The tendency of 1990s’ campus liberals to sacrifice free expression on the altar of political correctness has given way to even more insidious examples of fear and paranoia. Attorneys Greg Lukianoff and Will Creeley, in the pages of Free Inquiry (Aug.-Sept. 2010), argue this trend will leave America’s universities, once defined by the Supreme Court as “peculiarly the marketplace of ideas,” increasingly isolated, insulated, and intellectually sterile.
Exhibit A: Yale University’s decision to remove images of the Prophet Muhammad from The Cartoons that Shook the World, a book by Jytte Klausen that analyzed the violent controversy that erupted in 2006 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons satirizing the Islamic icon. Yale University Press, which signed-on to publish the work, initially signed-off on the manuscript, but after a second review conducted by anonymous consultants, the university “yanked the images from the book due to what Yale Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer admitted to be an unspecified, generalized fear of retaliatory violence.”
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, for which Lukianoff serves as president and Creeley works as director of legal and public advocacy, Yale’s decision both betrayed its own exemplary stated commitment to freedom of expression and represented a troubling trend.
Among the many examples cited: New York University threatened to ban a public discussion about the Muhammad cartoons if they were actually displayed. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign the student newspaper dismissed two editors for reprinting the images. The University of Chicago asked a student to remove a insulting sketch of Muhammad from his dorm room door and pen an apology.
Conservatives are infamous for assaulting the Ivory Tower’s tradition of open-minded debate too, of course. In the wake of 9/11, though, Lukianoff and Creeley say that liberal thought police are even more likely to punish expression that is either socially conservative, mocks the academy’s overly protective tendencies, dares challenge Islamic fundamentalism, or, in a bit of irony not lost on Free Inquiry, criticizes Israeli policies in Palestine.
Correction, 01/05/11: This version of this article now states correctly that Yale only betrayed its stated commitment to freedom of expression and did not violate the First Amendment, because, as a private university, it is not required to uphold the Constitution.
This article first appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Utne Reader.