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Gay Marriage, Climate Change, and Academic Freedom

Postmillennialism —  Leave a comment

I oppose same sex marriage. I am agnostic on the extent to which human activities contribute to global warming or climate change and whether the phenomena themselves warrant the major economic dislocations that are proposed as remedies.

In both cases, my positions appear to be at substantial distance from the opinions that prevail in American higher education. And I hasten to add, they are my opinions, not positions taken by the National Association of Scholars. NAS has taken no position on gay marriage or global warming and by its nature can’t. It is an organization that deals with academic standards, the governance of colleges and universities, higher education finance, and public policies that affect scholarship and learning. And it has a membership of some 3,000 mostly academics whose personal views on substantive social and political issues are all over the map.

Academic Freedom and modeerF cimedacA

There is, however, a connection between my opinions on gay marriage and climate change and the NAS. Since its founding in 1987, NAS has championed academic freedom. Not, to be sure, the strange inversion of academic freedom —   modeerF cimedacA — that triumphantly defends the right of faculty members to propagandize their students and to treat scholarship as a subspecies of politics. Rather, NAS has defended the academic freedom of faculty members and students to think and to express their own thoughts in situations where they are pressured to conform to someone else’s political standard.

NAS traces its version of academic freedom most directly to the AAUP’s classic 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. The AAUP revisited those principles in 1940 and 1970 without retreating from their core. But in recent years, via declarations such as Freedom in the Classroom (2007) and Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions (2011), the AAUP has thrown its weight behind modeerF cimedacA. The regnant idea is that the great danger to free inquiry on campus is pressure from censorious outsiders.

But American society has shown very little disposition to get in the way of academics who abuse their professional opportunities. The prevailing political pressures on academics to conform aren’t from zealous trustees, capitalist plutocrats, the Koch brothers, Tea Partiers, or overbearing state legislators. Though all of these occasionally weigh in, the day-to-day reality is that academic freedom is compromised by academic colleagues. The pressure—relentless on many campuses—comes from the custodians of political correctness.

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