Home / General / Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali Being Denied A Symbolic Degree The Death Of Academic Freedom? (SPOILER: No.)

Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali Being Denied A Symbolic Degree The Death Of Academic Freedom? (SPOILER: No.)


The intro to Ross Douthat’s last column:

EARLIER this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

The punchline:

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.

These accusations of bad faith and intolerance makes this nicely sanitized version of why people found Hirsi Ali’s past comments objectionable even more irritating:

Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture…


What both cases [the other one is Eich’s resignation, of course] illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.

The defect, crucially, is not this culture’s bias against social conservatives, or its discomfort with stinging attacks on non-Western religions. Rather, it’s the refusal to admit — to others, and to itself — that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to “free expression” or “diversity” affirmed in mission statements and news releases.

“Stinging” and “sweeping” criticism is a rather anodyne way of characterizing Hirisi Ali’s arguments. For example, that (not radical but all) Islam must be “crushed” and that if the Constitution doesn’t permit all Islamic religious instruction to be banned, so much worse for the Constitution. The double standard here is the opposite of what Douthat claims; if she had made similar comments about the Jewish or Roman Catholic faith not only would Brandeis’s decision to withdraw the degree not have been subjected to any noticeable criticism, there’s no chance she would have received an honorary degree in the first place. And as for the implication that Brandeis’s ornamental degrees are now reserved for liberals only, Douthat should speak with his colleague David Brooks, who received one in 2011.

And as an argument that liberals no longer value free expression, this is an even weaker case than the Eich resignation. Hirsi Ali was not a professor, or any kind of employee at Brandeis. She has not lost her job. She has an open invitation to speak at the institution. She had an essentially meaningless honorary degree withdrawn. As evidence that liberals don’t really care about academic freedom or freedom of speech, this isn’t even weak tea — it’s plain lukewarm water. Which is why the only specific liberal he cites as representative is an undergraduate who wrote a terrible essay that he concedes nobody else has endorsed.

Shorter verbatim quintessential hack Mr. Zev Chafets: “Brandeis University committed an honor killing this week.” It’s a great moment of self-fetuation; it’s pretty hard to imagine someone is that concerned about honor killing when they compare it to not getting an ornamental degree. (HT: MarkF)

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