The Not-So-Free Exchange of Ideas

Since the 1960s, academia has become increasingly hostile to the free exchange of ideas. Often home to ideologues who are accustomed to having their every word embraced by the students they teach, it is a controlled environment full of fiefs over which PhDs frequently rule with an ivory fist.

An unadvertised consequence of this is that whole colleges and departments prescribe and police what will be taught, what questions will be answered, and what belief system will constitute the doctrine of the classroom. Professors who don't hold to academic orthodoxy (whatever it may be at the moment) face not only censure but even loss of ­position.

For example, in 2010, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Kenneth Howell was fired for explaining the Roman Catholic Church's position on human sexual behavior to members of his class. Understand that it was Howell's job to teach on Catholicism. Yet a complaint was filed against him by an "offended" student after he sent an email to his class on May 4 as a follow-up to a lecture he'd given on May 3. In the email, Howell accurately explained that Roman Catholics draw their beliefs on human sexuality from "natural reality," understood in the light of Natural Moral Law. Or, to put it as Howell did, "Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY."

Again, Howell's job was to teach Catholicism to his students. And even though communicating the Catholic Church's position on sexual behavior fell under his purview, he was fired for doing so. This is an excellent demonstration of "moving the goalposts" on a kicker to keep him from putting the ball through the uprights.

Or consider the plight of Professor Mike Adams at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. When he was hired as an assistant professor in 1993, Adams was an atheist, and he was quickly embraced and praised by his colleagues—so much so that by 1998 he was promoted to associate professor. However, in 2000 he became a Christian (see "Twice Convicted," Salvo 14, Autumn 2010), and the love just as quickly turned to hate: Adams was literally persecuted for his faith. Despite his award-winning academic record of teaching, research, and service, he was denied a promotion to full professor because of speeches he gave and columns he wrote that reflected his emancipated worldview.

The Bigger Issue

In a nation where freedom of speech is among the first freedoms explicitly listed and protected in its founding document, and where the academy was once the arena in which ideas most freely flourished, such things should never happen. But ever since the leftists staked their claim on academia, all but calling it their own, they have been determined to maintain a closed environment in which the only ideas professors are "free" to share are pre-approved ideas.

Thus, even though Howell went out of his way to explain that the Catholic position on sexual behavior makes a "distinction between persons and acts when engaging moral reasoning," he was relieved of his teaching duties for explaining the Catholic position, in a class about Catholicism, that homosexual acts are not moral acts, according to reality. And although Adams's columns all addressed public concerns—­including civil rights, campus culture, sex, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and morality—the university saw fit to deny Adams a promotion he otherwise would have received with no problem.

Fortunately, over time, and with the aid of the Alliance Defense Fund, both professors found relief: Howell has been allowed to start teaching again, and the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has ruled that Adams's speech is protected under the First Amendment. But the bigger issue is why either situation ever happened in the first place. Both exemplify the not-so-free exchange of ideas that so frequently characterizes the university in the 21st century. •


From Salvo 20 (Spring 2012)
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This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #20, Winter 2018 Copyright © 2019 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo20/campus-gags