Education

A Professor Spoke the Truth, He Still Pays the Price

Sarah Lawerence College (Wikimedia)
Dissenters from campus orthodoxy often need a rare kind of personal fortitude.

Last October, Sarah Lawrence College professor Samuel Abrams wrote an important and insightful essay in the New York Times. While critics of higher education have often focused on faculty bias — in part because a small subset of professors is prone to say ridiculous things — a larger problem has gone mostly unnoticed. Abrams’s research revealed that college administrators are more uniformly progressive even than college faculties. “Liberal staff members,” he wrote, “outnumber their conservative counterparts by the astonishing ratio of 12-to-one,” making them the “most left-leaning group on campus.”

At the conclusion of his piece, Abrams made an argument that rang true to my more than 20 years of litigation experience — “ideological imbalance, coupled with [administrators’] agenda-setting power, threatens the free and open exchange of ideas.”

This is exactly right. Administrators draft and enforce speech codes. Administrators are responsible for creating campus kangaroo courts. Administrators kick Christian student groups off campus, and administrators often take the lead in designing campus programming that features overwhelmingly progressive voices. While conservative media often focus their ire on random radical professors, administrators are busy engaging in the overwhelming majority of campus censorship.

Simply put, Abrams told an important truth. And he’s been punished for it. As our Madeleine Kearns reported last November, his office door was vandalized, students called for him to be punished, anonymous individuals falsely accused him of sexual misconduct, and when Abrams urged the college president, Cristle Judd, to take a strong stand in favor of academic freedom, he said that she “asked whether he thought it was appropriate to write op-eds without her permission and further suggested that his article had been hostile toward his colleagues.”

It turns out that Abrams’s ordeal isn’t over. Yesterday, a group of students calling themselves the “Diaspora Coalition” began a sit-in and issued an extraordinary set of demands, including demands aimed directly at Abrams. The protesters called on the college to “confront how the presence of Sam Abrams . . . affects the safety and wellbeing of marginalized students.” And they wrote this paragraph, which must be seen to be believed:

On October 16, 2018, politics professor Samuel Abrams published an op-ed entitled “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators” in The New York Times. The article revealed the anti-Blackness, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-woman bigotry of Abrams. The article specifically targeted programs such as the Our Liberation Summit, which Abrams did not attend, facilitated by the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement. The Sarah Lawrence community deserves an administration that strives for an inclusive education that reflects the diversity of our community. Abrams’ derision of the Black Lives Matter, queer liberation, and women’s rights movements displays not only ignorance but outright hostility towards the essential efforts to dismantle white supremacy and other systems of oppression. This threatens the safety and wellbeing of marginalized people within the Sarah Lawrence community by demonstrating that our lives and identities are viewed as “opinions” that we can have a difference in dialogue about, as if we haven’t been forced to debate our very existences for our entire lives. We demand that Samuel Abrams’ position at the College be put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color. In addition, the College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students, whilst apologizing for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed. Abrams must issue a public apology to the broader SLC community and cease to target Black people, queer people, and women. (Emphasis in original.)

Crazed student demands are not new on American campuses. Outrageous mischaracterizations of opposing views are par for the course (really, read Abrams’s essay and see if he’s guilty of any of the charges against him). Yet matters get more alarming when professors and presidents take radicals seriously. Reportedly, the president of the college has already met twice with the protesters, and 25 professors have signed a petition declaring they “stand in solidarity with the student activism happening this week.”

Years ago, when I’d speak about the larger dangers of the campus culture wars, I’d often hear adults dismiss my concerns by confidently stating that these students would “grow up” when they encountered the harsh and unforgiving “real world.” Well, campus radicals have encountered the “real world,” and they’re remaking it in their own oppressive image.

The call-out culture has migrated from campus to corporations, and now everyday Americans live in fear that their words — even words uttered in good faith and with great respect — can cost them their livelihoods. And on campus, dissenters from campus orthodoxy often need not just tenure but a rare kind of personal fortitude, including the ability to withstand repeated calls for their termination, repeated disruptions of their work, and sometimes even outright slander.

Publishing truthful information about ideological imbalances threatens no one’s “safety.” Questioning the priorities of progressive administrators endangers no one’s “wellbeing.” Colleges should not “protect” anyone from New York Times essays. And the fact that even a syllable of this nonsense is taken seriously by professional academics indicates that our culture of free speech is already in decline.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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