The Spectacle Blog

A Harvard Crimson Columnist Rails Against Academic Freedom. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next.

By on 2.20.14 | 1:25AM

I was interested to read Robert Stacy McCain's post yesterday on the free speech defense that he and many other conservative media figures are mounting against convicted bomber cum legal terrorist Brett Kimberlin. (If Brett hasn't already printed a novelty t-shirt that says "Lawfare: It's the Bomb!", he is missing out.) But why should mad bombers have a monopoly on the suppression of speech? As usual, our most elite institution of higher education shines light on the path forward.

In a jaw dropping Harvard Crimson piece, student Sandra Y.L. Korn claims that we should abandon notions of academic freedom in favor of "justice." She describes the ordeal of a Harvard psychology prof who was hounded in the early 70s by Students for a Democratic Society for publishing a study which indicated that intelligence may be hereditary. The students stood outside the professor's classroom with a bullhorn and called for his ouster. Korn approves:

Harvard’s deans were also unhappy. They expressed concerns about student activists' "interference with the academic freedom and right to speak of a member of the Harvard faculty." Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.

The helpful SDS activists were just trying to rid Harvard of thinking "they deemed racist and classist," says Korn, and their bully tactics should be used against such threats as Harvey Mansfield (one of Harvard's only conservative profs), and Israeli academics whose crime is to work in the only stable democracy in the Middle East. Of course, the word "deemed" is the key. Presumably, Korn would not be so quick to dispense with academic freedom if, say, American Spectator readers were the ones to define justice. As it is, she is safely cocooned at fair Harvard, a community of scholars in which the average citizen is just to the right of Chairman Mao.

Or so I thought. I was surprised and heartened by the comments thread on Korn's piece. As of this writing, there are 159 comments, almost all of them critical of Korn. A few of my favorites:

I noticed certain overtones of sarcasm in your post and I've taken the liberty of reporting this to the office of trans-enthno-gendered sensitivity. As a heterosexual male I know what it's like to face heterosexism day in and day out; please check your privilege and respect my lived experience.

Instead of summoning the thought police, the proper way to combat offensive research is to disprove it. That may take a bit more effort than just whining in The Crimson, but ultimately it is how we progress as a society.

"Offensive" usually means true, but unpleasant. Hence her demand to silence people who can't be refuted.

Do you want to know how to REALLY take down Herrnstein's research paper? This is a multi-step process, so listen carefully. First, go back to school and get a degree in a hard science, probably genetics, since it is the most relevant to his paper. You know, that area commonly called STEM fields where there are woefully so few women in it. Perhaps your example of taking a degree in the field will inspire more young women to take it, more than just rallying and writing articles that there needs to be more women in it, but not actively setting an example. Next, spend years researching, and I mean hard scientific research, not anecdotal evidence research, refuting the results of his paper. Have it peer reviewed, you know, in case you came to the wrong conclusion at some point, a process which he had to do for his paper. Then when all this is done and you can prove his conclusion is false with a scientific paper, you can be hailed as a hero.

Could it be that even the readers of the Crimson are tired of legitimate inquiry being chilled in deference to the progressive Holy Trinity of race-class-gender?

Send to Kindle

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article