1994 film PCUIt was an important film about a rebellion of a fraternity against its politically correct university. Not because the movie was especially good—it wasn’t. Because it demonstrated that political correctness was officially a joke, it was an important milestone.
P.C. is a snide term. For the past ten years, it had been a real and strong force on campus. It had become the laughing stock of politicians from all political stripes by the middle of the 1990s. Production of the mainstream film mocking political correctness was a sign that it had lost its cultural moment.
Moreover, campus speech codes that were considered punitive were also being rescinded. Among the most prominent cases was Stanford Law School, which boasted a notorious speech code banning “speech or other expression…intended to insult or stigmatize” an individual on the basis of membership in a protected class arguably including every living human. To see the abuse of a ban against insults, you don’t need to be a lawyer. PCU itself, which makes fun of campus activists, feminists, and vegetarians, could potentially get you in trouble under such a broad and vague rule. In 1995, the Stanford speech code was defeated by the court. This marked the end of the First Great Age of Political Correctness.
Many assumed that this was the end of political correctness. It grew in strength over the following two decades. This was rooted in university employment practices and speech police, before it evolved into what we now call “wokeness” (or the much-abused “cancel culture”).
The rise and fall of political correctness did not occur. It went underground before rising again. In fact, the movement is more powerful than ever. Some influential left-leaning figures still minimize the issue, even going as far to claim that an increase in tenured professors who are fired because of off-limits speech is evidence of a healthy campus. This inability to acknowledge a problem in academia has encouraged culture warriors from the right who are now launching their own attacks against free speech in American education.
The Second Great Age of Political Correctness has fully engulfed us. We must first understand the circumstances that led to our current situation and then admit the extent of the problem.
It is easy to assume that campus assaults on free speech are a thing of the distant past in the decades following the First Great Age of Political Correctness.
Administrators and professors dismissed the concerns by claiming that there is no shortage in viewpoint diversity. And, of course, those who suggest otherwise were likely to have sinister or racist motives. Wherever they were legal challenged, speech codes were overwhelmingly rejected. P.C. The P.C. This was a punchline that became so popular, some pundits dismissed it as a hoax. Problem solved, right?
Hardly. Actually, professors began to be less interested in speech codes after the mid-1990s. The Ignored Years were when campus speech was under attack. One generation later, the seeds of deeper change were planted during this time.
Speech codes ought to have been thrown out of court after the 1995 defeat by Stanford. Their number has risen dramatically instead. Increasing. In 2009, 74% of colleges had very restrictive codes and 21% had vague speech codes which could be used to limit speech. Only 8 of 346 top colleges were without a restrictive code. Many of these policies, unlike in the 1990s were led by an enviable administrative class and not by faculty.
During this time, professor viewpoint diversity declined. In 1996, the ratio of self-identified liberal faculty to self-identified conservative faculty was 2-to-1; by 2011, the ratio was 5-to-1, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Recent statistics show a more dire picture. The National Association of Scholars conducted a 2019 survey on political registration of faculty at two of the highest-ranked private and public universities in every state. It found that the ratio of registered Democrat faculty to registered Republican faculty was approximately 9:1. The Northeast had a ratio of about 15 to 1.
The most evenly divided discipline of economics is where Republicans outnumber Democrats “only” 3 to 1. Mathematics is the next most equal discipline with a 6-to-1 ratio. Comparing this with English and sociology where they are approximately 27-to-1, it’s quite remarkable. The ratio is staggeringly high in anthropology at 42 to 1.
Higher education was much more costly and more complicated during the Ignored years. From 1994–95 to 2018–19, the inflation-adjusted cost of public college tuition nearly doubled. In the meantime, there was an increase in administrative staff. From roughly one administrator to every two faculty members back in 1990, this number has nearly doubled in 2018-19.
Samuel J. Abrams, Sarah Lawrence College’s in-house researcher wrote that preliminary research revealed a “12 to one ratio of conservative and liberal college administrators”. The New York Times in 2018. He concluded: “It seems that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a Thank you liberal professoriate—and socialized by an Amazing liberal group of administrators.” Follow the Times article, Abrams was targeted twice by students in an unsuccessful campaign to get him fired for speaking out.
Popularization of bias-related incident programmes, also called “bias response groups” (or “BRTs”) was a common occurrence in the 2000s. They are designed to eradicate “bias”, also known as “prejudice,” on campus. This allows anyone in the community to anonymously file complaints to the administration. These programs are an attempt to enforce the campus’ orthodoxy in ways that may be constitutional. In 2016, almost 40% of all surveyed colleges were equipped with BRTs.
BRTs used to be used for policing jokes in public and references from pop culture. Later, reports speech covered everything, from the University of Michigan’s “snow penis,” to the University of California San Diego humor magazine that mocked the notion of safe spaces, and even an Ohio incident at John Carroll University where an anonymous student reported it. [the] African-American Alliance’s student protest was making white students feel uncomfortable.”
In the 2000s, ideas like “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings” were also commonplace on campus. The number of disinvitations to speak, where speaking requests are rescinded due to objections or protests slowly increased.
Particularly education schools became more militant, and this had a huge impact on our current situation. The early 2000s began with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)—the accreditor of over 600 graduate education programs—”recommending” that education students be required to demonstrate a commitment to social justice. This requirement was adopted by the Teachers College at Columbia University, which is a highly influential institution. NCATE was forced to remove the recommendation in 2005 after protests from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), my CEO and president. However, many schools including Columbia’s Teachers College did not comply.
Social justice activism was a major focus for education school graduates. They went on to be leaders in K-12 teaching and the growing ranks of college administrators. Sarah Lawrence’s Abrams found that 54% of college administrators hold degrees from educational schools.
The popularization of “orientation” programs was the result of two education-related graduates. They were implemented in several forms across the country and could be called thought reform efforts. At the University of Delaware in the late ’00s, for example, students were subjected to interrogations by student leaders about all manner of personal topics—their views on gay marriage, their own sexual orientations, when they discovered their sexuality, whether they would consider dating members of other races and ethnicities, and more. Students were then offered “treatments” such as one-to-one sessions with resident advisors to help inculcate correct moral beliefs.
Colleges can also require “diversity declarations” to be a condition for faculty promotions and hires. These statements effectively require faculty to affirm and provide examples of their commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion—which, of course, are rarely defined. Like NCATE’s recommended social justice requirement, they function as political litmus tests—demonstrations of one’s commitment to prevailing orthodoxies.
University of California Berkeley has a system that assigns scores to prospective faculty who adhere to certain ideological views. For example, candidates who attest to the belief that it is important to “ignore all backgrounds and treat everyone equally” are not given a negative score.
In order to preserve the privacy of students during the Ignored Years university administrators set up infrastructure. alive—moving from speech codes to BRTs as speech codes were shot down in court; encouraging the hiring of even more politically homogeneous professors and administrators; and reframing speech policing as a crucial part of protecting students’ mental health.
The Explosion of Censorship
Jenny Jarvie’s March 2014 “Trigger Happy” is the one piece of writing that marks the end to the Ignored Years. New Republic article critical of campus trigger warnings—the practice of alerting students anytime a potentially sensitive topic is about to come up in class conversation if the teacher thinks it may “trigger” a trauma response in students or just upset them in some way. Jarvie’s piece was a precursor to a significant increase in the coverage of these topics beyond conservative media. Jonathan Chait also contributed to this milestone. New York Magazine article “Not A Very P.C. Jon Ronson’s book and magazine article “Not A Very P.C. So, you’ve been publically shammedBoth were published in 2015. People suddenly started to pay attention again to the speech being said on campus.
This was not just an increase of coverage. Another thing had happened on campus. These campus censorship efforts were often led by administrators in the 20th century. These efforts were resisted by students. But, student-led censorship saw an increase in the late 2013s. The Ignored Years infrastructure was creating downstream effects.
They were the children of activists education schools graduates, and they were responsible for the 2013 generation who flocked to campuses. Sometimes they were the very children of those students who pushed for speech codes in the 1980s and 1990s.
It also had an early exposure to social media. This generation was aware of the harmful and degrading speech that can occur online and anonymously. However, it was not taught the importance of freedom of speech to ensure democracy’s functioning and knowledge production.
There were many high-profile campus free speech incidents in 2015. The most well-known incident was that between Nicholas Christakis, sociologist and Yale students over inappropriate Halloween costumes.
Middlebury College saw outright violence in 2017, with students using force against those who opposed their speech. Middlebury had a Professor Allison Stanger who was left permanently hurt in an altercation with Charles Murray. Next came 2020 with many high-profile instances of efforts to get students and professors canceled all over the country.
One might assume that the increased media attention and the numerous high-profile incidents of campus speech crackdowns—including violent confrontations caught on video—would have definitively demonstrated that the campus free speech situation has become dismal. There were debates over whether campus speech was in crisis. But new arguments emerged insisting that academic freedom and campus censorship weren’t a problem.
Stranger Than Fiction
Netflix’s The ChairThis is an intelligent, smart and well-acted series. This series is about the challenges faced by an English professor at an elite college of liberal arts with declining admissions. The series’ central theme is the expulsion of a tenured professor after he gave a mocking Nazi salute in a modernism lecture. His students call him Nazis and ask for his resignation.
While it isn’t quite so comical, this could still be considered the era’s best. PCUIn that it shows that people are willing to ridicule and resist the growing illiberalism on campuses these past six or five years. It could also be taken to indicate that college students are now willing to change the oppressive atmosphere.
However, not everyone saw it this way. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote that “a real-world tenured professor like Bill would be extremely unlikely to lose his job for making fun of Nazis in the wrong way.” Her concern over campus climate is also suggested. Really about people over 40 feeling ashamed of being “repelled by the sensibilities of the young.”
Polling shows that Generation Z, the group of people who were born after 1996, has the least positive view on cancel culture. Goldberg claims that The Chair used an implausible example of a threat to free speech on campus is undermined by the fact that something very similar actually happened earlier this year.
Robert Schuyler from the University of Pennsylvania was made to step down in January. He had reacted to being denied access at his departmental meeting and gave a mock Nazi salute. Criticians called the gesture “heinous,” and asked that Schuyler be punished to protest “all forms” of prejudice. According to student newspapers, Schuyler said that he did not support Nazism. This was as though his humor about the strict enforcement of rules at faculty meetings could be legitimately interpreted as support for National Socalist ideology.
If you defend campus free speech, the case of a Nazi salute will be one of the most difficult cases to resolve in any given year. The fact that Schuyler was being sarcastic is barely noticeable in an age where speech’s effect can be considered more important than intent. It doesn’t require a Nazism accusation to land you in serious trouble. For quoting James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr., for asking students about the effects of historical shifts in travel and trading patterns called “Columbian Exchange” and for speculation on the causes of the COVID-19 epidemic, professors were targeted. After students raised concerns about Jason Kilborn, a University of Illinois Chicago professor of law was put on leave. He underwent months of investigations. self-censored reference to two epithets—literally, “N_____” and “B____”—in a law school exam hypothetical About workplace discrimination.
If you don’t mind, The Chair made the students demanding the professor’s resignation look more reasonable than they often do in real life. This series shows a confrontation between students that is reminiscent of Christakis’ encounter in 2015. I was there. Christakis was confronted by students, who shouted at him, was broken down, called him disgusting and said he should stop sleeping at night. Why? Nicholas’ wife, Erika, had argued in an email that students should be able to decide which Halloween costumes to wear—an argument Students autonomy that was surely less offensive than a Nazi salute.
At least 200 efforts have been made to remove speakers from campuses since 2015. 101 of them were successful. However, protesters can block access to speakers deemed controversial or bang drums. They also pull off the fire alarm in order that speeches aren’t heard. A few speakers have actually been assaulted, including unknown chemicals sprayed at conservative podcaster Michael Knowles at University of Missouri–Kansas City. The 2017 Berkeley Riots over Milo Yiannopoulos Speech included broken windows, bleeding spectators and the use of fire bombs.
The ‘Chilling Effect’
Goldberg’s article was partially based on the claim that has been made by Liberal Currents editor Adam Gurri, that only a small number of professors have been targeted for cancellation. Gurri said that “if any other social problems were occurring at such a frequency and on this scale,” he wrote. “We would consider it effective solved.”
The data used by FIRE to calculate Gurri’s number of targeted professors is what gave rise to Gurri. It does not demonstrate that the problem has been effectively resolved in context.
FIRE had 471 instances of professors trying to fire or punish them for violating constitutionally protected speech. In fact, almost all of these cases ended in sanctions. One hundred and six of these cases resulted in the termination of employment. These attempts have increased in frequency, going from 30 in 2015 up to 122 by 2020. This list contains 172 tenured faculty members who were penalized, with 27 being fired.
Tenure was meant to protect one’s beliefs, speech, teaching and research from being terminated. It was rare that a tenured professor had been fired for any reason related to their speech or scholarship. In a matter of years, 27 tenured faculty members were fired because they spoke out. This is unprecedented. It is a breach of the entire purpose of tenure. Professors are assured they will not be fired for exercising their rights. This number, contrary to Gurri’s assertions, isn’t small.
This argument is similar to another false argument that campus speech culture advocates make. Commonly, it starts off by noting the number of colleges in the country. Then they dismiss the numerous attempts to make professors disappear as being too few. The problem appears diffuse. In reality, it’s quite concentrated.
These are the 100 best schools, according to U.S. News & World ReportSince 2015, 65 schools have been targeted by a professor. In contrast, top 10 schools were subject to an average seven incidents Each.
If you begin with the 100 top universities, then you can eliminate schools in FIRE’s Scholars Under Fire database. Schools with extremely restrictive speech codes or schools where FIRE intervened for a student, faculty member, school with a Bias response team, schools with successful disinvitation campaigns, schools with an effective disinvitation, and schools with a Bias response team, you will be left with two institutions, the California Institute of Technology, and the Colorado School of Mines. You can eliminate all schools with “yellowlight” speech codes.
The problem exists in certain places. Harvard, the “most powerful university in the globe”, is a notable example. It educates a large portion of America’s ruling classes. As with most elite colleges and universities, Harvard’s faculty are politically homogeneous. Just 2.5% of Harvard’s faculties of arts and science identify themselves as conservative and 0.4% as very conservative. Twelve public attacks have occurred on Harvard professors since 2015, despite their overwhelming ideologies.
Harvard pulled the admissions of 10 students who were expressing offensive opinions in a Facebook group, and did so again in 2017. In 2013, the school surreptitiously scanned resident deans’ email accounts in the wake of a cheating scandal—not to find the cheaters but to sniff out who had leaked an email About the scandal, a gross violation of faculty privacy.
Gurri and other people are trying to downplay the problems. This is because Gurri and others have wished away the chilling effect, the well-known psychological and legal fact that people self-censor when asked to choose which idea, joke or opinion will cause them trouble. Professors tell us that they feel chilled since years. As far back as 2010, when the Association of American Colleges & Universities asked professors to respond to the statement, “It is safe to have unpopular views on campus,” only 16.7 percent strongly agreed.
Eric Kaufmann, Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology’s 2021 Report, found that 70 percent of US conservative academics feel hostile to their beliefs. Additionally, 62% of all conservative graduate students believe that “my political opinions wouldn’t fit” which can make life more difficult. While 1 in 5 faculty admit to being discriminated against because a grant application was perceived conservative or “right-leaning,” slightly more than 1/10 faculty say that they have done so on paper and in promotions.
One of the most sad stories of tenured faculty members is the one of University of North Carolina Wilmington professor Mike Adams. Adams’ struggles with the school stretched over nearly 20 years. Adams, who was rejected tenure for his conservative writing style, filed a successful suit that not only secured him tenure, but also secured an important 4th Circuit appels court decision protecting academic liberty in five states. Adams, however, was forced into an early retirement last summer after tweeting a joke about COVID-19 restrictions being likened to slavery. Adams committed suicide within weeks.
Get to the Gutter
Most of the incidents mentioned in the above list have been from the left side of the target scholar. However, 164 incidents have been from the right side of the targeted scholar. Actually, conservatives have tried to make campus a better place by changing approaches which look uncomfortablely like speech codes that they struggled with for years.
Todd Starnes, a conservative author, targeted researchers trying to figure out whether liberals feel more comfortable supporting political violence. Starnes insisted that any survey designed to assess student attitudes is equivalent to endorsing violence. Another case involved the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party demanding that University of Virginia investigate Larry Sabato’s tweets critical of President Donald Trump.
Conservatives across the nation have passed legislation banning “critical race theory” in an effort to lessen the impact of identity politics on campuses. This is a generic term that describes a collection of ideas that reflect a particular perspective on race and how it intersects with society. Critical race theory has been a small area of academic study for most of its existence. However, since 2020’s George Floyd protests, critical race theory has become mainstream and a major issue for the political left.
In their efforts to combat CRT, Republican legislators almost always make laws that are unconstitutional when applied to higher education. Plus, these laws are likely to backfire. Campus administrators can give permission to dismiss professors who are teaching or adhering to one ideology. It will nearly always work to expel dissenters. Conservatives, who are openly expressing their views, constitute dissenters today on many campuses.
This debate is remarkable for its simplicity. AtlanticConor Friedersdorf of CRT has stated that right and left have switched places. Richard Delgado (CRT’s top thinker) and Mari Matsuda (CRT’s leader in campus speech codes and hate speech laws were among the most vocal supporters of Campus Speech Codes in the ’80s, ’90s. They have both contributed books with titles like Words that Wound: Critical Race Theory and Assaultive Speech.. The anti-CRT laws being advocated by right-leaning activists are based on the notion that ideas can be dangerous. They are direct descendants of speech policies long supported by Matsuda & Delgado.
Pennsylvania H.B. Pennsylvania H.B. Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma have laws banning courses teaching that any individual “should feel discomfort, guilt, and anguish or other forms of psychological distress on the basis of their race or sexual orientation.” Bills from eight additional states will impose similar language. A federal bill that was referred to Congress on Oversight and Reform would also prohibit Washington, D.C. schools from using the same method.
As with Matsuda and Delgado’s work, the underlying notion is that some discomforting speech—especially speech that causes discomfort about race or gender—is harmful and should be prohibited.
Most anti-CRT law supporters admit that the legislation’s language was too vague and poorly written. They then argue that the law’s vagueness is to be ignored due to the severity of the problem, and the fact that the people who wrote them are the angels. For decades, I’ve seen the exact same argument used to defend campus speech codes. In this case, it doesn’t really matter what the laws say. It is only how they are written that matters.
Many left-leaning politicians have become more aware that broad speech codes are sometimes used to penalize ideologies and teachers. Many people on the left began to adopt the same codes they’d fought for years, in hopes that such codes might be the weapons they need to reverse the trend on campus.
All political parties believe weapons are beneficial if used correctly. This is a serious problem and must be addressed before campus culture becomes a race for tit-fortat to the gutter.
Higher Ed Savings
The Second Great Age of Political Correctness is now. American higher education has been too expensive, too restrictive, and too conformist. This has led to a crisis in the country’s higher education system. It was impacted by changes in teaching and student development as well as politically charged speech codes that were created during the Ignored Years when not enough people paid attention. American campuses ought to be a bastion of academic freedom as well as free expression. They are both in decline.
It is not possible to give up on higher education. The following five points can and should be done by university and college presidents
- Eliminate all speech codes immediately
- Sign a declaration committing to freedom of speech and explicitly identifying free speech to be essential for the core purpose a university.
- Students and faculty should defend their free speech rights loudly, clearly and promptly.
- Teaching free speech, philosophy of free inquiry and academic freedom starting from day one
- Gather data from campuses and conduct research to determine the climate of debate, discussion and dissent.
College donors should not donate without asking for these modifications.
We need to go beyond reforming existing institutions. There are alternatives to traditional higher education.
The University of Austin, a start-up, announced its intention to establish a new university based on civil discourse and radically open inquiry. The University of Austin’s incoming president Pano Kanelos (a former President of St. John’s College), says that the university plans to start masters programs 2022-2023, and an undergraduate program 2024.
Khan Academy, an online learning platform, allows anyone to view free instructional videos and get an evaluation of their skills. Minerva University, a hybrid institution that offers both brick-and mortar facilities in San Francisco as well as instruction online to students from all over the globe, is ambitious. The university teaches “critical wisdom” to the top students, and is more exclusive than elite colleges. Imagine a world where employers will value Minerva’s mastery or Minerva’s degree more than any traditional degree. It is not difficult to see how this could happen.
Bottom line: Students and professors should have their opinions respected and university leaders must refuse to believe that universities and colleges can impose any orthodoxy on others. In the past decade too many educational institutions have grown accustomed to encouraging specific worldviews among incoming students.
Most universities today would not welcome radical open-mindedness. It will require significant cultural and political changes to get there.
This starts with self-awareness. A lesson from the First Great Age of Political Correctness was that the P.C. The First Great Age of Political Correctness and the P.C. PCU skewered campus culture, the problem had already fixed itself. The problem was then allowed to get worse.
That mistake cannot be repeated. It was only 30 years or 40 years ago that real reform in higher education could have been achieved. It is now that the next best time to make real change in higher education is here.