The New McCarthyism

… In the wake of the protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, some faculty published an open letter of demands to overcome “anti-Blackness racism” at Princeton. Like many such letters, it included good and bad proposals. Most distinctive and disturbing, however, was the demand for the creation of a faculty committee empowered to “oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of the faculty.”

Make no mistake: this is a proposal to create a loophole in academic freedom through which one could drive a truck. As one of the authors of the letter subsequently explained, “anti-Black research” should be regarded as a form of research misconduct—like, say, falsifying data—and treated as “unethical,” since it could presumptively do harm to “communities of color.” This new directive does not target the kind of behavior already excluded from the protections of academic freedom—it does not limit itself to instances of a researcher falsifying results or a teacher harassing a student or yelling racial slurs at a colleague. It is not even limited to overheated political hyperbole that a professor might resort to on social media. It targets, rather, the substantive content of scholarly teaching and research, and—if a committee of faculty believe it to be antithetical to the political interests of favored racial groups—declares it to be evidence of misconduct and thus beyond the protections of academic freedom.

Given today’s expansive and nebulous scope of what might qualify as “racist,” it’s not hard to imagine such a broad exception to academic freedom being used to remove professors who find themselves on the wrong side of this committee of public safety. Any number of legitimate but controversial questions of scholarly interest could run afoul of such an exception to academic freedom, even if everyone involved was acting in good faith. On matters related to race, the proposal advises scholars not to follow evidence wherever it may lead but rather to question whether the evidence serves the desired political narrative. Substandard or unprofessional research and teaching are in most cases already subject to sanction by universities—but asking an interdisciplinary committee to evaluate whether research in specialized fields of study is professionally incompetent invites politicized investigations.

With such a committee in place, can a scholar confidently publish the results of her work on, say, the constitutionality of hate speech or the policy merits of affirmative action or slavery reparations? Can we do unbiased empirical work on the causes of crime or poverty? Can we fairly investigate the causes of racial differences in the outcomes of medical treatment or public health problems? Can we even engage in serious literary criticism of “Huckleberry Finn” or “Othello,” or debate what ought to be included in the literary canon, or through creative writing examine the personal experience of race? Read more»

Keith Whittington, “ Chipping Away at Academic Freedom,” Real Clear Politics, August 23, 2020.


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  1. Adam Smiths’s invisible hand will eventually slap some faces so hard that the academy will have to cut costs and return to the business of teaching.

    The upcoming school year, with the attached financial hardship, is going to cause scores of parents to question what they are buying when they pay for the college experience.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Mr. Clark. I am reminded of Thomas Sowell’s work on this point. One cannot “legitimately” discuss the complexities of the South – and they are complex – without being labeled as one “looking for justification” for slavery, or “downplaying” it. I do not know of any good standing member of the Faith of Christ that would condone the many unbiblical aspects of the Slave Trade in the South (“mans tealing”). However, it has become clear as to the fact that Christian Apologists, whether one reads Zacharias, Sproul, Banhnsen, Van Til, Plantinga or G. Clark, that “historiography” is not “history” but “bias” (Gordon Clark’s book, “Historiography: Secular or Religous” tackled this with extreme academic detail in 1971).

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