Academic Freedom

Is liberty too frail to withstand the attacks of its ideological opponents? Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn appears to think so (“Why the GOP is Flunking Higher Education,” Fall 2006). Dr. Arnn’s critique of Republican plans for higher education makes important points against the feeble relativism that some call freedom. But the alternative he offers—indoctrinating students to appreciate the American political system—would transform any university that attempted to adopt it into a propaganda agency. Better to let ideas compete than to stifle debate. While it is worthy to inculcate the principles of our heritage, that cannot be accomplished through indoctrination.

Arnn notes that Republicans have taken most of their ideas on the topic of academic freedom from David Horowitz’s proposed “Academic Bill of Rights.” Arnn is right to criticize these academic ideals as thin gruel. The university Horowitz envisions would be a timid and gray place where professors nervously cited ideas of other scholars or made cautious assertions of their own without ever daring to suggest that anyone, living or dead, was right—least of all themselves.

Arnn is wrong, however, to trace Horowitz’s relativism back to the 1915 General Report of the American Association of University Professors. Although Horo-witz himself cites the Report as his inspiration, there is nothing in the Report to support Horowitz’s extreme claims about the impossibility of objective knowledge. Instead, the Report eloquently describes the responsibilities that come with academic freedom. “The claim to freedom of teaching,” the Report states,

is made in the interest of integrity and of the progress of scientific inquiry; it is, therefore, only those who carry on their work in the temper of the scientific inquirer who may justly assert this claim. The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language.


Here we have clear guidelines for negotiating the uneven ground between a professor’s authority and the right of students to consider ideas other than the professor’s views. Far from promoting relativism, the Report demands that professors and students take into account the world beyond the classroom and seek rational argument or empirical verification to justify all claims. Universities that adhere to this standard are open to reasoned debate but free to examine and expose all ideologies. It is also their duty to reprimand ideologues whose assertions are an obvious affront to facts and reason. The University of Colorado was fully justified in firing Ward Churchill, the professor who outrageously claimed that the victims of the World Trade Center attacks deserved their fate. No rational person could blame anyone in those buildings—from waiters at Windows on the World to firefighters struggling to save lives—for this terrorist outrage. Instead of firing Churchill for dispensing with any pretense of scientific or rational demeanor in his assertion and thus flagrantly violating his academic responsibilities, the Trustees of the University of Colorado dismissed him for plagiarism. If one were to follow Horowitz’s line, any objections to Churchill’s statements must be regarded as “subjective and opinion-based” for, according to Horowitz, “there are no ‘correct’ answers to important issues.”

For some reason Arnn dismisses the Report as the first step into relativism. Perhaps he is put off by the Report’sintellectual liberalism. But American universities have no business indoctrinating students; the Third Reich exposed this obscenity. Universities can still rely on the principles laid down in the 1915 General Report as a way to educate students about “the true doctrines of Liberty” that Arnn admires. We should not disparage these principles, but should instead encourage members of university Boards of Trustees courageously to enforce them. Academic freedom coupled with academic responsibility, not indoctrination, is still the best educator of free women and men.

John Silber
President Emeritus, Boston University


Larry Arnn has done an excellent job in cataloging and confronting the crises facing American higher education. Our universities have indeed become bizarre combinations of subjectivity and indoctrination, but Arnn’s solutions—that we “return control of college to private people” and refocus on the Western canon—don’t address the fundamental structural defect that renders reform of higher education impossible. Internal faculty governance creates the ultimate insider/outsider problem.

In American higher education today, faculty members dictate hiring, firing, and promotion of junior colleagues; curriculum design and the division of courses into requirements and electives; the acceptability of contributed articles to prestigious journals; the appropriate paths for research in their fields; and the availability of public and private research funding. Academia is an area without near-term market criteria. As a result, all evaluations rest upon reputation and peer approval.

Responsibility for directing academic research and discourse in a given field rests with an internal komissariat charged with promoting and extending the field’s orthodoxy. Tenure, faculty governance, and peer review all create a central-planning mentality, where anointed leaders set agendas, junior aspirants vie to nudge those agendas along increasingly extreme tangents, and rewards flow to those who most impress the respected insiders. All other opinions are irrelevant.

Those of us who long for a confrontation must acknowledge that most proposed reforms risk creating different, and potentially greater, problems. If we cannot trust academics to make sound judgments about their own institutions, then whom can we trust? Some suggest the marketplace. Yet in the absence of short-term criteria for assessing customer satisfaction, success, or value, simple market mechanisms may prove inadequate. We cannot fix American higher education until we confront these structural issues.

Bruce Abramson
San Francisco, CA


Larry P. Arnn replies:

I cannot answer Mr. Abramson very well, because I like his letter too much. So I thank him. I thank President Silber, a distinguished man, for his attention and will answer him.

I dispute the General Report of 1915 for its pretense and its purpose. It pretends to establish a final concord among all the parties, so at last they may all, lion and lamb, lie down together. Meanwhile it leads a revolt and establishes an empire.

For a millennium or so, the university was at its best a place where nature was observed, its meaning debated, and the young instructed in its ways. The good, the true, and the beautiful were sought and cultivated. Their relationship to the divine was explored and disputed. The excellences proper to each thing were examined. The question of good gave direction to the university and was the reason the best of the young could be entrusted to it. To see a picture of how this worked in America, I refer the reader to Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography, where he writes of Amherst and his Professor Garman.

The old university was interested in freedom, especially academic freedom. Its first heroes in this regard were Socrates facing his jury, and Aristotle preferring the truth to his friends (and so becoming worthy of the best kind of friendship). The one case was a dispute with power, the other among pursuers of wisdom. This freedom to have these disputes, written in the nature of all men and the special calling of some, was inseparable from the human good.

This, by the way, is what I mean by orthodoxy.

In the modern university, nature is not the subject but the opponent. It is not to be understood, but mastered. John Dewey, head of the AAUP at the time of the writing of the General Report, admired Francis Bacon’s expression, “torturing nature.” That is why, in the General Report, the university now has three main purposes, not two. There was always thinking and teaching; now there is also leading the society along paths of “social evolution,” which “no person of intelligence” doubts it must and will travel. The purpose of the university is creation and invention rather than comprehension and understanding. Its first interest is power.

Under the principles of this movement the university has lost the common purpose implied in its name. Now it is a place of specialization. The economists and political scientists reconstruct society; historians, the past. Philosophers reconstruct nature, which seems to exist only in the mind, if the mind exists. Each is sovereign in his field and obliged in return to create and tell the rest of us about it. Now the parts of the university come together not in wisdom or its love, but in public policies and projects.

These vast changes are made in the name of democracy and the good of the people. The General Report permits ordinary folk, including parents and members of college boards, to refuse the policy demands of the university. But the activity of making those demands is sacred and any other purpose of the university is not legitimately a public purpose. Even appeals for funds to private parties are suspect unless they are in the name of this activity.

The elevation of this activity does not breed independence and the energetic spirit of liberty, nor commitment to principle. It teaches us instead to wait for the next thing, ready to discard the old thing and obey. To see how this works, read Harvey Mansfield’s “Have it Your Way,” on the new Harvard common curriculum (Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2006). If we do not obey, the university gets mad. To see how this works, watch as University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman pours contempt on Michigan voters because they do not want her to hire and admit by color.

Certainly this way of organizing things has been successful in advancing our technical ability. The modern sciences have demonstrated a way of knowing that is marvelous to behold and awesome in effect. So far as I can tell, Dewey concluded that the application of the methods of modern science to human affairs would win similar success.

It has not and it cannot. No matter how powerful the technical dynamo, a certain kind of question cannot be answered technically. Perhaps we will soon be able to make a new “human” out of elements gathered from the earth and the stars and each other. This will present us with the question previously reserved to God: how should we make him (or her, or it)? Having deprived ourselves of the standards both of nature and of God, we will be hard put to come up with an answer that carries any sanction but our own will. Some of us at least will want to make them slaves. Why not? Why not for food, if we have the taste for it?

We have become more powerful than our fathers, but we have not thought as much as they about how to use power.

President Silber raises the question of whether I think the principles of liberty are frail. Perhaps he means that only as a taunt, but let me answer. I do think them frail. All about us they are giving way to violence and suppression. Abroad, they are suppressed by tyrants with the violence that tyrants use. At home, they are suppressed by this vast structure of the new university and the government it has made, with its focus not on ends but on means, not on principles but on power. I expect the principles of liberty can stand up in debate, and so long as there are human beings they will not disappear from view. But if we do not resist, the debate will be extinguished in our time. Let us then resist.


The Cure for What Ails Us

Mark Helprin proposes that the Avian Flu’s pending threat be countered by increasing the federal research drip from $3.8 billion per year to $100 billion or more, while simultaneously creating, by government fiat, new research centers and modularized field hospitals, increased medical school output, and so on (“The Worst Generation Faces the Greatest Peril,” Fall 2006).

And yet Helprin’s candid allusions to bureaucratic failure in New Orleans, Western Samoa, and aboard the USS Pittsburgh, coupled with the lethal admission that “politicians [and, one presumes, most government bureaucrats] are afraid to lead, risk, or fail,” sap his bold policy recommendations. By contrast, he notes that it was a private pharmaceutical firm that produced the single most “important advance” against Avian Flu.

The creation of large-scale government programs to address every perceived peril contributes mightily to America being a “short-sighted, infantilized, and dependent” nation. Helprin decries this development, yet touts its cause, notwithstanding. His least ambitious policy prescription—to “unleash and encourage the great drug combinations”—is the one most worthy of adoption. Experience teaches that the pursuit of entrepreneurial incentives is the most reliable means for stimulating the rapid and efficient development of all things, including effective medical treatments.

James A. Montanye
Falls Church, VA


Mark Helprin replies:

If “the pursuit of entrepreneurial incentives is the most reliable means for stimulating the rapid and efficient development of all things, including medical treatments,” why hasn’t it brought the United States to a state of readiness for an Avian Flu pandemic that, if it strikes, will burn its way through the population, perhaps killing millions, in a matter of months? Because, at the moment, there is no market for any of the medicines or facilities that would be necessary for survival. In fact, those private companies that are engaged in this work have been brought to it by either government appropriations or the promise of them.

Some things, in fact, private enterprise does not handle as well as government, or handle well at all, particularly things like war, in which—unless you are Robert McNamara or Donald Rumsfeld—strategy must trump economy and the rational bases of business and production. The founders and their inheritors understood and understand that government’s first calling—especially in times of emergency—is the preservation of the sovereignty and civil order upon which everything else rests. Not to be clear about this is a foolish self-indulgence.

Boom and Bust

Robert Collins’s review of Richard Reeves’s biography of Ronald Reagan was excellent, but it repeats a ghastly canard frequently found among the East Coast conservative establishment (“Respecting Reagan,” Fall 2006). Collins refers to “an unprecedented two-decade-long economic boom.” Which two decades exactly? During George H. W. Bush’s presidency there was a serious recession. A lot of savings and loans went down, and had to be bailed out. The values of commercial and industrial property plummeted, and even California coastal residential property decreased in value. The aerospace industry, following the end of the Cold War, tanked. Riots broke out in the streets of Los Angeles. Graffiti was more abundant than ever before or since. Bill Clinton ran for president declaring, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and won. Several important Republican business leaders in California endorsed him, essentially destroying Reagan’s California. In 1995 the economy did move into another boom, with the Internet and media driving it, and real estate values began to rise again. It is true that the recession of the early ’90s had, for some reason, only a minor effect on the stock market, but one cannot deny that it happened.

Howard Ahmanson
Irvine, CA


Robert M. Collins replies:

Howard Ahmanson makes a fair point: the eight-month-long contraction of the economy in 1990-91 was costly in several political and economic respects, and certainly deserves attention. Although the downturn was shorter in duration than the postwar average, unemployment remained stubbornly stuck at over 7% even after the recovery was underway in the run-up to the 1992 election, making “It’s the economy, stupid” a potent rallying cry and successful electoral strategy. But the fact that the recession was sandwiched between the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history to that date (92 months from 1982 to 1990), and the longest absolute economic expansion in U.S. history (120 months from 1991 to 2001), seems to me to justify my conclusion that Reaganomics helped to create “an unprecedented two-decade-long economic boom” at the end of the 20th century.

Preemption and Democracy

It does not surprise me that John Yoo, an architect of the most authoritarian administration in recent history, does not understand democracy (“The Pettifoggery of War,” Fall 2006). He faults me for trying to begin a discussion about adapting our old jurisprudence to the new reality of preemption without providing all the answers. He claims that after setting out the factors that should inform this new jurisprudence, I throw up my hands and withdraw. Not quite. I say quite clearly that the decision about how to “strike this magical balance between Bentham and Kant” must in a democracy be made by the people. That is not abdication of responsibility; it is allocation of responsibility. I quite deliberately did not try to answer the normative questions, but rather to create a framework by which these questions can be answered in a democratic society. But I guess that’s the last thing John Yoo would want.

Alan Dershowitz
Cambridge, MA


John Yoo replies:

One nice feature of Alan Dershowitz’s last book is that it avoided the usual ad hominem attacks. Unfortunately, old habits die hard.

It is mystifying that Dershowitz thinks my criticism represents some kind of anti-democratic attitude. It seems to me that if he were really interested in participating in democracy he would indicate how he, or any other citizen, should decide these difficult questions. His answer is rather like writing a book on American fiscal policy, but then concluding without any advice about budgets or spending or taxes other than “let the people decide.” This is an intellectual cop-out.

Israel and American Interests

Mark Helprin’s essay, “The War in Lebanon,” offers no optimism about the outcome of the Israeli attack on Hezbollah (Fall 2006). The Israeli Army and Air Force did not inflict a decisive defeat on the terrorists. There can be no doubt that when the time is right these same terrorists will launch further provocative attacks to which Israel will have to reply, garnering further condemnation from those who wish Israel ill and those who see Israel as the principal obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Hezbollah struck Israel with the evident support of its regional sponsors in Damascus and Tehran—and with a nod and a wink from Moscow and Beijing, whose interests in the Middle East are much served by Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.

A full-page ad in the New York Times (November 5, 2006) asked, “Who is Holding Peace Hostage?” The answer: “The Israeli Lobby [in the United States] is trying to sell another war.” The ad explained, “[T]he work of the Israeli Lobby on Congress and the Bush administration has been a key factor for going to war in Iraq and for confronting Iran.” The Israeli Lobby, we are told, now seeks “the destruction of Lebanon.” The ad promotes “[c]hanging perceptions of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” that is, decoupling the United States from the defense of Israel.

It is not inconceivable that under the color of liberal sentiment, the United States will abandon Israel in order “to give peace a chance.” The temptation to accede to the demands of modern extremists—that Israel be destroyed, thereby relieving the U.S. of their animus—is deceptively attractive. Presented as serving our best interests, it might become inevitable. Buying the world’s good will with the sacrifice of Israel would be like France and England leaving Czechoslovakia to its fate to purchase peace in Europe in 1939. Prime Minister Chamberlain’s appeal to Hitler’s good will granted the dictator the strategic advantage he required to seize Western Europe from the North Cape to the Mediterranean.

Accepting the destruction of Israel will only allow the Palestinian Arabs and their allies to do in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa what has already been done in Lebanon: bring the peace that comes with the rule of terrorists. And whose interests will that serve?

Harold W. Rood
Manchester, CA

Mark Helprin replies:

Mr. Rood’s statement that I “offer no optimism about the outcome of the Israeli attack on Hezbollah” does not comport with the substance of my article, which was that Israel won rather than lost the recent war in Lebanon, and that to think otherwise is to overlook both the strategic details and the broader historical continuum in which Israel has always fought to survive. Having been more or less alone in the opinion that Israel, not Hezbollah, was the victor, I’m surprised that Mr. Rood misinterpreted the tenor of the essay. As for the rest of his letter, although I would say it much differently, I agree with it.


Remembering the Hungarian Revolution

How refreshing to read Peter Schramm’s story of his family’s immigration to the U.S., and to learn how his passion for American politics and for philosophy were united in his work at the Claremont Institute (“Born American, But in the Wrong Place,” Fall 2006). I admire the risks taken by all freedom-loving Hungarians in 1956. My father was among them as a young man of 27. He had received his medical degree (summa cum laude) two weeks prior to the Russian invasion. That he was able to come to the U.S. is a privilege I do not take lightly. I was born just after his mother’s death in 1964, and was given her name. My father was only able to return to Hungary (as an American citizen) for the first time in 1967. I hope that my life can live up to the responsibility of citizenry given to us, to help ensure that our freedoms remain. Mr. Schramm expresses our pride to be American and reminds the next generation of their responsibilities, too.

Margit C. Kaltenekker Hall
De Soto, KS


My early life is identical to Peter Schramm’s story except that I was 6, my father was one of the revolutionaries, and during our escape he was captured and later executed. We made it to America, were placed in an army barracks, and with the help of a church got a start in a Newark apartment. As an adult, I chose to go into business and have been blessed with great financial and personal success because of the generosity and freedoms offered by this great land.

Thomas Marenyi
Raleigh, NC

Rebel Graves

In his review of Eric Foner’s Forever Free, Jean Edward Smith writes that “rebel dead are not interred in cemeteries maintained by the United States” (“A People’s History of Reconstruction,” Fall 2006). In fact, as a gesture of reconciliation, Congress authorized in 1900 a section of the Arlington National Cemetery to be set aside for the burial of Confederate dead. Four hundred eighty—two such Confederate dead—both military and civilian-are buried in this section.

Al Bowers
Prescott, AZ

The Colorblind Constitution

Richard E. Morgan writes that the 14th Amendment did not “embody Justice Harlan’s principle of colorblindness” although “it should have” (“Correspondence,” Summer 2006). One wonders, however, what Senator Jacob Howard, one of the principal architects of the amendment, could have meant when he argued on the floor of the Senate that “the great object of the first section of the amendment…is to disable a State from depriving any person, whoever he may be, of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, or from denying to him the equal protection of the laws…. This,” Howard continued,

abolishes all class legislation in the States and does away with the injustice of subjecting one caste of persons to a code not applicable to another…. Is it not time…that we extend to the black man…equal protection of the laws? Ought not the time to be now passed when one measure of justice is meted out to a member of one caste while another of a different measure is meted out to the member of another caste, both castes being alike of the United States, both bound to obey the same laws, to sustain the burdens of the same Government, and both equally responsible to justice and to God for the deeds done in the body?


Clearly Howard understood the Equal Protection Clause as mandating the end of class legislation based on race—”colorblindness.” There is nothing equivocal about his words, nor, I believe, about the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause. The rule of law simply cannot tolerate racial class legislation. This idea was expressed so frequently by so many of the amendment’s supporters that it is difficult to believe that they did not intend “colorblindness” to be the Equal Protection Clause’s animating principle.

There were also frequent calls throughout the debates to bring the Constitution finally into harmony with the principles of the Declaration of Independence. All but the diehard adherents of Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Calhoun agreed that the Declaration was colorblind—certainly Lincoln believed so and no one can doubt that his spirit is embodied in the 14th Amendment.

In 1857 Lincoln said the Declaration was a “standard maxim” and that its framers “meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.” I believe this was also the view of the framers of the 14th Amendment. They did not believe that the amendment would create a colorblind society—that was beyond their power and probably beyond anyone’s power. But they could uphold a colorblind constitution that would become the guide and standard for the nation’s political life, so that sooner or later practice would conform to constitutional principles.

The 14th Amendment’s framers were as much statesmen as were the American Founders and Lincoln. Their goal—and the goal of all statesmen—was to eliminate as much evil as possible under the circumstances without undermining the basis from which further evil could be abolished. Sometimes statesmen know that it is necessary to conceal the full reach of the principles they advocate to make them acceptable, intending that their full extent will be known only at some future time when public opinion is better prepared to accept the innovations.

Edward J. Erler
California State University, San Bernardino
San Bernardino, CA