The Liberal University

- 3 mins

I want to record some observations I’ve made about the direction in which higher education is headed in American Universities, from the perspective of an outsider. There is a strange new phenomenon of censorship related to political thought in universities today which stems not from the conservative Right, like in the past, but rather from the progressive Left that at face value appears to have taken over so many of the elite institutions of higher education today. Is this phenomenon real, or is it an artifact of the unpredictable dynamics of online social media?

Though much has been written about this issue of the apparent liberalization of American Universities, I would like to bring up three recent articles . Catherine Rampell in her article Liberal intolerance is on the rise on America’s college campuses provides statistics about the political views of incoming freshman, and compares these to views held in the 70s and 80s. Rampell exemplifies this characterization of liberal undergraduates

…[college students] have accused my writing of “taking away” both their voices and their agency, as if free speech were zero-sum.

George Will in another article from The Washington Post titled On American campuses, freedom from speech makes a number of observations of instances that can be viewed as intolerance. While these instances are definitely outliers, almost ridiculous to the casual non-American reader, it is important to trace the roots of these occurrences, not because they might in any way threaten society at large, but because they reflect changing attitudes and perceptions of what constitutes freedom of expression in certain, influential parts of society. Consider this quote:

A sombrero would constitute “cultural appropriation.” A pirate’s eye patch would distress the visually challenged…

Rampell and Will are making observations regarding to responses of college-going teenagers to innocuous events or writings. Does this merit concern regarding the future of education or large scale censorship in mainstream media? Consider recent events at the University of California at Berkeley. Being the origin of the modern Free Speech Movement, a layperson would expect Berkeley to be most receptive to the greatest diversity of views and opinions. Indeed, when I was in Berkeley for the first half of 2015, I found the city to be very accepting of diversity in terms of nationalities and political movements. It was around the time when the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining moment. Fast forward to 2016, multiple controversial conservative speakers are banned from speaking on campus, with violent protests. It remains to be seen if the response will be identical this year, in spite of scathing criticism from both the Left and the Right. Peter Lawler in his article Conservative Liberal Education? discusses this ever phenomenon in the context of extant, ever widening rift between the political groups in this country. He makes an observation at the end of his article

To win their own freedom, they [young students] need intellectual, cultural, and literary resources that are often absent from our increasingly libertarian or permissive world. Liberal education in a democracy surely has some responsibility along these lines.

In my understanding, this notion of responsibility seems to be missing in the progressive rhetoric of inclusivity.

In our class, we deal with issues pertaining to higher education. While there are stories of how this liberal censuring is affecting research, they are far fewer than those that come from undergraduate student groups. It remains to be seen how politics changes the landscape of higher education and science research as the classes of undergraduate liberal activists graduate and populate doctoral programs.

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