ACTA in the News | Freedom of Association

The anti-semitic culture of academia cannot fix itself by more witch-hunting

Americans now see the moral and intellectual corruption of our most elite universities
THE TELEGRAPH   |  December 13, 2023 by Steven McGuire

The revelations of antisemitism on elite college campuses – and the dysfunctional responses of their academic leaders – have shocked the American people. Already reporting historically low levels of confidence in higher education, Americans now see the depth of the moral and intellectual corruption of our most elite universities, which has come to include blatantly illegal antisemitic activity. Every decent person is horrified and demands reform. But it is critical that we not give those who have ruined these institutions even more power to censor and purge the heterodox, as they have been doing for decades.

Unfortunately, that is a likely outcome. Before she resigned, University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill said the university’s policies needed to be “clarified and evaluated.” A member of Penn’s Open Expression Committee has argued we need to restrict speech to fight antisemitism. The University of Michigan has announced a new institute to address antisemitism that is couched in the language of diversity, equity and, inclusion (DEI) – an ideology that fuels both antisemitism and speech suppression on campus. Harvard University’s response included expanding DEI resources as well.

Most American colleges and universities are dominated by monocultures that actively discourage and root out heterodox thinkers. Consider, for example, a recent survey that found only three per cent of Harvard University faculty are conservative, while 77 per cent are liberal or very liberal (progressive and leftist were not offered as choices). At the University of Pennsylvania, 99.7 per cent of faculty political donations went to Democrats last year. Should we give these majorities more power to suppress speech rather than less?

Academic institutions have abused individuals for daring to express unfashionable viewpoints. Biologist Carole Hooven was made miserable at Harvard for teaching that sex is binary. University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot was disinvited from giving a lecture at MIT because he had written about the importance of merit, fairness, and equality in the sciences. Penn Law Professor Amy Wax is still under investigation at Penn for questioning affirmative action. Do we want to enable institutions to justify their actions in these cases and repeat the behavior?

Universities should be places to engage in intellectual pursuits for their own sake, but many of the people who inhabit these institutions treat the intellectual life as a means to their ideological ends. They protest rather than listen, act rather than think. Whole departments and programs have been created or colonized by activist ideologues who think this way and exclude anyone who disagrees with them. They use power rather than persuasion to achieve their purposes whenever they can. Why would we further enable them?

And the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, as the upcoming generation is even more intolerant than the current one. The process of breaking the ideological monopolies on our college campuses and replacing conformity with freedom and intolerance with openness is going to be generational. Reacting in this heated moment with the wrong policies will only delay vital reform – or ensure that it never comes to fruition at all. We should be working to improve and solidify policies that can help the heterodox to withstand the pressures they will inevitably face rather than giving the next generation the tools to create an “unmitigated and grinding despotism,” to quote Tacitus.

At the same time, there are ways to confront antisemitism (and other forms of hate) on our campuses. Institutions should have clear (but viewpoint neutral) policies concerning public safety, discrimination, and harassment. They should have fair rules regulating student groups, on-campus events, and protests. And it is essential that they enforce these policies. Too often, university leaders back down, as MIT did when it threatened protesters with suspension during an unauthorized demonstration, but then failed to follow through when they refused to comply.

Universities must also make substantial educational and personnel changes, instituting curricula that do not begin and end with critical theory while ensuring that hiring processes support rather than subvert intellectual diversity.

Antisemitism is repulsive and must be confronted. But it would only exacerbate the tragedy of American higher education to respond to the outrages we have witnessed by implementing policies and setting precedents that will further enable the very people who are responsible for debasing our institutions to do even more damage to them.

This post appeared on The Telegraph on December 13, 2023.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More