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PC Culture

The Academic Freedom Alliance: A Welcome Addition to the Fight against Cancel Culture

The Princeton University campus in 2013. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Talking about cancel culture is one thing; doing something about it is another. In the long term, conservatives and other non-leftists need to build more of our own institutions resistant to woke pressures, and we also need to liberate young people from the clutches of indoctrination by woke thought-programmers. But in the meantime, how can we fight back in the institutional structures where pressure campaigns find both sympathy among those in power and fear of standing up to the new censors? What can be done in universities that won’t stand for academic freedom on principle, dictate the inclusion of propaganda in course syllabi, and muzzle dissenting faculty?

Robert P. George of Princeton has been that rarest of philosophers, engaged in how ideas are implemented in the real world. As he tells Wesley Yang at the Chronicle of Higher Education, it was past time for academics concerned about freedom of speech and thought in the academy — by no means only conservatives, but libertarians, moderates, and old-style liberals as well — to join forces to provide material support to those targeted by the mob:

[Prof. George] offered a vivid zoological metaphor to describe what happens when outrage mobs attack academics. When hunted by lions, herds of zebras “fly off in a million directions, and the targeted member is easily taken down and destroyed and eaten.” A herd of elephants, by contrast, will “circle around the vulnerable elephant. Academics behave like zebras,” George said. “And so people get isolated, they get targeted, they get destroyed, they get forgotten. Why don’t we act like elephants? Why don’t we circle around the victim?”

To that end, he formed a national organization, starting with 20 Princeton professors, and backed by millions of dollars in funding, mostly from a major conservative donor’s seed money:

Today, that organization, the Academic Freedom Alliance, formally issued a manifesto declaring that “an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere,” and committing its nearly 200 members to providing aid and support in defense of “freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens,” “freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment,” and “freedom from ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.” The alliance will intervene in academic controversy privately, by pressuring administrators, and publicly, by issuing statements citing the principles at stake in the outcomes of specific cases. Crucially, it will support those needing legal aid, either by arranging for pro bono legal representation or paying for it directly. “Universities know,” George told me, “that university faculty can’t afford to fight city hall or the university, so they know they can do anything to these people without any consequences. So we’re going to shift that — so that the university general-counsel offices will know that the university is in the fight of its life if it violates academic-freedom rights.”

Read the whole thing, including quotes from Professor Keith Whittington, who chairs the organization. The problem of isolating and personalizing the mob’s targets to pick them off one by one is pervasive with left-wing pressure campaigns, whether they are against college professors, corporate sponsors of radio and TV programs, sports teams, even state governments. They must be met by a collective response if the madness is to be fought. Three cheers for Professors George & Whittington for doing the legwork to make that a reality, and good luck to the Academic Freedom Alliance.

This post has been edited to reflect the leadership of the organization.

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