What Academic Freedom?

Radicalism on university campuses has changed somewhat since the 1960s. Back then, the radicals were fighting against what they perceived were conservative administrations and professors, and their protests often turned violent.

What they didn’t really understand is that most of those administrations and faculty members weren’t philosophical conservatives at all. Liberalism was dominant in the academic realm. It’s just that liberals at that time still professed a belief in honest debate over ideas.

Today, it’s those who were protesting in the 1960s who are running the universities. They haven’t lost their radical tinge even though they are now the “establishment.” That’s why the new wave of student radicalism is allowed and even supported: as the old cliché goes, the inmates are running the asylum.


Here are some examples.

Marquette University is a Catholic institution. Presumably, it would hold to Catholic teachings. Presumably. You would never know it.

When one student objected that a teaching assistant had cut off students’ criticism of gay rights and same-sex marriage in a classroom discussion, the TA said “some opinions are not appropriate.” The student was then accused of homophobia.

That student then told his tale to a professor at Marquette, John McAdams, who, after hearing of the incident, published a blog post calling out the TA for shutting off debate.

The administration’s response? Prof. McAdams was placed on indefinite academic leave and banned from campus. McAdams is a tenured professor, which shows what tenure actually means in practice if one runs afoul of the “proper” attitudes.

McAdams was informed he could be reinstated only after writing a letter of apology. He was instructed to affirm his commitment to the university’s “guiding values.” He responded that he was doing just that. The university didn’t like his response. He remains banished.


Then we have the silliness taking place at Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin began as a Christian community devoted to holiness and abolition of slavery back when Charles Finney was its professor of theology and later its president. How times change.

Last December, student protesters sent Oberlin’s president a long list of what they called “nonnegotiable” demands. Among those demands were the following:

  • An activism wage of $8.20 per hour for protesting.
  • Banning any grade lower than a C. After all, what can one expect of a student who is devoting so much time to activism? The college should recognize that students so devoted to improving society cannot be expected to spend a lot of time on classroom studies.
  • Replacing midterm exams with a conversation with professors during thier office hours. Such a substitution should be mandatory, the administration was told.

The administration apparently is taking these demands seriously and contemplating changes.

Meanwhile, one Oberlin professor has suggested on her Facebook page that Zionists orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, the rise of ISIS, and various terrorist acts that everyone else knows were perpetrated by Islamic radicals. While the board of trustees condemned those remarks, Oberlin’s president has only stated his firm commitment to “academic freedom.”

About the only freedom allowed on some campuses these days must be within certain constraints:


Every time I read reports of what is occurring at many universities, I thank God I have an outlet for true academic freedom where I teach.