Phi Beta Cons

Why Do Professors Believe Their Free Speech Shouldn’t Be Criticized?

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on campus knows that professors can be amongst the most uncivil, condescending, and vicious advocates for their ideas and ideology. While in law school, I heard professors relentlessly mock any Supreme Court Justice to the right of William Brennan. They routinely called conservatives racists, sexists, homophobes, warmongers, classists (and those were the polite terms). When it comes to political vitriol, no one can dish it better than an outraged faculty leftist.
Why does this matter? Well, after reading Candace and John discuss the new web response to The Professors, I had to take a look. What I found was interesting . . . and revealing.
Despite the fact that much of the so-called fact-checking consists simply of denials (as any schoolyard veteran knows, the denial “am not” does not decisively refute the allegation “are too”), the thing that really caught my eye was the professors’ first (and apparently most important) response to Horowitz: “Mr. Horowitz’s book condemns professors for actions that are entirely within their rights and entirely appropriate in an atmosphere that promotes the free exchange of ideas.”
Ummm, what? That’s simply a fancy way of saying, “Mr. Horowitz has criticized our speech.” If one actually reads David’s book, they will see that he does not call for the violation of anyone’s free-speech rights. Instead, he strongly criticizes (i.e. exercises his own free-speech rights) professors for ideas and actions that are radical, destructive, racist, and sometimes functionally treasonous. If professors want to fully engage in “the free exchange of ideas,” then they must be prepared for sometimes stinging criticism. Yet strangely, when that criticism does come, they often act as if the actual “exchange” is out of bounds. To them, free speech means engaging the world in the same way that they engage their classrooms — as gurus imparting their wisdom to the pliant masses.

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