A Liberal Firings Boom Instigated by the Right
Campus speech has become a cause célèbre on the Right, with pundits hammering away on the alleged excesses and intolerance of those they disparage as “social justice warriors” (or SJWs). As a result, many popular liberal commentators have fallen into reflexively contradicting them, dismissing those Mari Uyehara calls “the free speech grifters” and sifting through the data for evidence that all is well on the campus quad.
This instinctive partisanship threatens to obscure the fact that the Left has good reason to be just as concerned, if not more, with the state of freedom of expression, inquiry, and conscience in the academy:
While much of recent commentary in the ongoing debates over speech on campus has focused on apparent censorship of conservative speakers, a parallel toxic ecosystem has developed in which liberal professors can be subject to a combination of harassment and even death-threats from the Far Right, powerful administrative pressures against controversial public speech, and political and legal action by outside conservative organizations.
Over the last several years there has been a renewed debate about the reality and extent of the “free speech” crisis on campus. One faction, led by NYU Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt, insists that freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and free inquiry are being threatened and undermined by increased levels of political polarization and intolerance. Another faction, led by Acadia Political Scientist Jeff Sachs argues that the campus speech crisis “is a myth” and “largely imaginary.”
However, Sachs’ argument is refuted by his original empirical contribution to the debate, a dataset on faculty firings:
Over the two years span from 2016 and 2017, the number of dismissals on speech grounds has more than quadrupled (up 433%). There is a stark divide along partisan lines: while the terminations of conservative professors have doubled, the number of firings of liberals has boomed by no less than 950%!
Of the 45 cases of faculty firings determined to be unambiguously related to speech, 26 of them occur in 2017 alone (compared to 6 in 2015), “the clear majority (19) being over liberal speech”. Even after adjusting the data by imposing a more strict, legalistic definition of political speech, the pattern remains extraordinary.
Indeed, Sachs’ data represents the extreme tip of a speech iceberg that includes protests, online harassment, intervention by outside political groups, and intense professional pressures.