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The Woke Plot Against Academic Freedom

A university requires academic freedom. Scholars must be free to investigate the truth.  Without this freedom, we are headed to totalitarianism. As Ludwig von Mises said, “Tax-supported universities are under the sway of the party in power. The authorities try to appoint only professors who are ready to advance ideas of which they themselves approve. As all nonsocialist governments are today firmly committed to interventionism, they appoint only interventionists. In their opinion, the first duty of the university is to sell the official social philosophy to the rising generation. They have no use for economists.

However, interventionism prevails also at many of the independent universities.

According to an age-old tradition the objective of the universities is not only teaching, but also the promotion of knowledge and science. The duty of the university teacher is not merely to hand down to the students the complex of knowledge developed by other men. He is supposed to contribute to the enlargement of this treasure by his own work. It is assumed that he is a full-fledged member of the world-embracing republic of scholarship, an innovator and a pioneer on the road toward more and better knowledge. No university would admit that the members of its faculty are inferior to anybody in their respective fields. Every university professor considers himself equal to all other masters of his science. Like the greatest of them, he too contributes his share to the advancement of learning.

This idea of the equality of all professors is, of course, fictitious. There is an enormous difference between the creative work of the genius and the monograph of a specialist. Yet in the field of empirical research it is possible to cling to this fiction. The great innovator and the simple routinist resort in their investigations to the same technical methods of research. They arrange laboratory experiments or collect historical documents. The outward appearance of their work is the same. Their publications refer to the same subjects and problems. They are commensurable.

It is quite otherwise in theoretical sciences like philosophy and economics. Here there is nothing that the routinist can achieve according to a more or less stereotyped pattern. There are no tasks which require the conscientious and painstaking effort of sedulous monographers. There is no empirical research; all must be achieved by the power to reflect, to meditate, and to reason. There is no specialization, as all problems are linked with one another. In dealing with any part of the body of knowledge one deals actually with the whole. An eminent historian once described the psychological and educational significance of the doctoral thesis by declaring that it gives the author the proud assurance that there is a little corner, although small, in the field of learning in the knowledge of which he is second to none. It is obvious that this effect cannot be realized by a thesis on a subject of economic analysis. There are no such isolated corners in the complex of economic thought.

There never lived at the same time more than a score of men whose work contributed anything essential to economics. . . However, what has made many of the present-day universities by and large nurseries of socialism is not so much the conditions prevailing in the departments of economics as the teachings handed down in other departments. In the departments of economics there can still be found some economists, and even the other teachers may be familiar with some of the objections raised against the practicability of socialism. The case is different with many of the teachers of philosophy, history, literature, sociology, and political science. They interpret history on the ground of a garbled vulgarization of dialectical materialism. Even many of those who passionately attack Marxism on account of its materialism and atheism are under the sway of the ideas developed in the Communist Manifesto and in the program of the Communist International. They explain depressions, mass unemployment, inflation, war and poverty as evils necessarily inherent in capitalism and intimate that these phenomena can disappear only with the passing of capitalism.”

Things have gotten much worse since Mises wrote that depressing assessment in 1949. Today, if an academic says the “wrong” thing, he can be fired or even physically attacked. Let’s look at some examples. According to Paul Craig Roberts, “Academics, if they are white, live in fear of their jobs.  Professors lost their authority when administrations ceased backing them and instead allowed student complaints to result in investigations.  Once an investigatory procedure is in place, it keeps itself funded by investigating. Feminist complaints, followed by political correctness, had the investigative process well-oiled prior to the rise of wokism.   Now almost any word can be turned into an offense requiring investigation.  One professor is in trouble because he read to the class Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham jail.’  King’s letter contained. . .[the ‘n-word’]  By reading aloud King’s letter, the professor committed hate speech and perhaps a hate crime.

Not only do professors have to try to anticipate the next offensive word or expression—you can’t say things like ‘girls night out’ for example—but also they live in fear of something that they might have written years ago.  They are going through their published books and scholarly articles trying to prepare in advance for the accusations from the lynch squad.  Indeed, today far more academics—and commentators—get lynched than ever black Americans did. . .

At least some white academics are beginning to understand their peril, but not all. Dr. Leslie Neal-Boylan, the Dean of the Nursing School at the University of Massachusetts, was fired for writing in an email that ‘everone’s life matters.’

Here is the full context of the Dean’s statement:

‘I am writing to express my concern and condemnation of the recent (and past) acts of violence against people of color. Recent events recall a tragic history of racism and bias that continue to thrive in this country. I despair for our future as a nation if we do not stand up against violence against anyone. BLACK LIVES MATTER, but also, EVERYONE’S LIFE MATTERS. No one should have to live in fear that they will be targeted for how they look or what they believe.’

Someone only identified as ‘Haley’ found this innocuous statement ‘uncalled for and upsetting,’ and that sufficed for the University to fire the Dean, a person they had recently praised as ‘visionary’ and an asset to the university.”

At one time, the University of Chicago was famous for its commitment to academic freedom, but not anymore, according to an article by Benjamin Schwartz. “Alas, however, although the University of Chicago is a unique institution of higher education, it nonetheless inhabits the ecosystem of higher education. So while its administration and most of its faculty and students remain devoted to what is characterized in the Chicago Principles as ‘the spirit and promise of the University of Chicago’, a woke illiberalism is subverting that spirit and promise from within. In January 2018, Steve Bannon, the former director of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the former chief strategist in Trump’s White House, accepted the invitation of Luigi Zingales, a University of Chicago professor, to debate at the university. In explaining why he invited Bannon, Zingales quite sensibly explained, ‘Whether you like his [Bannon’s] views or not, he seems to have understood something about America that I’m curious to learn more about’. But – surprisingly, given their university’s long-held commitment to free expression; unsurprisingly, given the climate within academe – a minority of Chicago students and faculty members mounted a vociferous campaign demanding that the invitation to Bannon be rescinded. Opposing their university’s policies and principles on free expression and displaying an ignorance of its history of upholding them, a group of professors issued a statement, which took the form of a demand letter to Chicago’s president and provost, calling for Bannon to be de-platformed. The professors proclaimed that ‘the defence of freedom of expression cannot be taken to mean’ that views that the professors deem abhorrent ‘must be afforded the rights [sic] and opportunity to be aired on a university campus’. Although Chicago didn’t heed the protesters’ demands, two years later Bannon has yet to speak at the university for reasons that cannot be discerned – so it’s unclear what part, if any, the student and faculty appeals to withdraw Bannon’s invitation have played in his non-appearance.”

Amy Wax is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who opposes “open borders” Because of this and other sins against “wokism,”, her dean has called for her to be fired for “racism.” Peter Wood tells the first part of the story: “University of Pennsylvania Professor of Law Amy Wax was subjected to a smear campaign following her remarks at the National Conservatism Conference on July 15, 2019. A writer for the website Vox, Zach Beauchamp, characterized Wax’s statements on immigration as ‘an outright argument for white supremacy.’ The founder of the conference, Yoram Hazony, quickly denied Beauchamp’s allegation. Hazony tweeted, ‘In fact she made no such argument.’ Beauchamp held his ground and offered what he said was a transcript of part of Wax’s remarks. .  . Wax’s opinion on the need for bourgeois values was not ‘controversial’ in the larger sense of flying in the face of civilized standards of public speech. She didn’t endorse cannibalism, human sacrifice, or cigarette smoking, for example. Her observation about black students in the Law School came in the context of considering the question of how racial preferences for black students in law school admissions work out over the long term. Her statement easily could have been checked against the factual record as completely true, mostly true, or false. But her dean decided instead that it was an outrageous declaration and unworthy of examination on its merits. He ruled that she would no longer be permitted to teach first-year law students.”

Wood wrote that in August 2019, but things have gotten worse. Now her dean demands her dismissal. Academic freedom is fine, but not for “racists” like Wax. Graham Piro, writing in July 2022, reports: “The University of Pennsylvania Law School has asked Penn’s faculty senate to begin the process of punishing tenured law professor Amy Wax — up to and including termination — for what’s characterized as ‘intentional and incessant racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic actions and statements.’ While members of the Penn community are free to denounce and challenge controversial statements, they cannot punish Wax for her expression without weakening free speech and tenure protections for all Penn faculty.

But that’s precisely what Dean Ted Ruger did June 23 when he wrote Penn’s faculty senate chair asking her to convene a hearing board to evaluate Wax’s future at the university. Ruger accuses Wax of inflicting ‘harm’ on Penn’s faculty, students, and staff, claiming her statements have led students and faculty ‘to reasonably believe they will be subjected to discriminatory animus if they come into contact with her.’

Ruger’s letter concludes with a request that the newly-formed hearing board issue a ‘major sanction’ against Wax.”

Probably the last time there has been a major defeat for wokeness happened in 2006, The University of Nevada at Las Vegas attempted to sanction, and possibly to fire, the great philosopher and economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, because someone in a “protected” minority had taken offense to some of his comments. Fortunately a national campaign of protest in defense of academic freedom resisted this, and the great Rothbardian was able to get all disciplinary action against him removed. He retired from the department a few years later, and it’s safe to say that had he stayed on, he would have been subjected to a massive pressure campaign to get him to leave.

Stephan Kinsella tells the story: “Has academia become so politicized that teaching good economics, and using politically sensitive illustrations, can lead to threats, fines, penalties, demotion and worse? It certainly seemed so in early February when Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a leading student of Murray Rothbard and senior fellow of the Mises Institute, received an egregious letter from the Provost of his university.

It seems that last year, a student had become upset at an illustration Hoppe used in class. The Provost sided with the student, and thereby blasted Hoppe for creating a hostile learning environment and further demanded that Hoppe cease mischaracterizing opinion as objective fact.’ Throughout the ordeal, Hoppe was under constant investigation and harassment, but prevented from responding.

This attack on him not only represented a violation of the contract with the University but also impinges on a sacrosanct principle of Western university life: academic freedom. As Mises said in a 1962 lecture: even though European universities were owned and controlled by the government, no one dared to interfere with what was taught in the classroom. The point is crucial to the development of the liberal idea because it permitted economists and social scientists to criticize the state and advance a body of ideas in defense of freedom.

But what European universities never dared to do, American universities are increasingly doing as a matter of habit: badger professors into adopting the latest political fashion as integral to their classroom presentations. That is why the attack on Hoppe threatens more than the interests of one intellectual; it threatens the rights and freedoms of everyone in the academic community, and of the idea of freedom itself.

Due to national and international coverage of the case—written about on the wire services and in the Chronicle of Higher Education—the entire scholarly world is watching to see how this case is resolved.

Hoppe is a world-renowned economist, author, and speaker, as well as a pioneer in the libertarian tradition of political economy. An adherent of the Austrian school of economics (leading Austrian school economist F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974), he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and his Habilitation degree in Sociology and Economics, both from the Goethe-Universität in Germany. He taught at several German universities as well as at the Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center for Advanced International Studies, Bologna, Italy. In 1986, Hoppe joined UNLV’s economics department and has been a tenured full professor since 1992.

Constantly in demand for speaking engagements around the world, Hoppe is author of dozens of scholarly books and articles. His scholarly work covers areas such as money and banking, the methodology of the social sciences, comparative systems, European economic history, political ethics, the market for security, the theory of ownership and property rights, and economic institutions generally.

He is a radical thinker and a system builder of the sort that academia should treasure, for his ideas offer a relentless challenge to students and colleagues. Because Professor Hoppe enjoys an international reputation—his books and essays have been translated and published in Korean, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Chinese, French, Danish, German, and eight other languages—his case has benefited from an outpouring of support, especially from students who have studied under him both in the US and abroad.

The controversy surrounds comments made during two money and banking class lectures in March 2004, during which Professor Hoppe discussed the concept of ‘time preference.’ Time preference is an important notion in economics, and particularly in the Austrian school of economics, because it draws attention to the importance of time in the market process, identifying individuals’ varying degrees of willingness to defer the immediate consumption of goods in favor of saving and investment.

In his lecture, Hoppe explained by way of illustration that certain demographic groups that might tend not to have children, such as homosexuals, generally do not adopt as long an economic time horizon as those that do have children. The same is true, he said, of other groups such as the very young and very old, ceteris paribus. Individuals with higher time preference such as homosexuals, he continued, might engage in riskier behaviors. Agree or disagree with his illustration of an economic principle, an illustration which is certainly subject to empirical investigation, his comments were within bounds of the topic in question.

This was the lecture that led to the complaint and the subsequent international uproar against the UNLV administration for failing to defend Hoppe’s freedom to teach. Instead of dismissing the student’s complaint, the University launched a series of menacing investigations which culminated in the February 9, 2005 letter that declared that Professor Hoppe had created a “hostile learning environment.” The letter goes on to instruct the professor to “cease mischaracterizing opinion as objective fact.”

The decision by the UNLV administration is an unfortunate and significant erosion of the academic freedom guaranteed by the University’s own bylaws, which state, in pertinent part:

‘Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and is applicable to both teaching and research. Freedom in teaching is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student in learning. … A member of the faculty has freedom and an obligation, in the classroom or in research, to discuss and pursue the faculty member’s subject with candor and integrity, even when the subject requires consideration of topics which may be politically, socially or scientifically controversial.’

The letter sent by the Provost directly contradicts this iron-clad promise of protection for the freedom to teach. It also establishes a fact-opinion dichotomy that is untenable in a university setting. An attempt to enforce it universally would lead to a shutdown of classroom life as it has been known in the whole history of academia. Professors themselves would be reduced to mere transmitters of received and accepted facts, thereby robbing the students of a serious education and an opportunity to have ideas presented and judged on their own merits. No serious university can operate under such strictures. Clearly, as the University’s own bylaws acknowledge, academic freedom permits and even obliges faculty to discuss controversial matters at variance with ‘common wisdom.’

The implications of the University’s new policy are made clear by comments by the complaining student, an economics major who graduated from the University last. In published newspaper accounts, Knight claimed: ‘When the door closes and the lecture began, he needs to make sure he is remaining as politically correct as possible.’

At stake is more than the reputation of an individual scholar, or the standing of a university that has failed to live by its by-laws which promise to protect the freedom to teach “even when topics are politically, socially or scientifically controversial.” What is at stake is the integrity of the university learning environment itself. The incident politicizes the classroom environment to the point that neither students nor teachers can pursue science and truth without fear of political reprisal.

Especially now that this case has garnered international attention, it is crucial that it be resolved in favor of open debate and the free exchange of ideas. If justice is to prevail in this case, the University should end the harassment of Professor Hoppe, retract the ‘letter of instruction,’ and restore anew its commitment to academic freedom.”

What can we do about this monstrous situation? The major universities are a lost cause. People should instead support alternative institutions, where scholars can pursue the truth freely. Naturally, the one that is closest to my heart is the Mises Institute. In the past few years, we have established a Graduate Program that offers an M.A. in Austrian Economics. Here is what our program offers: “The Mises Institute’s Master of Arts in Austrian Economics is unique. It is the first graduate program in the United States dedicated exclusively to the teaching of economics as expounded in the works and great treatises of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. The goal of the program is to assist students in mastering the principles of this great body of work and putting these principles to use in their chosen endeavors.

To this end, the Institute has carefully selected an outstanding faculty, with PhDs from prestigious universities including New York University, UCLA, Columbia University, Cal-Berkeley, Rutgers University, and Virginia Tech. All are accomplished scholars who have lectured or taught at Mises Institute events and published in its journals, books, or online publications. Many were personal friends or protégés of Murray Rothbard.

Thanks to the generosity of the Mises Institute’s donors, the cost of the program is well below that of other M.A. programs in economics or the related social sciences, whether traditional or online.

The program consists of the following coursework:

  • Microeconomics
  • Monetary Economics
  • Quantitative Economics:  Uses and Limitations
  • Macroeconomics
  • History of Economic Thought I
  • History of Economic Thought II
  • Comparative Economic Systems
  • History of Economic Regulation and Financial Crises
  • Rothbard Graduate Seminar
  • Thesis Requirement​”

Our Graduate Program isn’t “woke”. Here students and faculty can carry on the work of those intellectual giants, Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, with complete academic freedom.