Posted on March 2, 2021

Academic Freedom Is Withering

Eric Kaufmann, Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2021

Academic freedom is in crisis on American campuses. Last year, the National Association of Scholars recorded 65 instances of professors being disciplined or fired for protected speech, a fivefold increase from the year before. Yet many of academia’s defenders brush aside worries about dismissal campaigns and the lack of ideological diversity as little more than a collection of anecdotes cherry-picked to feed a right-wing moral panic.

My new report for the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology gives the lie to these claims. {snip} High-profile activist excesses are mere symptoms of a much wider problem of progressive authoritarianism. Roughly 1 in 3 conservative academics and graduate students has been disciplined or threatened with disciplinary action. A progressive monoculture empowers radical activist staff and students to violate the freedom of political minorities like conservatives or “gender-critical” feminists, who believe in the biological basis of womanhood—all in the name of emotional safety or social justice.

Political discrimination is pervasive: 4 in 10 American academics indicated in a survey this summer that they would not hire a known Trump supporter for a job. In Canada, the share is 45%, while in Britain, 1 in 3 academics wouldn’t hire a Brexit supporter. Between one-fifth and half of academics and graduate students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning grant applications, journal submissions and promotion cases. On a four-person panel, this virtually guarantees that a conservative will face discrimination.


Some 75% of American and British conservative academics in social sciences and humanities say their departments offer a hostile climate for their beliefs. {snip}

Fully 7 in 10 conservative American academics say they self-censor in their teaching, research or academic discussions. {snip}


The result of this hostile environment is conformity to a culture that is out of alignment with the nation’s. As in previous studies, I find a low level of political diversity, with only 5% of American scholars in the social sciences and humanities identifying as conservative. In the U.S. and Canada, academics on the left outnumber those on the right by a ratio of 14 to 1.

{snip} A positive sign is that only 1 in 10 academics support “canceling” controversial right-wing professors by firing them from their jobs. But younger academics are twice as likely to endorse a dismissal campaign as older faculty. Doctoral candidates are around three times as likely, suggesting the problem of political intolerance is likely to get worse. {snip}