December 5, 2021

FIGHT THE POWER, STICK IT TO THE MAN: Alumni Withhold Donations, Demand Colleges Enforce Free Speech.

Two years ago Cornell University asked a California real-estate developer and longtime donor for a seven-figure contribution.

Carl Neuss didn’t write the check immediately, saying he was worried about what he saw as liberal indoctrination on campus and declining tolerance toward competing viewpoints.

To allay Mr. Neuss’s concerns, the development office introduced him to some politically moderate professors, he said. The attempt backfired. The professors, he said, told him they felt humiliated by the diversity training they were required to attend and perpetually afraid they would say something factual—but impolitic.

“If you say the wrong words, you could lose your position or be shunned,” said Mr. Neuss. . . .

Mr. Neuss, who graduated from Cornell in 1976, withheld his donation and then helped start the Cornell Free Speech Alliance. It is one of about 20 such dissident alumni organizations that have taken root on college campuses over the last couple of years—including several this fall.

Many of the groups are driven by politically moderate or conservative men who graduated from college in the late 1960s and 1970s, according to interviews with several of the group leaders. They believe progressive groupthink has taken over college campuses, and are urging schools to protect free speech and encourage a diverse set of views. In some cases, alumni are withholding donations to pressure schools to take them seriously.

“This is a battle for our culture and, in many ways, for Western civilization,” said John Craig, who heads a similar organization at Davidson College in North Carolina called Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse. “Open and free expression is what makes our country great, and if we lose this, our country is in deep trouble.” . . .

This fall, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology disinvited University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot from delivering a scientific lecture at the school because he alleged that a new cadre of diversity, equity and inclusion officers was creating a climate in which faculty were self-censoring.

The disinvitation prompted Tom Hafer, a 1970 MIT graduate, to withhold donations and then to help launch the MIT Free Speech Alliance to support free speech, open inquiry and viewpoint diversity. It currently has about 250 members. He is calling for the school to host a debate between Dr. Abbot and one of the six new associate deans for diversity, equity and inclusion.

A spokesman for MIT said the school is grateful for their alumni, respects their perspective and declined to comment about specific views.

“This is our litmus test because he holds ideas that the woke crowd finds anathema,” Mr. Hafer said. “He needs to be able to explain his position without being harassed or interrupted or intimidated.”


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