At the start of November, the Stanford Graduate School of Business hosted a two-day “Academic Freedom Conference.” The organizers, recognizing that “[a]cademic freedom, open inquiry, and freedom of speech are under threat,” sought to “identify ways to restore academic freedom, open inquiry, and freedom of speech and expression on campus and in the larger culture and restore the open debate required for new knowledge to flourish.”
A group of about fifty Stanford professors, most of them progressive, were deeply offended by the idea of the conference. Their main criticism—written in a signed letter—was indicated by the document’s title: “A Closed Conference on Academic Freedom is a Contradiction.” In the open letter, they complained that an invitation-only event contradicts the mission of the conference and prevents a “mechanism whereby any of the speakers can be challenged in any significant manner.” And, with its characteristic feigned neutrality, the Stanford Daily fulfilled its role as a mouthpiece of the regime and regurgitated similar talking points.
Not only is criticism of the conference being “exclusionary” completely bogus, but the desire to infiltrate “conservative” (or simply politically heterodox) spaces reveals a disturbing level of self-obsession and hypocrisy.
What these critics won’t tell you is that the Academic Freedom Conference hosted several liberal academics—one of whom, according to the event organizers, even identified as a Marxist. Not only that, but the same source explained that out of the 36 academics who declined an invitation to the conference, around 90% had publicly favored significant restrictions on academic freedom and free speech.
In fact, some of this group even included Stanford faculty. As the Daily reported, one example was Joshua Landy, a Professor of Comparative Literature. He was asked to join a panel on academic freedom in the climate and biomedical sciences. However, Landy had rejected the invitation out of a conviction that “matters of public concern, like medical issues” should be addressed by “the research of experts.”
Fair enough. But Landy, a non-expert, had joined a group of professors who criticized the Hoover Institution for a “toxic combination of anti-government bias, pseudoscience, and lack of oversight.” In the same presentation, they accused Dr. Scott Atlas, a healthcare policy advisor at Hoover, of using “dangerously provocative language” and of allowing “tens of thousands of Americans” to die under his watch.
If Landy believed he had enough acumen to publicly condemn other Stanford professors for their COVID heterodoxy, then why not take that knowledge to the floor of a panel? It would have been the ideal opportunity to make the case that only the ‘experts’ ought to handle the facts.
Of course, Landy chose not to do that. Instead, he declined the invitation and signed the faculty letter accusing the conference of being “hermetically-sealed” and complaining about reactionary rascals like Amy Wax and Peter Thiel. In other words, this group of progressive professors refused to breathe the same air as their intellectual opposition, and then lazily complained about exclusion.
Despite all of this, the worst part about this condemnation was not even the completely erroneous “closed conference” narrative. What is more egregious is these faculty members’ blatant impulse to invade any space that doesn’t shill for their narrative. The conference was mainly attended by non-progressive academics precisely because progressivism dominates almost every Western university and suffocates dissent. Even the mildest deviation from the norm is met with shrill accusations of prejudice, as was the case with this conference.
In fact, we can test this: ask your progressive friend about the last time he was afraid to express an idea in a classroom. Ask him about the last time he worried about being publicly ridiculed or being able to find a job in the future because of his beliefs. Then ask your conservative friend (if you’re bigoted enough to have one) the same question. The difference in answers will reveal who is in control.
For just two days, the Academic Freedom Conference sought to carve out space for the intellectual minority. This was too much for some leftist students and academics at Stanford. They could not fathom the possibility of their pseudo-gospel being challenged on even one square-inch of their territory. Out of desperation, Stanford's ideological ruling class deemed the event unfair and contradictory.
But these critics would never say the same thing about an initiative that seeks to ‘uplift’ and ‘inspire’ racial minorities, yet they do so for political minorities. Progressives would never assert that the existence of Ujamaa (a Stanford dorm which “focuses on the histories, issues, and cultures of the Black Diaspora”) is unnecessary. Neither would they condemn Blackfest (an annual event which “provides a space for the Black community” to “come together and take back the space that they’ve historically been denied”) as exclusionary. Anyone who questions this hypocrisy is attacked. A few years ago, leftists even went so far as to demand that Ryan Bounds—a Review alum who wrote an article on the issue of identity-specific spaces back in the early 90s—be withdrawn from consideration for the United States Court of Appeals. They were successful.
Instead, they would defend these as necessary reactions to racial hegemony and underrepresentation. So why can’t those on the right—or more broadly those who disagree with the campus orthodoxy—organize against political hegemony and underrepresentation? Because these progressive academics do not really believe what they say. They do not believe in their own principles. What they want is to crush conservatives by any means possible—including blatant hypocrisy—and they will not cede ground in the interest of ‘fairness’ and ‘inclusion.’ Students and faculty on the right should recognize that fact and keep pushing the line, not make concessions.
Leftist students and professors are not brave for speaking out. They are not virtuous for condemning dissenters and shamelessly violating their own principles. They have risked nothing by criticizing the Academic Freedom Conference, while vocal conservatives have been forced to put their careers and reputation on the line to speak the truth. This alone should tell you who is free and who is not.