Free Speech

"Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education"

Profs. Ilana Redstone and John Villasenor are guest-blogging this week about their new book.


I'm delighted to report that Prof. Ilana Redstone (Illinois, sociology) and Prof. John Villasenor (UCLA, engineering, public policy, law, and management) will be posting this week about their new book:

Open inquiry and engagement with a diverse range of views are long-cherished and central tenets of higher education and are pivotal to innovation and knowledge creation. Yet, free inquiry on American campuses is hampered by a climate that constrains teaching, research, and overall discourse.

In Unassailable Ideas, Ilana Redstone and John Villasenor examine the dominant belief system on American campuses, its uncompromising enforcement through social media, and the consequences for higher education. They argue that two trends in particular—the emergent role of social media in limiting academic research and knowledge discovery and a campus culture increasingly intolerant to diverse views and open inquiry—are fundamentally reshaping higher education.

Redstone and Villasenor further identify and explain how three well-intentioned unwritten rules regarding identity define the current campus climate. They present myriad case studies illustrating the resulting impact on education, knowledge creation-and, increasingly the world beyond campus. They also provide a set of recommendations to build a new campus climate that would be more tolerant toward diverse perspectives and open inquiry.

An insightful analysis of the current state of academia, Unassailable Ideas highlights an environment in higher education that forecloses entire lines of research, entire discussions, and entire ways of conducting classroom teaching.

"In Unassailable Ideas, Redstone and Villasenor identify several assumptions that have come to act as dogmas in academia, and they show what happens when faculty and others run afoul of the new dogmas. Outrage and censorship cause problems not just for the faculty involved, but also for those watching, who must be careful to avoid running afoul of the dogmas themselves, and for everyone who has a stake in health of universities and the quality of the scholarship they produce. For anyone trying to get a better understanding of what's been happening at American colleges and universities and wondering how serious the threats to free speech and academic freedom actually are, this book is a must-read."
—Bradley Campbell, Professor of Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles

"Redstone and Villasenor use an interesting and important lens to view timely, challenging issues facing American higher education. Their synthesis of how social media and certain sets of beliefs can stifle discourse is worthy of serious consideration."
—Michelle Deutchman, Executive Director, University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement

"Anyone under the impression that all that happened on college campuses in the mid-2010s was a few student protests getting a little out of hand should read this brisk, penetrating book. The issue is a nearly medieval ideology that has taken hold of academic culture over the past 25 years, and we ignore it at the peril of young American minds."
—John H. McWhorter, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

"Is free speech under threat on our campuses? As this smart little book reminds us, that's the wrong question. The real danger to higher education isn't a cabal of jack-booted censors, but the much subtler forces that discourage us from critiquing our dominant assumptions about multiculturalism, discrimination, and identity. A truly liberal campus would engage in a full-throated argument about these principles, instead of trying to place them beyond debate. Let's hope that this book sparks precisely the dialogue that our colleges and universities have suppressed."
—Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of Education and History, University of Pennsylvania

I very much look forward to their posts!

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: October 4, 1965

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  1. I just put the book on preorder

  2. Too bad they are going to lose their jobs…

    1. Exactly. This topic is veboten.

  3. I have written off higher ed as a profrssion

    1. I’m in it and have serious doubts about being able to stay in it until I retire.

    2. Then perhaps there’s some hope left.

    3. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

      1. Maybe he deserves it, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, that’s not very nice.

  4. They probably believe everyone’s life matters.

  5. Is there really an argument against defunding higher education?

    Let these “educational” institutions sink or swim on their own. I no longer see the public policy argument in favor of maintaining the favored status of student loans or taxpayer corporate welfare to these places.

    Liberals like the “we need to be more like Europe” trope and maybe here we do. The pipeline should put 90% of current students into trade schools or career training and only 10% into some kind of REAL higher education.

    What we don’t need is another generation under $50K+ in debt because they went to 4 years of useless education in the hopes of scoring a professional job that has a stagnant wage in the $30K to 40K range.

    1. I have proposed rescinding the non-profit status of any entity engaging in viewpoint discrimination. They promise to provide education. The latter requires review of all aspects of a subject. When only one side is presented that is called, indoctrination. That should not be subsidized, privileged, nor supported by government.

      Should a physics class present the idea that the sun turns around the earth, that the latter is flat? You betcha. Greatly educational discussion would ensue.

      1. You can actually analyze things from that perspective in physics, you just have to use an accelerated reference frame, and the math gets hairy. Then you see that the math is much simpler if you go with (approximately) Sun centered.

        That was what proved it as far as physicists were concerned, and it’s worth teaching.

  6. Combine this with HR department practices that deny employment opportunities to individuals lacking academic credentials and you get systematic discrimination against non-believers in the progressive religion.

  7. The main problem: A new religion/cult is infecting the planet. This cult is called social justice and is a generalization/extension of communism with the proletariat/evil capitalists converted to xyz minority/evil white heterosexual people and wealth converted to social position.

    This new cult appeals strongly to certain youth especially through social media. Its a religion you can play as a fun game. Save the poor minority by taking on the evil patriarchy/white supremacist society online. The sword of this new Crusade is the ‘ist’ brand. Its basically the modern day equivalent of being branded a heretic. The effect is what you see in Puritan and Amish communities with the transgressor shunned and thrown out of society.

    From your twitter account you can rack up points with your keyboard as your gun firing ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, ‘transphobic’, ‘misogynist’ like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Getting ‘racists’ banned, getting Corporations to strip images of black people from their labels, and colleges to donate to BLM and fire teachers. Bonus points for growing the number of pronouns listed next to your name or retweeting Occasional Cortex or flaming realDonaldTrump. You are a paladin crusading for Social Justice fighting ‘evil’ with apparent real world consequences. You tell me that this isn’t more appealing than another hum drum shift at Wendy’s. If you wish you can go one step further in the VR route and step outside and start trashing buildings and throwing molotov cocktails for real.

    No wonder some bored kids flock to this sort of stuff.

    1. (Drafted my comment before seeing yours, AmosArch, so please forgive some of the same terms–)

      Our best hope has always been unassimilable individuals who question and contest unassailable ideas and credentialed asses experts in all fields.  

      This book looks terrific, but is it too late for our culture?  A miasma of progressive conformity is already choking off most social and hard sciences debate and deliberation attempted in good faith.  We even may be headed toward a CCP-style social credit system, if our techno-oligarchs and globalist proponents have their way.  

      In our youth in the 60s and 70s, we were encouraged to always question authority, but now that our generation is in charge, doubters and opponents are considered heretics and all kinds of “-ists” for not buying into the new facts and narratives handed to us.  
      And this, after exhausting years of misplaced patriotic support for foreign wars and terrorism security theater, all gone so very wrong.   We have been treated to a hegelian hell of polarization and confusion, and now near complete capitulation in the academy and media, boardroom, dinner table, even bedroom.
      Our young people are being told their highest calling and generational “rebellion” will be to conform to a new, pre-determined and technologically-enforced social and economic order. They run the existential risk of joining the Borg and never being able to leave, if they can’t find and hold onto any innate sense of individual discovery, formulation, skepticism, and conscience.

      fastcompany (dot) com/90394048/uh-oh-silicon-valley-is-building-a-chinese-style-social-credit-system

  8. “identify and explain how three well-intentioned unwritten rules regarding identity define the current campus climate.”

    I doubt the well-intentioned part – – – – – – – –

  9. So we’re going to have some criticisms of higher education, offering perhaps some ideas for reform.

    The comentariat has already provided some exciting responses:
    “This criticism will lead to persecution”
    “Higher education is all bad, lets defund it.”
    “The real problems is liberals and their social justice ways”

    It’s fun because if you ideologue hard enough you don’t really need to engage with a post to have a spicey take on said post. Saves on brain power, if not on repetitiveness, since you tend to respond the same way to every post for some off reason.

    1. You’ve identified a problem not with VC commenters but the problem with Social Media discourse with that last paragraph, reenforced as it is by the the dopamine surge that being “liked” by others might provide.

      1. Could very well be.
        There’s also the XKCD “I can’t sleep – someone’s wrong on the Internet” impulse at work.

    2. He said, apparently not noticing he also failed to engage with the story as he was criticizing others for failing to engage the the story.

      1. My goal was not to engage with the story, but with the commenters.

        But the posts here who seemed to think they were engaging with the OP did not do so great at meeting that goal.

        1. So what about the “exciting responses” you detailed above are particular wrong? Seems to me they are both an accurate assessment of the situation and potential solutions.

          1. All of those responses bespeak closed systems – independent of anything but the ideology of the writer. Certainly independent of the OP, except to contain some words that trigger the ideologue to post.

            It is no more or less provable or correct that my writing the opposite.

            Except for the prediction of persecution; we’ll find out about that.

    3. “Higher education is all bad, lets defund it.”

      Regardless of whether higher ed is good, bad, or in between, federal student loans should absolutely be ended, so that universities are forced to start charging amounts that people can actually pay (or very small loan amounts that would actually make sense, but really the universities should become the lenders). State schools, whatever.

      But higher ed is in drastic need of earthshaking reform of the type that will happen all by itself once the federal government stops enabling the slow rolling disaster of the last decades, where we went from baby boomers being able to pay tuition with summer wages, to the skyrocketing costs we have now.

      1. An educated populace is a public good, and as such deserves to be subsidized.

        1. A populace who get a good nights sleep is a public good, too, should we subsidize mattresses?

          The problem with these subsidies is that they defeat price signals in the marketplace: If you’re buying a subsidized product, it doesn’t have to be cost-effective anymore.

        2. An educated populace has very little to do with today’s “institutions of higher education” who, in many cases, actively impede the goal of a well informed and learned populace.

  10. Another ‘heretodox’ call for affirmative action for clingers on strong campuses appears to be ready to be served here.

    1. We hear the left complain about systems of this or that which need to be shutdown. Higher “education” is simply a system of liberal indoctrination, but unlike systemic racism, is a real thing and it should be put down.

      1. Quit whining.

        1. Or we can just defund higher education and watch you little house of cards start collapsing.

  11. In the end, regardless of the outcome, It pleases me enormously to see that there are still persons out there who know and understand what a true liberal education is. It is about art, science, history, philosophy, religion and in all the ways it manifests itself in Modern society. A true baccalaureate of the liberal arts was prepared to go out into the world, engage it, grapple with it and make an impression upon it. By the grace of God I am one of those. UM ’89 History, double minor literature and religion. I feel sorry for these cookie cutter assembly line made dolts that cannot think on their own.

  12. Academia? It has become a rent-seeking racket. They have de-imagined The Ivory Tower into a daub and wattle hut. Good Job, ‘Scholars’.

  13. From the post: “They also provide a set of recommendations to build a new campus climate that would be more tolerant toward diverse perspectives and open inquiry.”

    Support Climate Change on Campus! rallies, tee shirts, and book-signings might resonate with students and faculty for a short while, until they realize they’ve been tricked into re-thinking their buzzword orthodoxies and unsubstantive syntactical constructions.

  14. I see Ilya is trying to deceive the readership again with another pseudonym.

    At least he’s mixing up his first name a bit this time (Ilana) instead of just changing his last name to Shapiro.

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