John R. Searle, The Campus War, 1971.



Since academic freedom is such a favorite topic of discussion in university circles, one is somewhat surprised to discover that there is a scarcity of recent theoretical discussion of the subject. The literature tends to be polemical and historical rather than theoretical. Furthermore, discussions of academic freedom are often fogged by noble sentiments and high rhetoric. It is difficult for academics to express themselves in public about academic freedom in the abstract without striving for eloquence and the articulation of commencement-day emotions. A more serious reason, I suspect, for the paucity of theoretical examinations of the concept is that most professors simply assume none is necessary. Since they already know what academic freedom is, the problem is to defend it, not to analyze it or define it. The situation is somewhat like that of [184] the famous judge in the obscenity case who said he could not define obscenity but he knew it when he saw it. Most academics would be hard pressed to define academic freedom, but they know violations of it when they see them.


I think that the discussions one sees of particular cases of alleged violations of academic freedom reveal quite different underlying theories or concepts of academic freedom; and in this chapter I shall begin by adumbrating two of the most important of these. I do not know whether these two exhaust the field, but they will, between them, cover most of the cases of violation of academic freedom, and in my two years as chairman of the Academic Freedom Committee of the University of California -- the faculty's institutional device for protecting academic freedom -- they served me and the committee quite well in our numerous battles.


The classical theory of academic freedom, and the heart of any theory of academic freedom, is that professors should have the right to teach, conduct research, and publish their research without interference, and that students should have the corresponding right to study and learn. The justification for these rights derives from a theory of what the university is and how it can best achieve its objectives. It is important to emphasize at the very beginning that in the special theory these are not general human rights like the right to free speech. They are special rights that derive from particular institutional structures, which are created by quite specific sets of [185] constitutive rules.1 They are like the right of a defendant to cross-examine an accuser rather than like the right of all people to the free expression of opinion, in that they derive not from a general theory of man and society but from a special theory of an institution and the conditions of functioning of that institution.

The theory of the university from which the rights of academic freedom are derived is as follows: the university is an institution designed for the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. The purpose of the university is to benefit the community which created and maintains it, and mankind in general, through the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. This amounts to two axioms: knowledge is of value and the university is an institution for the furtherance of that value. But these two axioms are still not sufficient. To derive the rights of academic freedom, we need also a theory about how knowledge can be attained and validated; we need an epistemology, a theory of knowledge. And not just any theory will do; for example, if you think that knowledge is best obtained by looking it up in a sacred text, you will not be able to derive the classical theory of academic freedom. On this sacred text theory professors would be confined to scrutinizing and expounding the sacred text.

The full exposition of the epistemology that underlies our concept of academic freedom would require an account of the methodological and rationalistic assumptions behind the modern conception of science and scholarship. Indeed, it would require an account of the whole modern conception of rationality, for it is this conception that underlies the theory of the university. Suffice it to say for our present purposes that an important part of this theory is that [186] knowledge is most likely to be advanced through free inquiry, and that claims to knowledge can only be validated as knowledge -- as opposed to dogma or speculation -- by being subjected to the tests of free inquiry. No proposition is so sacred as to be immune from these tests; every proposition derives what validity it has through surviving these tests. The university may be, as Rashdall tells us, an essentially medieval institution, but its contemporary ideology and methodology come not from the medieval period but from the Enlightenment.

Even adding this feature of a theory of knowledge to our axioms, we still do not have enough to derive the classical theory of academic freedom. The classical theory -- and the theory of the university as an institution generally -- accords a special status to the professor. The university is not a democracy where all have equal rights; it is an aristocracy of the trained intellect. The justification for according special status to the professor is closely connected with the epistemology. In virtue of his special competence in some area of academic study -- and competence includes knowledge of existing results and mastery of the techniques of validation and investigation of some academic discipline -- the professor is given special rights of investigation, of dissemination of knowledge, and of certification of students. To put it in less pompous jargon, because the professor is supposed to know more than the students about the methods and results of his subject, he, not they, is put in charge of the labs, the courses, the grades, etc.

To derive the classical theory, then, we need at least the following elements:

  1. a value claim: knowledge is valuable (both "for its own sake" and sometimes because of its "applications") and [187] should, other things being equal, be advanced and disseminated;
  2. a definition of the university: the university is an institutional device for the advancement and dissemination of knowledge;
  3. part of a theory of knowledge: knowledge is best acquired and can only be validated if subject to certain tests based on free inquiry;
  4. a theory of academic competence: the professionally competent, by virtue of their special knowledge and mastery of techniques, are qualified to advance the aims of research and teaching in ways that amateurs are not.

Given these assumptions, one can, I think, justify most of the elements of the classical theory of academic freedom. Professors should have the right to pursue knowledge enjoying freedom of inquiry and should have the right to disseminate that knowledge in the classroom and through publication. Students should have the right to study and learn this knowledge without interference.

If one were to undertake a really rigorous analysis of the concept of academic freedom, this, I believe, would be the best way to proceed. One would state the axioms and carry out a derivation of the rights of academic freedom. However, there is still a serious problem left over. Not all of the things we nowadays call academic freedom and not all the violations of rights that we consider violations of academic freedom can be accounted for by this traditional Special Theory.

To illustrate this, I shall provide three examples of actions that I consider to be violations of academic freedom but which cannot be accounted for in any natural way by the Special Theory. Not everyone will agree that [188] these are violations of "academic freedom," but the disagreement indicates that the boundaries of the concept of academic freedom are in dispute. First, imagine that a professor of physics is active in political work on behalf of the Democratic Party. Imagine, also, that the board of trustees of the university, who are all Republicans, fire him, or refuse to promote him because of his activities on behalf of the Democrats. Most of those who claim to be in favor of academic freedom would argue that this would be a violation of the physicist's academic freedom by the trustees. I entirely concur in this claim, but I fail to see how it is justified solely on the grounds provided by the Special Theory. How does the Special Theory, by itself, give a professor of physics the right to engage in political activity? One might, perhaps, argue that it gave him the right not to be fired or to have his promotion canceled on such grounds, because -- so one would argue -- implicit in the Special Theory is the principle that academic decisions such as terminating an appointment or making a promotion can only be made on academic grounds, not on other sorts of grounds. But it is not easy to see how this principle can be derived as part of the Special Theory without extra axioms; and in any case, stated as a general principle, it is violated all the time in ways which are perfectly consistent with the Special Theory. For example, it is not a violation of academic freedom to expel a student from the university for beating up other students, even though his grades may be acceptable and his beating up the other students was not a way of preventing them from studying (if, for example, he beat them up only as they were going to the movies). In such cases, we make a disciplinary decision which separates the student from the university, but we make it on nonacademic grounds. Now suppose the university authorities think it is both bad to beat up students and bad to work for the Democrats. Why [189] is separation from the university a violation of academic freedom in the one case, but not in the other? I think the answer is that a professor or student has a right to engage in political activity, but he does not have the right to beat up other members of the academic community. But where does he get this right? It cannot be derived from the Special Theory, but only from a General Theory which I shall shortly sketch.

This type of example is of considerable historical importance in the development of the concept of academic freedom. The original German conception of Lehrfreiheit did not include the right of the professor to engage in active politics. When the concept of academic freedom was imported from Germany to the United States, it was expanded to include this right of the professor to engage in political activity. In the United States it came to be regarded as a violation of academic freedom to fire a professor for his political activities (unless in some way they interfered with his professional work, in which case he could be fired for his professional failures and not for his political activity as such). Some authors believe that this American extension of the traditional concept of academic freedom derives from the more community-oriented, pragmatic role of the American university as compared with the German university.2 They see it as deriving from an extension of the very concept of the university in the United States. But I find this explanation unsatisfactory. Even if one were to add a community service axiom to the premises of the classical theory, it would still not authorize a physics professor to campaign for a political party. One could see how it might justify the political activities of a professor of social science; these activities could be regarded as an extension of his [190] professional work, field work, as it were. But the American conception of academic freedom includes the right of all professors to engage in all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with their academic expertise. It is extremely difficult to see how this right can be derived from the axioms of the classical theory; I think it comes from a different and more general theory.

A second example: suppose a group of political fanatics disrupts a meeting of a private student club on the campus. I believe this is a violation of the academic freedom of the students, even though their club is not a part of the university's educational program and may even be engaged in activities unrelated to that educational program. It might be, for instance, an astrology club. Yet, though the club is unrelated to the university's official educational program, students have a right to hold these meetings, and any such political attempts to deprive them of this right is reasonably construed as a violation of their academic freedom as students. I do not see how their right to hold these meetings can be derived from the classical theory.

A third case to show the insufficiency of the Special Theory: in 1960 the administration of the University of California, acting through a vice-chancellor, prevented me from addressing a law school club on the subject of the HUAC movie, Operation Abolition. At the time I was an assistant professor of philosophy. The administration announced that my criticisms of the film would be too controversial to be permitted without rebuttal, and at the last minute they canceled the speech and forbade the law students to have me at their meeting on the campus. In the end, a fraternity house off the campus gave us the use of its barroom, and I addressed the young lawyers there. I believe the administration violated my academic freedom (as well as that of the students), even though I am [191] not a professional expert on the House Un-American Activities Committee, subversion, film criticism, or any of the other relevant aspects of the movie. I believe I have a right to address students on my own campus, if they want to hear me, even on subjects outside the area of my professional competence, but I do not believe that this right can be derived from the classical theory strictly construed. In order to deal with these -- and countless other -- cases we need a more general theory of academic freedom.


The basic principle of the general theory of academic freedom is that professors and students have the same rights of free expression, freedom of inquiry, freedom of association, and freedom of publication in their roles as professors and students that they have as citizens in a free society, except insofar as the mode of exercise of these freedoms needs to be restricted to preserve the academic and subsidiary functions of the university. The justification for these freedoms under the general theory is exactly the same as the justification for those freedoms in the larger society. These justifications derive from a theory of society and of man's relation to society.

Where the Special Theory attempts to justify certain freedoms within the university, regardless of whether these freedoms are desirable in society at large, the General Theory assumes intellectual freedoms to be desirable for society, and sets up academic criteria by which these freedoms may be both realized and regulated on the university campus. The Special Theory answers the question, "What justification can we give for freedoms within the university?" But the General Theory assumes that the answer to that question is ultimately grounded in the desirability of intellectual freedoms generally, and it [192] answers the question, "What justification can we give for any restrictions of freedom in the university?" These are not competing or inconsistent theories. They are not competing answers to the same question but noncompeting answers to different questions. Both incorporate a theory of the university; but where the Special Theory sees academic freedom as deriving entirely from the theory of the university, the General Theory assumes the desirability of freedoms at large and asks how they can be realized and shaped in accordance with a theory of the university.

The General Theory incorporates the Special Theory because it includes the theory of the university, but it adds to it the following: students and faculty members maintain as students and faculty members the same rights they have as citizens of a free society. This means that not only can the state not interfere with these rights using its weapons, but the university cannot interfere with these rights using academic sanctions; nor can the university tolerate interference by others, using ad hoc and informal sanctions. Interferences by the university have to be justified in terms of the theory of the university. Thus, for example, the student has the same rights of free speech on the campus that he has off the campus, but the exercise of his free speech is legitimately regulated by the educational needs of the university. He does not have free speech while the professor is lecturing; he can only speak when called upon by the professor to do so; and when the professor tells him to shut up so the lecture can continue he is under an obligation to comply. The classroom does not entitle the student to "equal time" with the professor. Similarly, the professor does not have unlimited free speech in the classroom. He is only entitled to lecture on the subject of the course or lecture series, and he is not entitled to use the classroom for, say, political propaganda. [193] If he reconstitutes his lecture series as a political indoctrination session, he both violates the academic freedom of the student and abuses his academic freedom as a professor. The General Theory is an extension of the concept of academic freedom, because under it the academic role preserves the rights accorded the citizenship role, except insofar as those rights are regulated to realize the purposes of the university.

The General Theory really has two aspects. First, the university is an institutional embodiment of the general social values of free inquiry and free expression together with a theory of specialized scholarly competence. (This gives us all the rights of the classical theory together with the rights of the citizen extended to faculty and students.) Second, because the university is an institutional embodiment of free inquiry and scholarship, it is something quite different from such public areas as parks and streets. It therefore requires regulations of the mode of exercise of the general freedoms of a libertarian society in order to protect its special functions. (This gives us the sorts of regulations of the rights of students and faculty that are necessary to keep the university from turning into Trafalgar Square.)

Historically, these two theories are responses to different situations. Imperial Germany, where Lehrfreiheit was developed, was not a society committed to intellectual freedom, and in consequence the classical German theory of academic freedom was an attempt to carve out an area of freedom within the university and special to the university. The United States, on the other hand, is a nation committed to intellectual freedom in the community at large -- however imperfect our realization of that commitment may be -- and the General Theory of academic freedom is designed to cope with the problem of attempts to restrict those freedoms on the university campuses. The [194] General Theory insists that the professor and student both have their rights as citizens and that any attempt to interfere with those rights through university means must be justifiable in terms of the purposes of the university.

The General Theory of academic freedom deals with the three examples considered above as follows. First, professors, whether professors of political science or physics, have a right as citizens to engage in political activity, and as professors they have a right, under the General Theory of academic freedom, not to suffer academic penalties through the exercise of their rights as citizens. Secondly, students, as students, maintain their rights as citizens and hence have a right to form organizations and engage in free discussion on the campus on any topic they wish, provided they conform to rules designed to protect the special academic features of the university. If that right is violated by attempts to suppress their views through disruption of their meetings, their academic freedom as students, which under the General Theory incorporates their rights as citizens, is violated. Third, I have a right, as a citizen, to a free expression of opinion to such audiences as invite or care to listen to me. Under the General Theory of academic freedom, this gives me the right as a professor and hence as a citizen of the university community to address others in the university without interference by the authorities or the imposition of academic penalties.

Though most of the literature on the theory of academic freedom is cast in terms of classical Lehrfreiheit and Lernfreiheit, it seems to me many of the great battles of recent years in the realm of academic freedom have not been about the Special Theory but rather about the General Theory. Professors have been fired for being members of the Communist Party; faculty members have been [195] required to sign loyalty oaths; students have been disciplined for holding political meetings on campuses; professors have been prevented from addressing student clubs on political matters. Strictly construed, the Special Theory forbids none of these restrictions. It is confined to the rights of the professors and students in classrooms, laboratories, libraries, seminars, and other central university activities. Yet one feels -- or at any rate, I feel -- that each of the above actions involves a violation of the rights of students or faculties under some concept of academic freedom.

It is only in terms of the General Theory that the concept of student academic freedom really has very much meaning. Adherents of the classical theory are hard put to give content to the notion of academic freedom for students. In Imperial Germany it meant such things as the right of the student to wander about the country from one university to another -- all the universities were run by the state -- and to attend whatever lectures he liked in preparation for nationally given degree examinations. In the United States or England, where the educational systems are unlike those of Imperial Germany, it is hard to see how these conceptions of Lernfreiheit are supposed to apply. Academic freedom for students would have to be confined to such things as the right to be graded free of political considerations, the right not to be subject to political indoctrination in the classroom, and the right to go to class free of interference on political or racial grounds.

Under the Special Theory student academic freedom is at best a small territory, and some classical theorists even claim that students don't have academic freedom at all. For example, Ernest Van den Haag states, "Students benefit from the academic freedom of the faculty and perhaps from the atmosphere of freedom which should prevail on [196] the campus. So does society at large. However, students do not have academic freedom. . . ."3 And as Van den Haag defines academic freedom, in terms of a strict construction of Lehrfreiheit, that would certainly be the case. But, by contrast, under the General Theory the student has quite extensive rights, i.e., he has the rights of a citizen of a free society, except insofar as those rights are restricted and regulated by the special educational objectives of the institution.

At one level the difference between those who accept only the Special Theory and those, like myself, who accept the General and Special Theories, is purely verbal. It all depends on what one means by "academic freedom." But like most conceptual distinctions, it is crucial in all sorts of practical ways. For example, university administrations which are committeed to the Special Theory but not to the General Theory will feel themselves justified in placing all sorts of arbitrary restrictions on the out-of-class behavior of students and faculty members, even though those restrictions cannot be justified as part of any coherent educational theory.

Why should we consider both of these theories to be theories of academic freedom? Why wouldn't it be less confusing to call one "the right to study and learn" and the other "civil liberties on the campus?" Any American constitutional lawyer would argue that the additional rights I am including under the General Theory are covered by the First Amendment, due process, equal protection, and the rest of the currently expanded legal conception of civil liberties. If constitutional rights include many features of the General Theory, so much the better [197] for constitutional rights, but I think the two theories are logically related in ways that justify lumping both together as "academic freedom." In particular, both place a high value on knowledge and rationality. Both emphasize free expression, and both connect free expression and free inquiry to claims to truth in that both claim that free inquiry is necessary to validate claims to truth. Notice that almost all of the rights under the Special Theory of academic freedom are also rights of the citizen qua citizen. He can investigate and state or publish his views as he sees fit. The additional rights which professors and students have under the classical theory do not derive from an independent conception of man and rationality -- it is the same conception in both cases -- but they derive from the fact that the university is a specialized institution dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.


It will be obvious to anyone who has dealt extensively with radicals that many of them accept neither the Special nor the General Theory of academic freedom nor the theory of the university which is an essential part of both. They believe that the university is, in fact, a tool of the military-industrial complex, and they believe it ought to become a tool of the radical movement. Academic freedom they see either as a hypocritical device employed by establishment professors and administrators to disguise the real aims of the institution or as a dodge for evading their social responsibilities. Academic freedom, says Angela Davis, for example, is "an empty concept which professors use to guarantee their right to work undisturbed [198] by the real world, undisturbed by the real problems of society."4

The history of the struggle for academic freedom in the United States is largely the struggle of embattled faculty members against right-wing forces in the community; originally it was a struggle against pressures for theological, then later economic and political orthodoxy. Now we are faced with a new assault on academic freedom from an unexpected quarter, the student left. Not surprisingly faculties have been unprepared for this assault, and given the hardening of the dramatic categories that professors come to suffer in their middle and old age, many can hardly even perceive it when it comes crashing down on them. They think it must be some sort of misunderstanding, and either they tend to dismiss tales of violations of academic freedom by the student left -- even violations of the Special Theory -- as exaggerated or else they believe the damage is the result of some element that somehow doesn't count, an insignificant minority that is really not to be taken seriously. In my two years as an official watchdog for academic freedom, I found it very easy to arouse my colleagues about assaults on academic freedom by the right but very hard to get them to perceive the violations of academic freedom by the left. The problem was not that they denied the existence of the events -- disruptions of classes, blocking of students trying to enter class, etc. -- but they would rather not think about such things; they would rather keep their eyes fixed in the middle distance in the opposite direction on some simple villainous target such as Ronald Reagan or Max Rafferty.

One of the theoretical lacunae that the strains of these years have exposed is the absence of any coherent account [199] of university neutrality. A standard item in the rhetoric of university administrators is that the university as an institution must remain "neutral" on questions of social and political policy. Individual faculty members and students, acting in their role as citizens, may engage in active politics and may take stands on political and social matters, but the university as an institution, so the argument goes, must remain neutral. The standard radical criticism of this view is that the university is not in fact neutral and cannot remain neutral even if it wanted to. By maintaining programs in ROTC, by accepting contract work for the federal government, or by emphasizing the scientific and technological elements in the curriculum and in budgetary allocations -- in all these and countless other ways, the university is violating its pose of neutrality. Even refusing to take a stand on the war in Vietnam, the radicals argue, is itself a stand, since it gives tacit acquiescence to the present policy. Consequently, argue the radicals, since the university is not and cannot be neutral, it should openly declare itself in favor of the revolution and against the war in Vietnam, and abandon its false pose of neutrality and academic freedom.

I think the arguments by both radicals and administrators are extremely confused, and I now want to try to sort out some of the major issues involved. First, one should note that the structure of the radical argument is much like the structure of classical epistemological skepticism. Just as the traditional skeptic tacitly adopts a conception of knowledge which would make it impossible ever to attain knowledge, and then argues on the basis of this revised conception that knowledge is impossible, so the radical adopts a definition of neutrality which makes it impossible for the university ever to be neutral, and then argues on the basis of this conception of neutrality that neutrality is impossible. This makes his case all too easy. [200]

If by neutrality the radicals mean the absence of any social or political effects of any action or inaction by the university, then obviously no university is, has been, or ever could be completely neutral. The very process of education itself has enormous consequences for society by creating an educated class of people who behave differently than they would have behaved if they had not been educated. Educational decisions such as the decision to expand one department at the expense of others have social consequences. Even the decision to adopt a neutral position on social and political questions has social consequences if only because the absence of consequences is itself a form of consequence. Actions that the university might have taken it did not take. But such "proofs" that the university is not and cannot be neutral prove only that the authors of the proof have a confused conception of neutrality. The traditional theory of neutrality is not that the university avoids having any social consequences but that it is open to the expression of all points of view and it does not take institutional stands on controversial social and political questions (except insofar as its educational mission requires it to do so, a point I shall come to later). One might say that the implicit theory of neutrality is not a neutrality of effects (consequences, results) but a neutrality of institutional intent. Of course, the university has effects on controversial social and political questions, but its institutional intent is education not politics.

Well, why not politics? Why not get the university involved in politics directly? The obvious answer is that the university has no right within the terms of its theory of legitimacy to become a political agency, and it would destroy itself as a university if it chose to do so. The arguments against it are both moral and prudential. The community establishes, supports, and tolerates the university (and in the United States, this is true of both [201] public and so-called private universities) because the university serves certain educational needs of the community. But as a specialized institution it is not entitled to alter the terms of its contract with society and still retain its rights, any more than a hospital is entitled to turn itself into a theater or the Foreign Office of a country into a yachting club. The university is -- and how often does one have to repeat this? -- a specialized institution, and not a city state. Furthermore, if the institution abandons its side of the agreement with the community, it can hardly hope to survive as an educational institution, because as a political agency it will be taken over by the strongest political forces of the day, just like any other political agency (in several public universities this danger is already well on the way to becoming reality). As an actor in the political arena the university would lose its right to claim immunity from political interference, a right it has only in its capacity as an educational institution. One is a little embarrassed to find oneself repeating such obvious and familiar points, but as they are so frequently denied, the effort is perhaps not entirely wasted.

But while the arguments for a nonpolitical university seem unexceptionable, the distinction between intent and consequences is at best problematical, and I don't think it will bear the burden of the arguments about "neutrality." The intent of the university is supposed to be educational, whereas its consequences are of all sorts. The apparent clarity of this distinction is muddied in two ways, empirically by the fact that universities often do not in fact live up to this ideal, and conceptually by the fact that much educational intent is precisely the intent to achieve certain social consequences.

The first point is familiar enough. The history of universities is marked by recurring incidents of active participation by the university in public affairs. In the English [202] Revolution, King Charles quartered his troops in Magdalen College and held court in the Hall of Christ Church. Each morning armed cavaliers galloped across Magdalen bridge to do battle with Roundheads, such was Oxford's neutrality in the seventeenth century. American universities have been similarly used or abused in the twentieth century for military purposes that have no educational justification. The most one can say for these cases is that sometimes a national emergency such as the Second World War provides an overriding justification for violating certain principles. For example, where the survival of the nation is at stake it is justifiable to violate academic freedom by conducting secret research on the campus. But such concessions, though sometimes justifiable, are always dangerous. Such departures may become habitual and may survive long after their initial justifying conditions have ceased, which is what happened after the Second World War. The problem for the universities here is empirical and not theoretical. We simply need to scrutinize our public commitments, such as our federal contracts, to make sure they are not inconsistent with our overall educational objectives. The fact that universities have not adequately done this is an argument for getting them to do it; it is not an argument for getting them to multiply violations of their principles by endorsing political positions approved by the radicals. The failure of the universities to preserve their integrity in the face of federal financial lures does not justify the argument that there should be further failures this time on behalf of the left. There should be fewer failures altogether.

The second point is philosophically more interesting: if universities are committed to neutrality of intent but not of consequences, how do we deal with the fact that much of the university's educational intent is to achieve certain social consequences through educational means? [203] For example, the intent of the medical schools, ultimately, is health; the intent of much of die career training is the prosperity of the community; the intent of ROTC courses is -- I suppose -- national security. And so on.

According to the traditional theory of neutrality, none of these intents would be a violation of neutrality, because to repeat, neutrality consists in not taking stands on social and political controversies, and none of these is controversial. The desirability of health, prosperity, and security are all parts of the social consensus on which any publicly supported institution rests, and in terms of which the institution was founded. In short, to answer this objection, I think the traditional theorist would have to add to the distinction between intent and consequence a distinction between controversy and consensus: the position of neutrality is to avoid taking sides in political and social controversies.

But this answer is still not satisfactory. Any item of the social consensus can become "controversial" simply by being challenged, and indeed all of the elements of the social consensus are challenged at some time or other. For Christian Scientists, the existence of the medical school is a departure from neutrality, for socialists the business school is a departure from neutrality, for pacifists, "military science" is a departure from neutrality, and so on. Furthermore, one of the main purposes of the university is to subject every item of any existing social consensus to close scrutiny. The university by its very nature turns consensus into controversy by constantly challenging consensus and creating controversy. Except in totalitarian theocracies like the Soviet Union there is no fixed consensus that provides a touchstone for the decisions as to what social benefits educational institutions should achieve.

The distinction between controversy and consensus [204] provides no decision procedure but only a rough guide, and a very rough guide at that, to maintaining neutrality. The fact of the matter remains that the radicals are quite right in pointing out that at some point policy decisions will have to be made by those in charge of the university about what social purposes the educational resources of the university shall be put to. But their mistake is to infer that such decisions constitute a violation of neutrality as traditionally conceived or that they justify such things as converting the university into a political action group.

Well then, what are the grounds on which one selects certain social objectives and what distinguishes that selection from the choice of objectives posed by the radical critics? To put it in simple terms, what is the difference between, say, setting up a medical school and converting the university into a political action group?

To make the question clearer, let us consider two arguments. One radical argument, which I have rejected, is that since the university violates its principles by helping the CIA it ought to do as much for the radical movement and come out against the war. That argument is plainly bad; it is our old friend, the two wrongs fallacy. But there is another argument that is more serious. Since the university makes moral decisions even within the theory of its legitimacy, e.g., when it sets up a medical school, why not make a moral decision and oppose the war? Why does the theory of legitimacy allow one and not the other? Notice that this argument can be posed without the use of the disputed word "neutral" and its strength and weakness are quite independent of the fact that most such arguments to get the university to take a political stand are presented with the intent of damaging the university and have nothing to do with the war. To answer the argument, consider an intermediate case. A [205] university with a graduate training division for Foreign Service officers might reasonably decide that the foreign policy disasters on Southeast Asia warrant an alteration in the curriculum to give their students a better intellectual grip on the politics of that area. Now what is the difference between that kind of a decision and a decision to adopt a stance against the war or in favor of a certain political candidate? I think the answer is obviously that in the one case the decision is to achieve a moral objective through the primary educational mission of the university. It is a decision to investigate and teach certain kinds of subject matter, with all that that involves in terms of fairness, rationality, and respect for the facts. But the other decision departs from the universities' educational role. It is not a decision to use educational means or intellectual standards, but a decision to commit the university in ways that are irrelevant to its educational role. The allocation of resources does indeed involve decisions sometimes of a moral nature, with all that such decisions involve. But it is a mistake to infer that anything goes. It is a condition on any such decision that it preserve intellectual and educational standards and objectives.

Are any departures from traditional neutrality ever justifiable? I have already mentioned the rare (and seductive and dangerous) class where one violates a principle to achieve an overriding social aim. But there is another class of considerable importance.

Sometimes one is justified in violating the principle of staying out of public controversies because some educational objective is at stake. To take an obvious example, many universities in the United States have adopted a policy of recruiting students from minority racial groups even in cases where the students do not meet the educational standards of the university. This amounts to taking a position on a controversial question, for it is in effect [206] saying that the university rejects racism as a social policy. How can one justify such a decision? The answer is that such a decision is taken to further the educational aims of the institution. In this case the theory is that many of the students in question are unable to meet the usual university entrance requirements because the education they receive at the lower levels was not good enough. They may have the native ability but their grade schools and high schools have not brought it out; and the university "compensates" for this. It opens educational opportunities for people who are able to benefit from them, but who because of intellectually extraneous reasons have had the usual routes to higher education denied them.

One last point. Recent polemics have made it appear that the position of university neutrality has to do with the university taking stands on public issues. But historically the importance of neutrality has been that the university provides an open forum for the expression of all points of view. There is some irony in the radicals criticizing the university for its failure to achieve neutrahty in its effects, since in the public mind one of the chief failures of the university is that, following its policy of neutrality, it tolerates radicals. It provides a haven for views and movements which are not readily tolerated elsewhere. The very existence of radicals on the campus is the most visible non-neutral effect of the university's position of neutrality. The radicals are the chief beneficiaries of the policy they -- with some confusion -- attack.


Consider the following fairly typical piece of reasoning expressed in the Declaration of the Graduate School of the New School for Social Research. [207]
The New School knows that no man can teach well, nor should he be permitted to teach at all, unless he is prepared "to follow the truth of scholarship wherever it may lead." No inquiry is ever made as to whether a lecturer's private views are conservative, liberal, or radical; orthodox or agnostic; views of the aristocrat or commoner. Jealously safeguarding this precious principle, the New School strictly affirms that a member of a political party or group which asserts the right to dictate in matters of science or scientific opinion is not free to teach the truth and thereby is disqualified as a teacher.5
There is an egregious fallacy contained in this paragraph, and it is common enough to be worth examining. From the fact that a man is a member of "a political party or group which asserts the right to dictate in matters of science or scientific opinion," it simply does not logically follow that he "is not free to teach the truth." To take an obvious example, let us suppose the Communist Party is such an organization. One might join the Communist Party for any number of motives -- serious or frivolous -- which have nothing to do with this feature: one might join the Communist Party as a way of annoying one's stockbroker, as a practical joke on one's wife, as a way of getting cheap lodging in New York, in the hope of meeting lady FBI agents, as a means of making business contacts, or for no good reason at all, just "for the hell of it." From the fact that one is a member, nothing whatever follows logically about one's teaching abilities. And even if one did join deliberately with the intent of following the party line, one might since the time one joined have changed one's mind or lost interest in the whole enterprise. One might have become, as the French would say, "Communiste mais pas pratiquant." From the fact that [208] one is a member of some club and that club is committed to a certain line, it simply does not follow that one is committed to that line. One's membership in different sorts of organizations does provide indirect evidence about one's interests and inclinations, and if one were a member of various crackpot outfits, university authorities would certainly be justified in inquiring into whether or not these organizations affected one's professional performance. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, for the university's promotion committees to inquire into whether a Communist professor is using the classroom for indoctrination and propaganda.

The fallacy of inferring a man's actual performance from his membership and associations is fairly obvious and transparent. It is closely related to a second fallacy which is both more pervasive and more subtle. Suppose for the sake of argument that all Communist Party members ever found teaching were in fact discovered to be bad teachers. Would this justify a rule against hiring Communist Party members to teach? Most boards of trustees would claim that it did, but I think it plainly would not. What would be justified is a rule against hiring bad teachers, but from the fact that being a bad teacher may be associated with some other trait, even universally associated with that trait, it does not follow that possession of that other trait is itself grounds for dismissal. In formal terms, the structure of this fallacy lies in inferring from the fact that one is justified in firing someone for having property A and B has been found to be universally conjoined with A, that one is justified in firing someone solely on the grounds that he possesses property B. In order that justice be done, there has to be independent evidence for the presence of A. The moral importance of pointing out this fallacy is to emphasize that guilt is -- logically speaking -- an individual matter: one cannot be [209] demonstrated to be guilty solely in virtue of one's membership in a class all of whose other members have been proven guilty. Its practical importance is to call attention to the fact that boards of trustees who wish to fire members of certain political groups and who claim to justify this on the grounds that members of these groups make bad teachers are guilty of fallacious reasoning even if one accepts their premises. If they are really worried about good teaching, they should undertake to establish whether or not someone is a good teacher before making appointment decisions, and there is no way of establishing that other than by inquiring into his performance as a teacher.

Interestingly, an extreme version of this very same fallacy comes from the student left. Student activists who break university rules in the couse of, say, protesting against the war in Vietnam, characteristically argue as follows: "Since I was protesting against the war and you punished me, you must be punishing me for protesting against the war in Vietnam. You are out to crush dissent, and I am being made a victim of political repression, a martyr to the cause of peace." The fallacy here lies in inferring from the fact that one is punished for violating a rule and violating that rule consisted in actions which were protests against the war in Vietnam, that one is punished for protesting against the war. Formally speaking, it is a fallacy to infer from the fact that one is punished for an act X and X was performed in the course of act Y or is identical with act Y, that one is punished [210] for having performed act Y.6 This second fallacy is so deeply embedded in the logical pathology of the student left that rules are often violated with the aim of later identifying the punishment with some alleged repression by the university authorities. The willingness of the target group of uncommitted students, and the radicals themselves, to be taken in by the fallacy underlies the political behavior in question.


In the classical theory of free speech as expressed, for example, by J. S. Mill, a special place is accorded to the right to dissent. Mill recognized that even after the power of the state to restrict free speech had been removed there still remained the danger of "the tyranny of the majority"; there still remained the possibility that conformity could be imposed by group or mob pressures that had no state sanction. This is precisely the situation we are in on many university campuses regarding the subjects in our list of Sacred Topics. It is impossible in the major universities for a political figure known to support the Vietnam War to make a public speech on the campus attempting to justify the war; radical students would not allow such dissent from the campus orthodoxy to be expressed. Similarly, with the race issue. I do not believe that at present George Wallace, or any other prominent racist, could give a public speech on a major campus and be guaranteed a safe and dignified hearing. As a new campus orthodoxy arises around the Sacred Topics, the right to dissent is eroded by violent disruption of those who dissent from the approved views. Perhaps the most depressing evidence of the fragility of our students' commitment to the ideal of free speech is illustrated by the fact that one finds one's students puzzled that one can [211] be both against the war and in favor of allowing pro-war speakers the right to speak. It seems to them somehow strange that one can have a long record of opposing the war, or of fighting racial injustice, and still wish to grant elementary human rights to those with whom one disagrees. Have we really reached the point where it is necessary to resume discussion of Voltaire's old cliche: "I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it?"

One of the many paradoxes of radical rhetoric is that the decline in the right to dissent brought about by radical intolerance is paralleled by virulent rhetoric in favor of something called "the right to dissent." Having observed this discourse for some time I have come to the conclusion that in radical theory the right to dissent means something quite different from what it means in the traditional philosophy of human rights. It is not an essential feature of the "free marketplace of ideas"; it is rather something opposed to the free marketplace of ideas. The ideal of the free marketplace is one the radicals tend to reject. In radical usage, the right to dissent means the right to state what we believe in and to prevent those who disagree with us from stating what they believe. Suppose, for example, that former President Lyndon Johnson should be invited to the campus to give a speech about the war in Vietnam. You might think that since his views are so little expressed on campuses and depart from the orthodox and the popular that he would be exercising the right to dissent by speaking. For John Stuart Mill this would indeed be the correct way to describe the situation. But in radical usage, if we go to the meeting and smash up the meeting and physically prevent him from speaking, it is we who are exercising the right to dissent. If the administration attempts to prevent us from disrupting the meeting and allow him to speak [212] that would be "oppression" and they would be "crushing dissent." "Dissent," in short, in this usage denotes a set of approved left-wing views. It does not, as it did in the classical theory, denote any view that departed from the orthodox; it is not a formal concept. The right to dissent is the right to state these views and to prevent other people stating contrary views.


1 For an explanation of the notion of constitutive rules, see J. R. Searle's Speech Acts, Chapter 2 (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969).

2 E.g., L. R. Veysey, The Emergence of the American University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 384.

3 Ernest Van den Haag, "Academic Freedom in the United States," in Hans W. Boade (ed.), Academic Freedom (New York: Oceana Publications, 1964), p. 85.

4 New York Times, August 17, 1970, p. 23.

5 Sidney Hook, Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy (New York: Cawles Book Co., Inc., 1969), p. 41.

6 Both of these fallacies are beautiful instances of what philosophers call referential opacity. The second case is more like the textbook cases of referentially opaque contexts because it involves identity. Sentences of the form, "A punished B for act X," are referentially opaque because they do not permit of substitution of other expressions designating X, salva veritate.