Liberals Should Stop Their 'Obsession' With Academic Freedom, Harvard Student Columnist Argues

A columnist for The Harvard Crimson urged her fellow liberals to abandon their "obsession" with academic freedom.

"Yet the liberal obsession with 'academic freedom' seems a bit misplaced to me," Sandra Korn, a Crimson editorial writer and Harvard student wrote. "After all, no one ever has 'full freedom' in research and publication. ... If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of 'academic freedom?'"

Rather than promoting academic freedom, Korn suggests using "a more rigorous standard" of "academic justice."

"When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue," she wrote.

Whether or not research is promoting or justifying oppression should, in Korn's view, be decided by "students, faculty and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do."

For an example, Korn points to Harvey Mansfield, the William R. Kenan Jr. professor of government at Harvard, who is known for his generally conservative views on the mostly liberal campus.

Mansfield is well-known and well-respected nationally in the field of political science. Korn believes, though, that his views do not fit the "academic justice" standard, and she would support driving him off the campus where he has taught since 1962.

"Does government professor Harvey Mansfield have the legal right to publish a book in which he claims that 'to resist rape a woman needs … a certain ladylike modesty?' Probably. Do I think he should do that? No, and I would happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position. 'Academic freedom' might permit such an offensive view of rape to be published; academic justice would not," she wrote.

Rebecca Lesses, associate professor of Jewish studies at Ithaca College, warned that Korn's "academic justice" standard could also be used against her.

Korn "doesn't seem to realize that her argument stifles diversity of research and opinion, and that ultimately it could be used against her by those who consider her to be a purveyor of academic injustice. Devotion to freedom of thought or speech does not appear to be one of her values," Lesses wrote on her blog.

"Being a feminist, I don't agree with Harvey Mansfield on the proper roles of men and women," she added, "but neither do I think that Harvard faculty members (or professors at any college or university) should be forbidden to publish on certain topics because their views do not meet with the approval of people who consider themselves devoted to 'academic justice.'"

At press time, the article had over 240 comments.

"I hope I'm not the only one who is genuinely frightened by the ideas expressed in this piece," one commenter named James wrote. "You really can't get more Orwellian than 'justice' committees censoring research. This is cringeworthy material that I'm glad the Crimson published. The free world must be aware that such intolerance exists."