Human Nature on Campus
It’s always gratifying to see someone on the left openly acknowledge how Progressives really feel about freedom.
Writing in the Harvard Crimson, Sandra Y. L. Korn (Harvard Class of 2014) has called for the abolition of academic freedom, a principle she deems “a bit misplaced to me,” in favor of what she terms “a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’”
“When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
“The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do.”
Now there’s an honest young woman. No lip service to outdated American values like individual liberty. No tortured Obamaesque rationalizations of FCC plans to inspect broadcast news operations under the ruse of defending the First Amendment.
Sandra Y. L. Korn sees liberty as a flat-out obstacle -- indeed a contradiction -- to justice. And she insists it’s time to man up (well, person up) and cast the insidious idea of academic freedom into the ashcan of history.
Her view extends beyond scholarly research. She calls for cleansing university faculties of anyone entertaining ideas inconsistent with how Progressives might want their institutions to look. And as a salutary example she applauds the removal of one Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard summer instructor who imprudently published what she described as “hateful commentary about Muslims in India.” She noted how
“the Harvard community organized to ensure that he would not return to teach on campus. I consider that sort of organizing both appropriate and commendable. Perhaps it should even be applied more broadly.”
Sandra Y. L. Korn then advocates taking similar action against other errant faculty:
“Does Government Professor Harvey Mansfield have the legal right to publish a book in which he claims that ‘to resist rape a woman needs … a certain ladylike modesty?’ Probably. Do I think he should do that? No, and I would happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position. ‘Academic freedom’ might permit such an offensive view of rape to be published; academic justice would not.”
I remember a time when it was scholars of leftish outlook — “speaking truth to power” on university campuses resistant to “change” — who stood behind the shield of academic freedom. Gone are those days.
Sandra Y. L. Korn does not acknowledge that the intellectual purging she advocates is now regularly applied in academic institutions — if less overtly. In fact, it’s pretty much standard operating procedure for faculty search committees and tenure-evaluation boards. But such a process is no doubt too discreet for her taste. Better to conduct public denunciations reminiscent of Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution.
Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh has gotten onto the story. World Net Daily quotes him as making a cogent point:
“‘This is not unique. This is not satire. This is not parody,’ Limbaugh said on his nationally broadcast radio program Tuesday. ‘This woman, Sandra Korn, is real, and she’s serious that free speech needs to be abridged because it is threatening liberalism. It means that liberalism cannot hold up to scrutiny. It cannot withstand a challenge. If liberalism were infallible, if liberalism were so powerful and automatic, they would welcome challenges to it -- and they would welcome the attempt to persuade and to convert. But instead they’re threatened by it.’”
Rush goes on to cast a wider net...
“‘This is what the left is,’ he explained. ‘Why do you think they want to get rid of this program [Limbaugh’s]? Why do you think they want to get rid of Fox News? Why do they want to silence criticism? What is Obama’s modus operandi? Eliminate the opposition. This is already a movement!’”
But academics themselves suffer from the mode of thinking that can give rise to a Sandra Y. L. Korn. Indeed, the average university campus today is a virtual minefield through which even the most Progressive-minded scholar must tread with the utmost care.
Ask University of Iowa President Sally Mason, who had to apologize for what would seem a most innocuous answer to a question about campus sexual assaults put to her the university’s newspaper, the Daily Iowan. As reported by the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dr. Mason said:
“I’m not pleased that we have sexual assaults, obviously. The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault.”
So far, so good. But then she added...
“That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations.”
Now, I know nothing about Dr. Mason or her views. But given that she has risen to the presidency of an American university at this particular moment in our intellectual history, I feel relatively safe in assuming she’s probably not a right-winger. Was Dr. Mason diminishing the moral evil of rape? Dismissing its damaging psychological effects? Was she even making a point similar to that of Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield about the relevance of “ladylike modesty”?
Hardly. She was expressing a hope for greater insight into the dynamics of sexual assault -- which certainly sounds like a scholarly view.
Yet her remark sparked outrage. Along with the requisite campus demonstrations. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported:
“Some interpreted her comment to mean that sexual assault is human nature, which led to the creation of a website called NotInMyNature.com. The group rallied virtually [collecting] hundreds of signatures on an online petition asking UI to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault, reform its assault communication, provide funding for educational prevention measures that address what they call a rape culture on campus, and for Mason to publicly apologize for the statements in the newspaper article.”
I’ve never been on the UI campus, so I don’t know what might be happening there that could approach the level of pervasive wickedness suggested by the term “rape culture.” But it was predictable that someone would take this opportunity to demand more funding. Which means more research money. Which means more stipends and assistantships. Maybe even a paid sabbatical to study sexual assault prevention methods at other schools around the country.
But really now, nothing Dr. Mason said would seem to justify the pique seen at UI, right up to a special session of the university’s Board of Trustees called to discuss her transgression.
Actually, her transgression was far more subtle than it appeared, though no less disturbing to Progressive sensibilities. Dr. Mason had dared to suggest that there is something called “human nature,” a fundamental essence, a deep unchanging core within the hearts of men and women.
Whether or not she intended it, Dr. Mason was making a religious point. She was saying that there is a thing, a place, a center that encapsulates the uniqueness and dignity which Judaism and Christianity identify in each individual human being. Something that has both positive and negative aspects, that is capable of sin and redemption, but that tends to resist Progressivist schemes for human improvement.
And that truth is intolerable in today’s academic environment. Because it demands recognition of the individual’s freedom -- freedom to espouse views that are pleasing or views that are offensive -- which Sandra Y. L. Korn and her Progressive cohorts reject in favor of whatever arbitrary and transient justice might be defined by current intellectual fancy.
Bill Kassel is a writer, communications consultant, and media producer based in Michigan. His essays and random rants can be found online at www.billkassel.com.