The Corner

Politics & Policy

The ‘You Can’t Interfere with Academic Freedom’ Defense Crumbles

Suppose that someone were to hire a chess tutor for his son, but found out that instead of teaching about openings and middle-game tactics, the tutor was spending the time with the youngster playing Grand Theft Auto. When the parent confronts the tutor, he replies, “I’m an educator and educators are entitled to academic freedom. This is how I think best to prepare your son to play chess. You can’t interfere with me.” I don’t think even the most “progressive” parent would accept that argument. He’d send the tutor on his way.

In the world of higher education, we often run into the same problem — faculty members who think that they’re entitled to do whatever they please with their classes because “academic freedom” shields them from scrutiny. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Scott Yenor of Boise State University, which has been sliding into the quicksand of a “social justice university,” responds to that notion.

Yenor writes that, “whenever legislatures question university practices, universities cry that academic freedom is under assault. If legislatures start asking what is going on in the classrooms or in the curricula, professors might start worrying about what they say. If legislatures cut budgets or donors withdraw funds because of concerns about the direction of universities, universities might change direction. All this would compromise freedom of inquiry and the autonomy of universities. Or so the argument for academic freedom tends to go.”

The huge problem that Yenor sees is that faculty and administrators have been smuggling a load of divisive ideology relating to “social justice” into state universities for decades. Only of late have public officials in some states begun to react. They should not tolerate the teaching of aggressive theories that undermine social harmony and waste student time.

Yenor concludes, “But this is not the same system of higher education it was a generation ago. Today’s universities instead have become partisan ideological oases. They neither unequivocally advance knowledge nor uphold the principles needed for a healthy society. Therefore, claims of academic freedom are not enough to deflect the pressing need for reform and oversight. Legislatures are in the best position to conduct such oversight and to act upon the results.

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

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