A Slate writer recently diagnosed conservative op-ed columnists with having an “obsession” with campus politics as a result of their views being “scorned and mocked in freshman humanities seminars.”
Bari Weiss is no conservative, but the polarizing New York Times columnist – a frequent critic of illiberalism on the Left – is being accused of denying her alleged attempts to silence and punish pro-Palestinian faculty as a Columbia University undergraduate in 2004-2005.
David French at National Review pushes back on these attacks, led by the quixotic progressive writer Glenn Greenwald in response to Weiss’s recent column on the dilution of the term “fascist” when applied to obvious non-fascists like Christina Hoff Sommers.
French was president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education when Weiss and other Columbia students appeared in a documentary that “alleged incidents of anti-Semitism and intimidation in what was then the university’s department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures”:
In countless debates and arguments on campus and off, Bari and her colleagues lodged three central complaints — that professors attempted to silence dissent in their classrooms, that their scholarship was often shoddy absurdly [sic] biased, and that the department itself lacked sufficient viewpoint diversity to provide a proper education on a vital subject.
The New York affiliate of the ACLU actually argued in favor of taking away students’ civil liberties in response to the criticisms of the department, in order to protect faculty from “recriminations,” according to French.
FIRE whipsawed from defending a professor who said “death to Israel” to defending the rights of Weiss and other students to criticize and disagree with their professors, as French recounts.
It warned that the NYCLU’s recommendation – that students be free to criticize their professor “if permitted by the professor to do so” – would “violate every reasonable notion of student academic freedom” and give faculty carte blanche to “indoctrinate their students without permitting a murmur of classroom dissent.”
This bizarro view of civil liberties would also choke off information about “the political climate of entire academic departments,” which may influence whether students and donors “choose to attend or support Columbia,” the group said then.
“It’s important to revisit this more than decade-old dispute because it’s illustrative of how campus radicals often use academic freedom as a sword and shield,” French writes in National Review:
They’ll declare that they have the academic freedom to engage not just in radical scholarship but also to try to create an ideologically uniform department (true), but then they turn around and decry aggressive critiques of their radicalism and ideological uniformity, labeling those critiques a threat to their freedom (completely false). …
Bari is doing exactly what she did in 2004 and 2005. She perceived intolerance and called it out. She decried an unwillingness to debate and a university that seemed closed off to dissenting ideas. It is not censorship to critique censorship. It’s not bullying to criticize bullying. And it’s most definitely not “racism” to raise credible concerns about anti-Semitism. …
She was brave to take her stand those many years ago, and one thing I know after reading her work and watching the backlash — she remains brave today.