• The Shadow University; Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate; Free Press. 415 pages.
"Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” So states the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the cornerstone to the Bill of Rights. The courts have long extended the injunction on Congress to all governments throughout the land. Why, then, have universities recently implemented speech and conduct codes abridging students’ freedom of speech? This is the central question of Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate’s The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.
Carefully researched, laden with examples and clearly written, The Shadow University is a thundering statement for the freedom of speech. It is also a booming denouncement of the academy’s overt rejection of that freedom.
Kors and Silverglate start from a specific example, the infamous “water buffalo” affair at the University of Pennsylvania (for a brief summary, please read “Crimes of the Mind?” on pages 12-13 of this issue). Kors, a history professor at Penn, served as advisor to the student, Eden Jacobowitz.
With several examples as poign-ant as the Jacobowitz case, Kors and Silverglate detail what they call an assault on liberty on college campuses. “Universities have become the enemy of a free society,” they write, “and it is time for the citizens of that society to recognize this scandal of enormous proportions and to hold these institutions to account.”
It is an assault they find especially troubling because, of all places, universities should by virtue of their educational missions have the most open, not the most limited, inquiry.
Kors and Silverglate examine the fabric of academic freedom and find it in tatters. They also find that academic freedom has rarely been a blanket freedom; instead, it has usually been a restricted one. Twenty years ago, the authors observed, Princeton University prohibited the Labor party from distributing leaflets on campus; today, Harvard keeps televangelist interviewers off campus. “The music may change,” Kors and Silverglate write, “but the melody of selective academic freedom lingers on.”
The authors’ understanding that freedom of speech belongs to no one party, ideology or religion sets their book apart from conservative critiques of the academy. Granted, the objects of their moral outrage are usually administrators enslaved to the multiculturalist mindset, but it is not their worldview but their tactics to which the authors object. The multiculturalists are those who are responsible for curtailing freedom now. Had this book been written earlier, the authors would have set themselves in moral opposition to the McCarthyists. “Our goal is not to fabricate and glorify a past that never was,” they write, “but to call the present to account.”
Having come of age in the 1960s, the authors are especially shocked that their peers are behind the current muzzling of speech on campus. “How is it,” they ask, “that today’s most vocal critics of the First Amendment are in the academy and on the Left, the heirs, in fact, of the generation that, thirty-five years ago, gave us the Free Speech movement?”
The short answer to their question is the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who gained popularity during the 1960s demonstrations. Marcuse wrote of an alternative liberty, placing libertarian ideas of liberty and tolerance on end. He spoke of a “liberating tolerance” that required “intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.” The intolerance would apply to words and deeds; Marcuse wanted “the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.” This, of course, required “apparently undemocratic means.” This Marcusean intolerance spawned the current betrayal of liberty. Part of that intolerance requires an intolerance of those who defend free speech (and they rarely do so until a controversial speaker comes along, because only then is the principle of free speech ever questioned). As Kors and Silverglate write,
No one who defends trial by jury over popular justice in a murder trial is called a defender of murder; such a person is seen by all, as a defender of trial by jury. The defender of free speech, how-ever, is forever being told, on American campuses, that he or she is seeking, specifically, to make the campus safe for “racism,” “sexism,” or “homophobia.”
There is also a view that free speech itself is racist, sexist, the whole litany. This view is surely driving speech codes. The authors quote Barbara White, a professor of women’s studies at University of New Hampshire, who wrote to several groups at the university that “strict construction of the First Amendment is just another yoke around our necks.”
There is also another view, less ideological in its worldview but just as despicable in its application. That is the job-preserving mentality of administrators. Their zealotry is in careerism; they are the least likely, as Kors and Silverglate write, to “sacrifice their careers” for principles. “Self-serving spinelessness, not ideology, is what led to the current catastrophe in our universities,” they write.
The reason why conservatives, libertarians and Christians tend to be the least served by campus speech codes and illiberal policies is because, as Kors and Silverglate write,
Republicans, moderates, evangelicals, assimilationist blacks or Hispanics, and devout Catholics don’t occupy buildings or cause disruptions that will bring the media to campus. The improbable cry “the Lutherans are really mad” will not send administrators into panic. … Individualists do not frighten administrators. The self-appointed militants who claim to speak on behalf of all blacks, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, and feminist women do frighten them.
There are ways to lead the academy out of the Marcusean bog, the authors assert. Lawsuits have been one way, but each suit serves only to drag a single institution kicking and screaming towards the Constitution. The best way is to shame abusive universities into reform, as the authors write, “loudly and publicly, raising the stakes for careerists or ideologues.” It requires applying Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ insight that “sunlight is the most powerful of all disinfectants.” It will take courageous students, faculty, parents and even administrators.
Concluding with Penn, the site of some of the worst free-speech abuses in recent American history, the authors detail how “sunlight” worked. It culminated in 1995, when the new president of Penn, Judith Rodin, was installed. She sent a letter to Penn parents and alumni with the boast that, “Today at Penn, the content of student speech is no longer a basis for disciplinary action.” Kors and Silverglate note the “gracious integrity” of Rodin’s use of the phrase “no longer.”