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May 2, 2023

Good News and Bad From Harvard and UNC

While Harvard takes a step in the direction of academic freedom, the University of North Carolina uses the same principle to take an anti-American step backward.

In a couple of months, the Supreme Court will render a decision on two related affirmative action cases, and we expect the result to be an ostensible end to the racially discriminatory admissions practice known as affirmative action.

Those two cases — Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina — will reconsider the precedents of the Court’s landmark 2003 affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, and will forever tie their university defendants to the trailing arc of moral history.

In the meantime, though, the two schools are in the news for a different reason, and with different tidings: Harvard good and North Carolina bad.

First the good news, in which two Harvard professors, Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras, announced in The Boston Globe the formation of a new faculty-led council to defend academic freedom there. “We are diverse in politics, demographics, disciplines, and opinions,” they wrote in describing the council, “but united in our concern that academic freedom needs a defense team.”

We’re not so sure how “diverse” the Harvard faculty might be — at least not ideologically — and we’re of course reminded of Bill Buckley’s now-legendary comment that he’d “rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty at Harvard.” But, still, we’re hopeful that this announcement is more than a shameless effort by an overwhelmingly leftist faculty to work the refs on a 5-3-1 conservative Supreme Court.

The council was established in March, and its professors said they plan to “sponsor workshops, lectures, and courses on the topic of academic freedom.”

That sounds good. And so does this: “We also intend to inform new faculty,” the professors continued, “about Harvard’s commitments to free speech and the resources available to them when it is threatened. We will encourage the adoption and enforcement of policies that protect academic freedom. When an individual is threatened or slandered for a scholarly opinion, which can be emotionally devastating, we will lend our personal and professional support.”

As Fox News reports, Pinker and Madras also cited a study finding that between 2014 and 2022, there’ve been a whopping 877 attempts to “punish scholars for expression” that might be protected under the First Amendment.

Clearly, then, Harvard could stand a bit more academic freedom and a bit less progressive thought-policing. But only time will tell whether the council has any real teeth.

“This is progress,” opine the editors at The Wall Street Journal. But, they warn: “Students at many colleges these days operate like Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution. Being unwoke is socially punished. Breaking that culture of conformity will take reinforcement across the institution.”

Now the bad news, where at the University of North Carolina, some 673 professors signed a public letter last Tuesday protesting new legislation that would require university students within the Tar Heel State to learn about America’s founding documents — you know, the Declaration, the Constitution, “The Gettysburg Address,” stuff like that.

Even the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. fall into this category of foundational documents. And yet these faculty members are against it, calling it “indoctrination” and citing its encroachment on the principle of — you guessed it — academic freedom.

As Fox News reports: “House Bill 96 would require students to take a 3 credit-hour course covering America’s founding and history. Required reading for the course would include the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, at least five essays from the Federalist Papers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Gettysburg Address.”

The professors complain that the legislation “violates core principles of academic freedom” and “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”

Ah, yes, that would be the intellectual expertise of a faculty and an academic institution that in 2021 disgraced itself by offering a tenured professorship — the position of Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism — to New York Times journalist hack Nikole Hannah-Jones, the author of the universally debunked alternative history known as “The 1619 Project.”

Marxism is obviously alive and well there in Chapel Hill.

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