Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Academic freedom, attacked left and right

By Samuel Goldman The Week

Universities are surprisingly popular places. In surveys of public confidence, they fare better than banks, big corporations, and the entertainment industry — and much better than journalists. While only about a third of Americans have a degree, colleges play an outsize role in popular culture, too. That includes the massive collegiate athletics industry as well as niche products like The Chair.

Attitudes toward higher education are sharply partisan, though. A Pew study in August found 76 percent of Democrats but only 34 percent of Republicans believe colleges have a positive social impact. And that difference is reflected in two recent controversies about academic freedom, one at Yale Law School (YLS) and one at the University of Georgia. Disparate in some respects, both incidents involve subversion of the university’s core principle of academic freedom in pursuit of knowledge.

In the first case, at Yale, administrators have come under fire for pressuring a student to apologize for hosting a “traphouse” party featuring “Popeye’s chicken” and “basic-b–ch-American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.).” Recordings show an associate dean and the YLS diversity director threatened professional consequences for the student, whose ostensibly “triggering” activities also included participation in the Federalist Society, an influential right-leaning legal scholarship organization. “You’re a law student,” they warned, “and there’s a bar you have to take.”


Leave a Reply