“Academic Freedom” Is Not What Most Claim It Is

Conservative professor John McAdams is under threat of termination from liberal university president Michael Lovell of the Jesuit-run Marquette University. McAdams is not taking the threat lightly and has fired off a blistering letter to his boss.

In the lengthy letter sent to Lovell, McAdams charges the president with publicly misrepresenting various aspects of the case, violating academic freedom, and with “misconduct” in carrying out his duties.

Is there really such a thing as “academic freedom”? Is the right to express your views on a university campus a fundamental individual right, guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment?

No way.

We’re not entitled to force others to provide a forum for our views. This applies whether you’re a conservative professor battling a politically correct establishment, or whether the circumstances are reversed.

America is descending, sadly, into the psychological-political equivalent of civil war. And it’s false ideas such as “academic freedom,” as well as “religious liberty,” combined with the leftist ideas of political correctness, which are taking us there.

There’s one solution to all of this. If you own a university, then you get to decide which views are or are not aired and expressed at that university. If the ownership of an educational institution is expressed through a board, stockholders, or some other kind of private, voluntary association, then the matter gets settled that way.

If a professor, upon employment, signs an agreement or contract, then of course the contract should be legally upheld. But my point is that there’s no inherent, natural or individual right to have “academic freedom” where you work, as there is on your own property, your own website, your own dime or your own domain.

In psychology, we talk a lot about boundaries. People want to know where their responsibilities and rights start and end. It comes up in families, and it comes up in other kinds of personal, including spousal, relationships. Morally and psychologically, the proper expression of a boundary is, “You cannot demand sacrifices of me, and I cannot demand sacrifices of you.” In an academic context, this means, “You cannot force me to say what I do not think or believe, but I cannot force you to retain me if you don’t agree with what I’m teaching, thinking or researching.”

I recognize that any academic institution worthy of the name will permit a wide range of spirited debate, discussion and points-of-view. However, where to draw the line on this, if at all, is up to the institution’s owners.

The story began almost two years ago when McAdams publicly defended a student who was told by a teaching assistant that his Catholic views on man-woman marriage were “homophobic” and not welcome in her ethics class. For his defense of the student, McAdams was investigated for 17 months by a faculty committee and publicly excoriated by Lovell in his official capacity as Marquette president. Lovell summarily suspended McAdams and banished him from the campus.

It does not matter what the specifics of the case are, with respect to what one thinks about gay marriage or traditional marriage. People on one side of the issue tend to automatically and always portray the one with their viewpoint as the victim, and the one with the opposing viewpoint as the victimizer. “I’m for gay marriage. You’re against it. You’re denying my academic freedom by having that point-of-view.” Or vice-versa.

At the root of all this, aside from a lack of boundaries, is the prevalent attitude of entitlement taking over American universities, American politics and all of American culture. People feel entitled to not have their views questioned, challenged or threatened in any way. If you’re a social conservative fired by socially liberal school administrators, your rights were somehow violated; if you’re a social liberal fired by conservative administrators – although this rarely happens – then your rights were somehow violated. Such attitudes imply that there’s an entitlement to have an employer pay for the expression of your views, even if that employer does not agree with them, and nothing in your employment contract ever mandated he was obliged to do so.

I recognize that many schools are state-funded, and many private schools receive state or federal funds. All the more reason to get government completely out of higher education, once and for all. Schools should be forced to make a profit and ultimately meet the needs of students. The best and most rational way to do this is to actually educate them, and exposing them to free and open debate about controversial matters, such as marriage or gays. Get government out of education, and stop making it permissible for people to sue for not having their points-of-view articulated as a right at others’ expense, and you will see an end to the politicization of education pretty darn fast!

Americans, by and large, no longer think in principle. They only think in terms of the side they want to take, and the other side be damned. It’s a totally anti-intellectual development, and it’s a psychological as well as a political breeding ground for some kind of civil war. Mentally and intellectually, we’re already there. False entitlement feelings have got to go.

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