Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Criticism Is Not Repression


Over at Minding the Campus, Anthony Paletta dissects a new book called Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex. (What an archaic and overwrought title — it combines Vietnam-era rhetoric with visions of industrialized office oppression best personified by the legendary Crimson Permanent Assurance). Read Anthony’s entire review, but suffice it to say that the vision of “repression” conjured up by the collection of radical Leftist contributors consists largely of . . . outside criticism.  Anthony highlights the following paragraph:

Thus academic repression occurs when the state, political groups, or the university administration attempts to muzzle the outspoken through punitive actions, but it also occurs — all too effectively — when fearful, self-concerned professors censor themselves for purposes of career advancement. Furthermore, one need not be demoted, non-promoted, or fired for academic repression to manifest, it is enough to be marginalized or treated with disdain. It does not require the actual exercise of power, it operates on the mere hint, suggestion, or threat of slapdown, and it thrives in the chilling afterglow of its prior victims whom the state, university administrators, and political assassins uphold to say: “Be careful, or the head on this stake could be yours.”

Of course actual punitive actions in response to protected speech threaten academic freedom. But what of being “marginalized” or “treated with disdain”? What does that even mean? Is “disdain” really a threat to freedom? Is a professor not capable of disregarding disrespect and forcefully advocating his ideas anyway?

Criticism is not censorship. And to equate the two actually represents an attempt to stifle free expression. Remember, the vast majority of professors are public officials — state employees — and their plea for the right to politicize their profession while limiting public criticism is itself deeply problematic. The picture of the thin-skinned campus radical is almost comical. As they rail against the “fascist” Bush administration, equating the men and women who served in the White House with the worst (and most murderous) tyrants of all time, they beg us all to be nice to them.  

The authors are not content with “Free speech for me but not for thee.” For them, it’s also “Disdain for thee but not for me.”


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