If fascism comes to America, it will be through our college and university system.
The biggest cowards in our country today are many, if not most, of our college and university administrators followed closely by a fair amount of their faculty. They are allowing their institutions to be taken over by a monolithic world view that is increasingly totalitarian and antithetical to the diversity of opinion on which the search for truth depends.
The inmates are running the asylum — and not with any of the humor of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Social Justice Warriors are to social justice what the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is to democracy. In a few years, freshman handbooks may no longer be necessary. They can give out copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm instead.
And I’m not just talking about recent events at UC Berkeley, where the onetime bastion of the free speech movement has turned into ground zero for the anti-speech movement, spearheaded by the violent masked goons of the absurdly named “antifa,” speaking of Orwellian constructs. This restrictive attitude toward viewpoint diversity is pervasive throughout our colleges and universities, even though the freedom of speech enshrined in the First Amendment is arguably the most important of all principles on which this country was founded. Yet only a tiny minority of those responsible for our higher education have the courage to defend it. Most are so timid they won’t even lend their name to a petition.
Think I’m exaggerating? In September 2015, the indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) launched a campaign in support of the University of Chicago New Free Speech Statement that advocated for a “completely free and open discussion of ideas” on that campus. Since that time, only a paltry 590 people have signed on to endorse the statement, several feeling constrained to do so as “anonymous,” as if endorsing the Bill of Rights (maybe even the Magna Carta) were today hugely controversial and might endanger their ability to make a living.
Even more disturbing, as of December 19, 2016, only 17 (out of over 4000!) of our institutions of higher learning had adopted the U. Chicago statement or something similar. Among the missing (at that point anyway) were such august names as Harvard, Cornell, Brown, my own Dartmouth, Yale, the University of California system, University of Michigan, MIT, Caltech, Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Middlebury (needless to say)… I could go on, but it would obviously take up many pages. Shame on all of them.
We are at a moment when all stakeholders in our higher educational system — administrators, faculty, students and parents, actually the entire country — must take a firm stand against this creeping totalitarianism and support diversity of opinion on our campuses. The current monolithic atmosphere not only threatens our democratic system, it undermines education in all subjects, discouraging students from free inquiry while encouraging a lack of curiosity. It also creates an atmosphere where students are simply too frightened to express themselves in class, lest they are marked down by their professors for “incorrect” ideas or ostracized (in the tradition of the Chinese Cultural Revolution) by their fellow students.
The results of this are disastrous, socially and intellectually. Fear of ostracism induces the worst kind of conformity as well as, often, depression. And when ideas become unyieldingly orthodox in one area, they more easily become orthodox in all. The mind becomes inflexible and markedly less creative. Critical thinking disappears. This incurious rigidity mixed with fear undoubtedly has more to do than is commonly admitted with why members of the business community are complaining about the lack of preparedness of our recent graduates.
Fortunately, and almost in the nick of time, some organizations have already been taking a firm stand for this viewpoint diversity and deserve our fullest support. Heterodox University has aggregated a valuable list of faculty — liberal and conservative — who are advocates of free expression on campus. Good on them. HU also provides a useful guide to schools where openness prevails. On the more conservative side, the National Association of Scholars and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute are doing their best for an embattled campus minority, and Turning Point USA keeps a Professor Watchlist of those using the classroom for ideological indoctrination.
Since students are the consumers of education and its reason for being, equally, if not more, important are two excellent sites that deal with the student experience in today’s higher ed — The College Fix and Campus Reform. If you’re not reading them, you should be.
And not just casually. Because the people who are trying to keep our campuses free are on the front lines of the most important fight of our times — to keep America from descending into a Weimar Republic with decadent thugs shutting down speech across the country, just as they did in Germany in the ’20s and ’30s. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. Follow him on Twitter @rogerlsimon.