The movie was released in 1994 PCUThe film, which was about an insurgent fraternity that resists its university’s politically correct policies, is a landmark. 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. However, by the late-1990s it was a joke from every political spectrum. Production of the mainstream film mocking political correctness was a sign that it had lost its cultural moment.
Meanwhile, harsh campus speech codes were being repealed. 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. A ban on insulting words and expressions is not something you need to know. 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. Instead, the trend grew over the next 20 years, rooted itself in university recruitment practices, speech policing and so on, becoming what many now call “wokeness” (or the much-abused “cancelculture”.
It didn’t fall and decline. It took root underground before rising again. In fact, the movement is more powerful than ever. However, some leftist leaders continue to downplay this problem and even suggest that an increase of tenured faculty being dismissed for out-of-control speech is a sign that a campus is healthy. 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.
We have entered into the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. To find the way out we need to understand what brought us here, and acknowledge the real extent of our 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 ignored concerns. They claimed that there were many viewpoints, which is not to be denied, and also suggested that people who suggested the opposite had possibly sinister, racist motives. Wherever they were legal challenged, speech codes had been decisively defeated. P.C. It had become a joke. 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.
The Stanford policy in 1995 was overturned in court. Speech codes were supposed to be extinct. 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 championed not by faculty but by an expanding administrative class.
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.
The statistics are even more stark according to recent data. The National Association of Scholars conducted a 2019 survey on political registration of faculty at two of the highest-ranking public and private universities. 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. It’s staggeringly 42 to 1.
The Ignored Years saw higher education become more expensive and much more bureaucratic. 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 from Sarah Lawrence College wrote in that initial research had shown a 12 to 1 ratio between liberal and conservative college administrators. The New York Times in 2018. In 2018. fairly liberal student body is being taught by a Very liberal professoriate—and socialized by an Amazing liberal group of administrators.” The following follows 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. Programs are used to eliminate “bias” or “prejudice”, on campus. They empower anyone to complain to the administration anonymously. They attempt to make campus norms more rigid than they are 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. Report speech eventually included anything from “snow penis” at Michigan University to humor magazines at University of California San Diego, which mocked safe spaces, to an incident at John Carroll University, Ohio where “anonymous student” reported. [the] African-American Alliance’s student protest was making white students feel uncomfortable.”
In the 2000s, ideas like “trigger warnings”, “microaggressions” were also commonplace on campus. Slowly, however, speaker disinvitations – in which speakers are asked to rescind their requests due to protests or other objections – 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 dropped the recommendation in 2005 in protest of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I serve as president and CEO. Many schools did not, however, Columbia’s Teachers College was one of them.
Students who were educated at social justice activist schools went on to become leaders not just in the classroom but also among campus 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 various formats 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. Programs were created to offer students “treatments,” which included mandatory sessions with residents advisers. These sessions were meant to teach them “correct” moral beliefs.
Another way that colleges can enforce ideology conformity is to require faculty to submit diversity statements as conditions for hiring and promoting. 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. Candidate who testify to the idea that they should not “ignore different backgrounds of students” and instead treat them all the same are given negative marks.
The university administrations created the infrastructure necessary to protect P.C. during the Ignored Years. 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 article prompted a significant increase in attention to such issues outside of 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 publicly shamedBoth published in 2015. People noticed that speech was being used on campus.
It wasn’t just about an increase in coverage. Another thing had happened on campus. In the 20th century, campus censorship was usually led by administrators. These campaigns were opposed by students, who resisted them. However, in late 2013, there was a surge of student-led censorship. It was having downstream consequences because of the infrastructure that had been built in the Ignored Years.
These activist schools had educated the generation that flooded campuses in 2013. Sometimes they were the very children of those students who pushed for speech codes in the 1980s and 1990s.
The generation grew up using social media and was well aware of the dangers of anonymous online speech. 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. Most famous of all was the dispute between Nicholas Christakis (sociologist) and Yale students about unappropriate 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 cancel students and professors across the nation.
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 ChairIt is smart, clever, and well-acted. This series examines the challenges faced by an English professor at an elite college of liberal arts with declining admissions. A series highlight is when a tenured professor loses his job for giving the Nazi salute at a lecture about modernism. He is called a Nazi by students who demand 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. This could be taken as an indication that many college campuses are beginning to reform their oppressive culture.
It wasn’t always that simple for everyone to see. 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, University of Pennsylvania Anthropologist was forced to retire in January after reacting to his silence at a departmental meeting with a mock Nazi salute. Criticians called the gesture “heinous,” and asked that Schuyler be punished to protest “all forms” of prejudice. As if Schuyler’s sarcastic response to faculty rules being enforced could legally be taken as support for National Socalist beliefs, the student newspaper reported it.
A case that involves a Nazi salute is unlikely to be a sympathetic case for those who support free speech on campus. In an age where the effect of speech can be more important than its intent, Schuyler’s sarcastic gesture barely makes sense. You don’t need to be accused of Nazism in order to find yourself in hot water these days. Professors have been accused of quoting James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr. and asking their students to analyse the implications of the historic shift in trade and travel patterns known “Columbian” and speculate on the cause of the COVID-19 outbreak. Jason Kilborn, University of Illinois Chicago Law Professor was removed from his position and placed under investigation for months after student complaints. self-censored reference to two epithets—literally, “N_____” and “B____”—in a law school exam hypothetical More workplace discrimination.
And if anything 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, began to cry, called him detestable, and said he shouldn’t go to bed 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 Student 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, protestors sometimes stop speakers from speaking on campuses. They chant, bang, drum, pull the fire alarm and block entrances to speech that are considered controversial. 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 partly based on the claim 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 problem occurred in social life at such a frequency and on such a 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. This does not indicate that the problem is effectively solved.
FIRE tracked 471 efforts to discipline or fire professors for constitutionally-protected speech between 2015 and mid-October 2021. Nearly three quarters resulted in some form of sanction. The sanction in 106 cases included losing a job. This has happened more often than ever, with 30 attempts in 2015 and 122 in 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. Even a fired tenured professor was considered a major deal until very recent times. It is rare to see 27 tenured professors being fired for their freedom of expression in just a few years. 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. It starts off by noting there are 6 000 colleges in America, and then ignores all the attempts to get rid of professors. It makes it appear that the problem is diffuse. In reality, it’s quite concentrated.
The top 100 schools in the country 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 that had a successful disinvitation, and schools with an effective disinvitation, will be left only 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 United States, is home to a large proportion of America’s ruling classes. As with most elite colleges and universities, Harvard’s faculty are politically homogenous. 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 More the scandal, a gross violation of faculty privacy.
Gurri, along with others, are downplaying the severity of these problems. They also wish away the “chilling effects”, the well-known fact that people tend to self-censor when they have to decide which joke, opinion or idea will land them in serious 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.
A Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology report for 2021 shows that 70% of American conservative academics believe there is a hostile environment for their beliefs. Similarly, 62 percent of Conservative graduate students think that my political views would not fit in the university, making it difficult for them to succeed. One in five faculty openly confesses to discriminating against grant proposals because they were perceived as conservative or right-leaning. A little more than one in ten faculty also admits that they discriminated against conservatives in both paper submissions, and on promotions.
The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s criminology professor Mike Adams is perhaps the most tragic example of a tenured professor being targeted. Adams struggled at the school for nearly twenty years. Adams lost his tenure due to his conservatism. He filed a lawsuit that won him tenure and a significant 4th Circuit court ruling protecting academic freedoms in five other states. Adams retired last summer but was forced to retire early after making a mocking comparison between COVID-19 and slavery via Twitter. He committed suicide in the following 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, only 164 have originated from the scholar’s left. It is true that many conservative efforts to make campus a better place have become uncomfortably close to their speech codes of decades ago.
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 gauge student attitudes is equivalent to advocating 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.
To reduce campus identity politics, conservatives have passed laws across the country banning the use of “critical racism theory” (CRT). This catchall name refers to a set of ideas which reflect an a specific perspective on race as well as its connections with society. Criticism was an academic niche for much of the Academy’s history. Since the George Floyd protests in 2020, however, critical race theories has been mainstreamed by the political left and is now a nemesis of the political right.
As they apply to higher education, the laws Republican legislators have drafted are nearly always unconstitutional. They are also likely to backfire. Most campuses will allow administrators to fire professors that teach or adhere to one ideology. It is almost impossible to find dissenters if they do. On most campuses, conservatives are considered dissenters if they freely express their views.
This debate is remarkable for its simplicity. AtlanticConor Friedersdorf, a CRT’s leading thinker has noted that both the right-leaning and left-leaning have moved on. 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 to 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 supported by Delgado and Matsuda for many years.
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 in this manner.
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 constructed. 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. This argument has been used for years to support speech codes that address racism on campuses.
Anti-CRT laws are becoming more common. Many on the right suddenly realized how vague and broad speech codes could be used to punish ideologies. Many people on the left began to adopt the same codes they had struggled for many decades. These codes were hoped to be the weapons they need to reverse the ideologic tides on campus.
Many true believers across political lines believe some weapons can be good when used by the right people, and vice versa if misused by the wrong people. This is a serious problem and must be addressed before campus culture becomes a race for tit-fortat to the gutter.
Higher Education: How to Save
In the Second Great Age of Political Correctness American higher education has become far too expensive, too restrictive, and too conformist. The Ignored Years’ politically-charged speech codes and shifts in student development have pushed it into deep crisis. American universities should have a strong foundation for academic freedom and free speech. They are both in decline.
Higher education is too important to be ignored. These five actions can be taken by college and university presidents:
- Eliminate all speech codes immediately
- Sign a declaration identifying freedom of speech as central to the purpose and commitments to university free speech values.
- 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
- Get data. Open their campuses for research about the climate for discussion, debate and dissent.
College donors should not donate without asking for these modifications.
We need to go beyond reforming existing institutions. Alternative models are needed to the traditional model of higher education.
University of Austin was founded in November 2021 by an upstart. It announced plans to build a new institution that is based on principles of civil discourse, radical open inquiry and engaging with different perspectives. Although there is not much information available, Pano Kanelos the University of Austin’s new president and former president of St. John’s College said that it intends to establish masters and undergraduate programs in 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Khan Academy offers an online course where you can view high-quality videos about a wide range of subjects and be assessed on your abilities. 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 an innovative model. The university focuses on providing “critical wisdom” education to the top students. It claims to be exclusive and more selective 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.
It is important that students and professors are respected. Universities must also reject the notion that they can force anyone to conform. In the past decade too many educational institutions have become used to encouraging specific worldviews among incoming students.
At most universities, radical open-mindedness is not appropriate. It will require significant cultural and political changes to get there.
Self-awareness is the first step. 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.
This is a mistake we cannot make again. It was only 30 years or 40 years ago that real reform in higher education could have been achieved. Now is the best time.