is not acceptable, and is in fact a violation of the University’s commitment to free expression. The distinction between non-disruptive and disruptive protest is essential. Preventing others from speaking and listening is arrogating to oneself the right of free expression, but denying it to others.
The Chicago Principles are a powerful statement. But we all know that stating principles is not the same as implementing them. At UChicago, we recognize that implementation requires constant work. We have the benefit of an institutional culture with a long history of support for free expression, a willingness to express views contrary to popular trends, wide support of the faculty and deans on one hand and the board on the other, and a student body and faculty that, in most cases, are at UChicago because of a commitment to an environment of rigorous inquiry and open discourse. Nevertheless, we have thousands of new students coming to campus every year, and it is essential for us to be articulating, explaining, demonstrating, and engaging in discourse about these principles and how to implement them.
Let me turn now to my third question—what drivers have enabled the current movement against free expression within higher education? I will address four such drivers.
First, free speech is not a natural state of human affairs. Most people actually don’t like it. They like the speech of those they agree with, which they will defend at great length—but there are fewer who are so enthusiastic about the free speech of those they disagree with. As a result, people are often inclined to silence, or at least condone silencing, those who disagree with them. They justify this in a variety of ways—morality, politics, acceptable behavior, preservation of authority, challenge to authority, opposing change, demanding change, and more. Such individuals rarely imagine that in preventing others from expressing views that they are sowing the wind—and ultimately may reap the whirlwind of someone suppressing their own speech. Fostering an environment of free expression starts with the fundamental problem that for many people, free expression itself is suspect.
One consequence for universities is that a necessary part of a student’s education is gaining understanding of the importance of free expression within the most enabling and powerful education they can have. Functioning in an environment of free expression and rigorous argumentation is not simple, nor is it necessarily intuitive. It is our collective responsibility in providing an excellent education to help students understand, value, and participate fully in this environment.
Second, suppression of speech today is a misguided response to an important national issue, namely that of diversity and inclusion. Our country, like all countries, has a history of powerful exclusionary behavior. A history of slavery and racism, closing of opportunities for women, discrimination on the basis of religion, and exclusionary and even criminalizing responses to same sex relationships are examples of real and serious issues that the country faces in fulfilling an aspiration of providing opportunities for all. Our country has surely made and continues to make very significant progress, but the legacy of this history remains salient, impactful, and even painful today. From the perspective of a university, what should this mean? It should mean a serious commitment to full inclusion of all our students in the most enriching education we can possibly provide. This in turn entails ensuring that all our students are fully included in open discourse, challenge, free expression, and argumentation that lie at the very core of providing such an education. What it does not mean is protecting students from this discourse. It is a misguided view to think that we are helping students—particularly students from groups who may have been the victims of exclusionary behavior—by protecting them from speech. This misguided view is a major problem—it is in fact just the opposite that should be happening. We should be helping these students—just as we need to help all students—to fully participate. We should not facilitate retreat and separation from the most enriching education we can provide. Doing so would be an abdication of our responsibilities as educators.
Helping students fully participate is itself not simple. Universities often provide educational support for students based on their individual situations. There are times when engaging free expression may be particularly difficult for students who are a target of exclusionary rhetoric. This should be recognized and students appropriately supported. Likewise, all students should be helped to recognize the importance of a civil society. But both issues should be addressed in the context of helping students participate fully in open discourse, not in the context of creating an ambient environment of restricted discourse.
A third driver is too much unreflective moral certainty in too many circumstances—that one knows what is right and that anyone who holds other perspectives is not just wrong but morally flawed. Simply declaring the unacceptable presence of villainy, while not confronting intellectual challenge, is just a short stop away from suppression of speech. Within many aspects of public life, we have seen just how unproductive, even destructive, moral fervor in demonizing others can be. Inside universities, where learning to confront those with whom you may passionately differ is a key part of education, such demonization is particularly and deeply troubling.
The fourth and final driver that I want to mention is the all too common de-historicized view of the world, in this case applied to the role of universities. Universities are institutions with a long history and the prospects for a very long future. The particular contributions they alone can make to society—inquiry, discovery, and enriching education—are critical societal needs that will far outlast any particular political issue of the day, no matter how important it is. The environment of free expression, academic freedom, and open discourse that is critical to universities’ effectiveness cannot be taken for granted. It has been hard-won over the course of a millennium and history demonstrates its fragility. It is always tempting to respond to the urgency of the present and fail to consider long-term consequences. A de-historicized view of the importance of free expression, in conjunction with an all too easy attitude that allows for minimizing its importance in return for a moment of political expediency, is another contributor to the situation we now confront.
In the many examples of suppression of speech that we are seeing on campuses, some combination of these four forces is at play. It is their complexity, lack of transparency in revealing themselves, and mutual interactions that make combating them a significant challenge.
Now that I have addressed these three questions—namely the importance of free expression, the Chicago Principles, and the drivers of our current situation—let me turn to how reactions in the academic community to the Chicago Principles illuminate the issues.
Two related questions I am frequently asked concerning the Chicago Principles are: first, why doesn’t every institution just sign on to them or, alternatively, present its own equivalent statement? And second, why don’t those institutions that have made such statements in the past actually live by them?
My answer begins with a reminder that a select number of universities or their faculty have adopted these principles or articulated similar ones, and strive to live up to them. So UChicago is not alone. On the other hand, many institutions are still grappling with the issues. This uncertainty, not surprisingly, invites caution in response.
What do I think some institutions and their leaders are uncertain about?
Every institution needs to decide what it is and what it aspires to be. As I have described, at UChicago we have had a great sense of clarity about this since the University’s inception. But all universities need not be identical. Institutions can and do—either explicitly or implicitly—make choices that define them. These definitions can differ, legitimately so. Institutions with religious affiliations, those with defined social missions, and military academies are all examples where the Chicago Principles may not be the appropriate articulation of values.
What the current situation and the Chicago Principles pose for many institutions is a clear question—how much are free expression and open discourse, along with all the challenges these present, a central defining feature of its education, or is it just one of the many values they have that can be traded off against others? This in turn raises the question of the actual nature of the education they are committed to—and what they believe is of sufficient importance to this education that they will defend it in challenging circumstances such as we face today?
I believe many institutions remain uncertain and are still clarifying their responses to these questions. Do they subscribe to the Chicago Principles, even if articulated in their own words? What actions would they take in supporting these principles? There is no reason to suppose that all institutions will come to the same conclusion.
Here is an example of what an institution might honestly say if it came to a different conclusion:
“We believe in free expression most of the time, and believe that you as a student will have an inspiring education and that you as a faculty member will have a wonderful environment for research and teaching. However, this institution will on occasion decide, based on the passionate views of a segment of the community or our own views of morality, that we will disinvite speakers or implicitly condone the disruption of their speech and you will therefore not have the opportunity to hear or question them. This institution will on occasion decide that views expressed by a faculty member are not acceptable and, accordingly, they may be asked to apologize for their statements or to stop raising certain issues. We accept the chilling effect this can have on discourse and the resulting education, because we believe other values are at stake.”
As you can surmise, I would not be pleased to see many universities take this stance, either explicitly or implicitly, because I do not believe it provides the best education or environment for research. On the other hand, it could be an honest and legitimate institutional stance. But there is a grave danger that by not confronting the question head on, many institutions are drifting into this position even if they are not stating it in a forthright manner. The combination of uncertainty, lack of clarity about the foundations of education being offered, and the increasing opposition to free expression I have described have led many institutions to reflection and understandable caution. I hope that as institutions think through the issues, many more will conclude the need for a strong articulation of the centrality of free expression to the education they offer and the quality of their research, and that their actions will come to reflect this determination.
These considerations lead naturally to my final topic: What is to be done? How do we repair, or at least begin to repair, the situation in which the drift into restricted rather than open discourse is so prevalent?
Addressing these issues ultimately means addressing the culture of an institution. Where the culture of free expression is strong, that culture needs to be purposefully reinforced. For every year, thousands of new students come to campus who may be unaware of the centrality of free expression to the efficacy of their education. On the other hand, where the culture of free expression is not strong, the institution needs to undertake a purposeful attempt to change this culture. We all know how difficult culture change in an institution can be. It certainly cannot happen quickly and it requires sustained work.
In either situation, leadership is required, and inevitably that means university presidents, provosts, and deans. These individuals are responsible for overseeing and sustaining great universities, where free expression, free listening, and free challenge are indispensable. Therefore, the responsibility of these positions demands that leaders reinforce these values as central to the meaning of universities. To be effective, the president in particular needs the clear support of the Board of Trustees on this matter.
Likewise, in either situation, the role of the faculty and leadership within the faculty is critical. The faculty has ultimate responsibility for educational programs, and a clear view by the faculty on the importance of academic freedom and freedom of expression for the efficacy of that education is necessary. There are a number of institutions in which faculty are grappling with this question, and without a firm commitment from a significant portion of the faculty, it is difficult to imagine progress.
Finally, the receptivity of students to a challenging education of open discourse has a significant impact on a university’s culture. College students in particular are at a singular moment in their lives. They will be challenged in new ways—by unfamiliar ideas, varying perspectives, different assumptions, and a diverse community. Embracing this challenge and growing personally through the discomfort it may bring will serve them well for their entire lives. It is also possible for students to take the easy route and seek a framework of comfortable and restricted discourse. This would be to miss a personal opportunity that will not return.
Cultural reinforcement or cultural change is a long process that needs long term commitment and long term focus as a high priority. How many institutions are willing and able to undertake this? We shall see.
Am I optimistic that the trend we see now can be reversed? There are some hopeful signs. Until recently, it was frankly difficult on many campuses to even discuss these issues. Areas where many would not tread are now being openly discussed. There are many more statements coming out in favor of free expression. But there is a long way to go and the outcome, frankly, is not certain. As always, this will come down not simply to what institutions say is good, but to what trade-offs they are willing to make and what they are prepared to do.
To stifle free expression and open discourse and suppress speech that you don’t like is just an invitation for others to do the same. Accepting this behavior sets universities on a path that is antithetical to fulfilling our highest aspirations. For the sake of our students and their future success, our faculty and their capacity to develop original and impactful research, and our country remaining a magnet for the most talented from around the world, all this suppression needs to be resisted.
I thank you very much for the invitation to share my thoughts with you this afternoon. I again want to express my appreciation for the work taking place here at Colgate in thinking carefully about these issues, so important to the academy, to our students, and to our country.
[Well-written, and summarized: “Preventing others from speaking and listening is arrogating to oneself the right of free expression, but denying it to others.”
Concomitant with such suppression of free speech on college and university campuses is the very dangerous and irresponsible employment of tactics associated with totalitarian propaganda, such as shaming and name calling, e.g., “fascists,” “Nazis,” “KKK,” etc. on Social Media platforms, specifically Disqus and Facebook.]
[For a number of years I have watched as formal education, specifically higher education, works itself toward a certain path of oblivion. When I mention this observation, especially to those who identify as “Liberal”, I am informed that I am WRONG. It is somewhat comforting to know I am not alone in my opinions and observations.]
The Death of Scholarship
Leftists are limiting academic work to demonstrations of leftist dogma
Not so long ago, leftists on campus insisted that there was no discrimination against conservatives in academic hiring. They claimed professors were hired on the basis of merit (and “diversity”), and few if any meritorious (or “diverse”) conservatives wanted to be professors anyway. The left now has a new and better argument for not hiring or tolerating conservative professors, formulated by a former conservative—the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Linker. Writing in the Week in August 2017, Linker claims that conservatives are not hired as professors in the humanities because they cannot produce “scholarship,” which “in our time is defined as an effort to make progress in knowledge.” Such progress requires addressing “the concerns of the present.” Specifically, Linker wrote that scholarship is needed “on such topics as ‘Class in Shakespeare,’ ‘Race in Shakespeare,’ ‘Gender in Shakespeare,’ ‘Transgender in Shakespeare,’” and so on. The problem, according to Linker, is that conservatives prefer to write on themes like “Love in Shakespeare” or “God in Shakespeare,” and “centuries of people have written and thought about” such things.
“What’s new to say about them?” Linker asks. “Probably nothing.”
On September 15, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Shun Conservative Professors.” In his bid for tolerance, Brooks observed: “American liberalism has always insisted it is the duty of the majority to fight for the minority.” Four days later, a letter to the editor of the Times from one Gerald Harris argued: “The soul of true scholarship is a search for new meaning and a rigorous testing of old bromides. Conservatives, by definition, are committed to upholding or returning to the status quo and to resisting ground-breaking change. This is hardly a mind-set to be celebrated and rewarded at institutions dedicated to inquiry and pursuit of new challenges.” Conservative professors, therefore, deserve to be shunned.
This is precisely the opposite of the truth. After 50-plus years of university dominance, leftists are the ones who offer nothing new when it comes to scholarship. In applying postmodernist theories repetitively and uncritically to every subject under the sun, leftist scholars necessarily arrive at the same few stale conclusions time and again. It is only the rigor and honesty of traditional scholarship that allow for the flourishing of new knowledge. And in effectively barring that practice from universities, postmodernist scolds have fashioned and ennobled a regime of obscurantism.
Linker’s argument depends on several assumptions that have become well established in universities. The first is obvious and justified: that scholarship should contribute something new. If you write an article demonstrating that Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616, nobody will give you much credit for it, no matter how well documented and well written it may be, because these are already well-established facts. Yet the conclusion that conservatives are incapable of new scholarship also depends on some assumptions about scholarship that conservatives do not share: that its purpose is to judge its subject on ideological grounds, that nothing matters about the subject but its ideology, that leftist ideology is incontestable, and that the accuracy of scholarly facts and the logic of scholarly argument are of little or no interest. This last assumption is an explicit tenet of postmodernism—the doctrine that nothing is objectively true and that everything is simply an expression of power. And the left now holds power on campus.
Thus most leftist professors expect most scholarship to show that the ideas of Shakespeare (or Freud, Nietzsche, the Greeks, or the Gnostics) either support current leftist dogmas about race, class, and gender and so should be praised and emulated, or contradict such dogmas and so should be condemned and avoided. Linker implies that he would be willing to consider the merits of a conservative scholar who wrote on, say, “Supply-Side Economics in Shakespeare,” but alas, conservative scholars refuse even to do this. This is because conservative scholars are interested in Shakespeare for reasons unrelated to economics, are skeptical that Shakespeare himself was much interested in economics, and think that even if he did have a few ideas about economics, we can get more useful economic ideas from sources other than a playwright who lived in an age when the economy was very different from what it is now.
Leftist professors have no such inhibitions. In their opinion, there can be no legitimate reason for scholarship except to pursue “the concerns of the present” and conduct “a search for new meaning and a rigorous testing of old bromides.” The works of Shakespeare or any other great men are of no use except to illustrate currently fashionable ideology. Moreover, since the only point of scholarship is to advance ideology, questions of accuracy are irrelevant. In combating racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, elitism, and other evils, the genuine study of literature, political science, philosophy, history, art, and religion is quite incidental. Scholarship done for nonideological purposes, perhaps especially if it faithfully represents the past in its own terms, can only serve to reinforce an unjust society and culture.
This attitude inevitably dominates not only academic scholarship but also college teaching. In 2015, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni denounced Republican efforts to cut funding for higher education by describing how he had been “transformed” by a marvelous course in Shakespeare he took from an outstanding teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. He promptly heard from his old teacher, now at the University of Pennsylvania, that such courses on “dead white men” are thoroughly out of favor in English departments today. “Shakespeare,” she told Bruni, “has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.” She advised him to look at the current course offerings of Penn’s English department—“Pulp Fictions,” “Sex and the City,” “Global Feminisms,” “Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” “Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Film,” and “Literatures of Psychoanalysis.” The sort of class that Bruni loved 30 years ago is not the sort that universities now teach.
The truth is that non-leftists are discriminated against not so much because of their politics (which they can often hide) as because of their failure to do the kind of scholarship that hiring committees want. I went to an on-campus interview for a history position in 1988. A member of the department spoke to me at length about politics, and I tried neither to lie nor to reveal that I was a conservative. (It helped that my opinions are somewhat unconventional.) He figured it out, but with no clear evidence to cite, he failed to convince the rest of the department of something so improbable, and I got the job. (He and I later became friends.) In those days, my publications contained no explicit political content. My research on the Byzantine economy, however, soon clashed with established Marxist dogma, and my research on Byzantine historiography clashed with the postmodernist assumptions that all narratives are constructed and truth is irrelevant. The more I published, especially when I published detailed refutations of Marxist and postmodernist views, the less eligible I became as a candidate for other academic positions.
Since then, I’ve discovered that trying to engage modern issues without taking explicitly leftist positions satisfies no one. A journal once asked me to evaluate for publication an article on what Byzantine hagiography could contribute to modern legislation on child labor. The author (not identified, as is usual in such evaluations) concluded from studying the lives of saints that the Byzantines permitted child labor if the child was willing and the labor contributed significantly to household income and could not be done by anyone else in the family. The author suggested that these principles be applied in drafting modern legislation. In recommending against publication, I noted that these principles would have allowed child prostitution if the child was willing, earned a significant income, and could earn more than other members of the family. At the same time, I noted, such principles would have forbidden parents from making children clean their rooms if the child was unwilling. A clean room, after all, contributed nothing to household income, and other family members could do the cleaning. What’s more, most Byzantines thought that even unwilling children should obey their parents but should only do work that was consistent with Christian morality. The author probably considered these conditions too insufficiently modern to include in modern scholarship. In any case, not even I consider Byzantine hagiography a good source for child-labor laws.
What, then, can non-leftists contribute to scholarship that is new? No doubt it is harder to say something fresh and important about Shakespeare than about less thoroughly studied subjects, but almost all subjects are less thoroughly studied than Shakespeare. The chance to make major discoveries is one of the things that attracted me to Byzantium as a research field instead of, say, Classical Greece. Given the herd instinct that attracts academics only to the most fashionable subjects, the world is full of understudied topics, periods, and places. Moreover, new evidence, including documents and archeology, is constantly being found, making scholarly advances possible for every period up to the present. Scholars can also always contribute to progress by refuting the errors of previous scholars. This is true even in the most thoroughly exploited fields. As for postmodernist and leftist areas of study in particular, original but fallacious theories are common. Finally, it should be noted, talented scholars can make real contributions even in well-worked fields, such as Shakespearean studies, by looking at old evidence in a new way.
But there are no new ways for postmodernists. For even if a study is the first to demonstrate that some obscure figure was not a modern-feminist or leftist, this contributes nothing new, because nobody ever thought this figure was any of these things. Moreover, almost identical conclusions have been reached about tens of thousands of other figures. Such studies tell us little or nothing about literature, political science, philosophy, history, art, and religion, because the studies are not really about those fields, but about postmodernism and leftist politics.
These postmodern endeavors do not even constitute real research or scholarship. Research requires critical sifting of the evidence, making logical arguments from it, and questioning whether to change one’s mind based on the evidence that one finds. Leftist “scholarship” merely goes through the motions of research before restating the bromides that are its foreordained conclusions.
For such reasons, people who are truly interested in scholarship and research are now being strongly discouraged from going into the academy as a profession. They face a long road of formidable obstacles. First, they will probably be deterred as undergraduates by seeing their subject of interest being taught by faculty with almost no interest in it as such. If they do go on to graduate school, they will be discouraged from doing the sort of work that interests them. If they pursue the work that interests them, they will have a hard time getting hired by professors who oppose genuine research. If, by persistence or luck, these applicants get an academic job, they will then find themselves in a hostile environment.
Many people outside academics still cannot believe that things are this bad. Often, they know professors from earlier generations who have a genuine interest in their subjects and in scholarship. They know people like Frank Bruni’s brilliant teacher of Shakespeare, Anne Drury Hall. Dr. Hall, who holds the rank not of professor but of lecturer, is now in her early seventies. Her generation, of which I am a somewhat younger member, is either retired or not very far from retirement. Such professors with traditional interests, having first been hired in the dismal academic job market of the ’70s and ’80s, have seldom gained senior positions in prominent universities. These traditional professors, who care more about their fields than about ideology, have only the most marginal influence in their universities, become fewer every year, and in 10 to 20 years will be gone.
There are also many professors, especially at small colleges, who are not leftists but do little if any research. Some even secretly vote Republican. Optimists point to them as signs of hope for American higher education. Yet these professors train almost no graduate students and will therefore have almost no influence on future generations of professors. They are usually silent when controversial issues come up because they have learned that keeping their heads down is the way to get hired or promoted. Many of their colleagues and most of their students are unaware of their views. They are content not to publish because they have nothing much to say, new or otherwise. Additionally, they tend to be lazy, because one of the main attractions of the academic profession—if you do little or no research—is how easy it is. Very few of them are inspiring teachers. Since most of them are easy graders, their students pay little attention in their classes (or skip them) and learn scarcely anything from them.
Nevertheless, there are some professors younger than 60 who are distinguished scholars and not leftists and have still managed to secure academic jobs. Most of these professors were taught by other distinguished scholars who are now retired or near retirement. Typically, the younger scholars got jobs by having hidden their ideas about scholarship before they had published much or before leftist dominance became firmly established in academia. Or perhaps they were hired through the special circumstances that sometimes arise in the many thousands of departments across a large country. Once hired, most of these professors get tenure (though a few of the more vocal ones are denied it for a “lack of collegiality”). But most of them teach at undistinguished institutions, where they are neither influential nor much appreciated.
These professors are scattered among many mostly obscure institutions and seldom express themselves on campus or in print. Some of the braver ones have joined Heterodox Academy, an organization promoting intellectual diversity in universities. It now includes approximately 1,300 professors, 17 percent of whom identify themselves as conservative, 25 percent as moderate, and 23 percent as libertarian (with 18 percent as leftist). Very few are at leading universities. While I have joined Heterodox Academy and applaud its aims, so far it has had little influence.
What, then, is the future of American universities? They will almost inevitably get worse before they get better. The vast majority of professors in the humanities and social sciences who will train graduate students from now on will train them as they have been training others for decades, in leftist or postmodernist scholarship, if only to give them a better chance at employment. Of the scholars whose convictions might have been well suited to their joining some kind of opposition, most will either opt out of academic life, fail to get academic jobs, or take academic jobs and learn to keep their mouths shut. The remaining moderate and conservative professors will retire or die. Many politicians, journalists, alumni, parents, and other outsiders will continue to attack colleges and universities for their leftism and intolerance and will succeed in reducing their funding. This will mainly result in antagonizing professors and academic administrators and pushing them further to the left. These embittered figures will claim that universities themselves are under attack. And admittedly, many critics of today’s universities seem more interested in destroying them than in reforming them, especially because reform seems impossible.
Intellectual fashions don’t last forever, though postmodernism has had a longer run than most. Eventually, disgust with this ossified and intolerant ideology will mount even on campus. And after a long, chaotic struggle, postmodernism and leftism will be discredited. But this may take a generation or longer. By then, the great majority of professors will have had no training in traditional scholarship and will find such scholarship very hard to do. Indeed, they will be unable to remember higher education as it was before postmodernism and leftism were dominant; they will, therefore, have no model for what to do next.
Such are the dismal prospects that led me to propose last year in these pages the founding of a new leading university dedicated to intellectual tolerance and academic excellence (“The University We Need,” February 2016). Though recruiting enough professors for it would become harder as the years pass, it could still be done from the younger professors now scattered in many different colleges and universities, from the older professors who have not yet retired, and from public intellectuals. Its example could have real influence. But until that time, scholarship is unlikely to improve, and intolerance for anything but postmodernism will remain the norm. Despite the assertions of current university leftists, claims to “progress in knowledge” belong to an earlier generation of scholars. It will be some time before we can properly resume their work.
From notes made on the human condition:
Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. – Daniel J. Boorstin.