Professors don’t seem to mind threats to academic freedom when it’s not their own viewpoint that’s targeted.
How else to explain their outrage against Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk when he asked students to send in video evidence of “blatant indoctrination” from their online classes, and their silence when their peers got “flayed” for expressing wrongthink during the recent George Floyd protests?
The University of Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Zimmerman takes his selectively outraged peers to task for continuing an ignoble tradition that spans the 20th century: failure to “rally behind colleagues who buck the conventional wisdom.”
In an Inside Higher Ed essay, the professor of history and education asks his colleagues where they were when the University of Chicago’s Harald Uhlig and UCLA’s Gordon Klein faced credible threats to their jobs and reputations for expressing views that were well within the American mainstream.
Speaking of Klein, who quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to shoot down a student’s proposal for race-based grading, Zimmerman writes:
I can’t understand the decision to remove a 39-year teaching veteran from the classroom, which should send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about academic freedom in the United States. With one errant email — or a single thread of tweets — you can be rendered a pariah forever. The national good demands it, or so we like to imagine.
Professors have long made exceptions when their colleagues say unpopular things: The American Association of University Professors told academics they have “special obligations” to support World War I, and the threat of communism was enough to override academic freedom in the 1950s, Zimmerman notes.
“The biggest myth about the McCarthy period is that purges of university faculty were imposed upon an unwilling professoriate,” he writes:
In fact, most American faculty members embraced the campaign to remove Communist or left-leaning colleagues. They took loyalty oaths, condemned “fellow travelers” and did everything else they could to protect the university from its supposed Red enemy.
It’s not much different today, when Uhlig’s opponents are digging through his past writing to find more evidence with which to cancel him. “The point is to obliterate Uhlig, utterly and completely, which will in turn discourage any further critique of Black Lives Matter,” Zimmerman says, calling himself an “unabashed ally” of the movement:
How many people do you think will question BLM’s position on police defunding from this point on? Would you take that chance, now that you’ve seen what happened to Harold [sic] Uhlig? …
Our university leaders are busily issuing new loyalty oaths, declaring allegiance to Black Lives Matter, and everyone else is expected to follow along. That can’t be good for our democracy, or for our universities. It’s not even good for Black Lives Matter! Like any other social movement, BLM can only benefit from a full and free discussion of it.
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