The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Third View on the Activist-Professor Debate

On the last two Fridays, the Martin Center has offered differing points of view on the question whether colleges and universities should permit professorial activism. Fabio Rojas argued that they should put scholarship first but not renounce activism if they are so inclined; to that, Jay Schalin argued against activism. In today’s article, John Wilson makes the case for activism.

Wilson writes,

Can an activist who brings activism into their scholarship be a good scholar? The answer is absolutely yes. Let me give myself as an example. I am a scholar-activist who studies higher education and I always try to bring my activism into my scholarship. Currently, I am engaged in scholarship analyzing what college student conduct codes say and how they affect freedom of speech. But I bring my activism as a free speech advocate into my scholarship. I do not merely describe campus conduct codes; I also criticize them and advocate for changing them.

To the argument that activism allows professors to bring in their own biases, Wilson says that bias is ever-present and it’s better if it is out in the open. But what about indoctrination? Wilson says that he would not use the classroom to present only one point of view or punish students who don’t agree with him — but we are left to wonder what schools should do about those who do exactly that. There are, e.g., faculty who ridicule and downgrade students for challenging claims by radical feminists and climate change zealots.

Wilson concludes:

The true scholarly approach to the activist is disinterested neutrality, to neither be biased for nor against a scholar because of their activism. We need to overcome the bias against activism and achieve a true scholarly mentality that judges academic work based purely upon its merits and rejects the false presumption that activism is antithetical to scholarly work.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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