Campus Free Speech

The Academic Freedom Podcast with Jonathan Rauch


The Academic Freedom Alliance recently released the third episode of The Academic Freedom Podcast. In that episode, I spoke with Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch. Rauch has a new book, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, which defends and elaborates on liberal principles of knowledge creation.

In the podcast, we discuss some of the ideas in the book, but also talk more generally about the state of intellectual diversity in academia and the problems confronting free speech on college campuses.

From the podcast, on the marketplace of ideas:

Whenever I talk about free speech in the marketplace of ideas, some undergraduate will invariably ask, well, how do we know that in the marketplace of ideas, the best ideas will surface? Maybe the worst ideas will surface, maybe random ideas, whatever people like. And they're absolutely right, this is a profound question, civil libertarians have kind of pooh poohed it and said, well, empirically good ideas do win out. Thus, you know, I have the covid vaccine in my arm right now, but that's not a good enough answer. The right answer is that if you want to turn raw information and raw conversation into knowledge, you need a lot of structure, you need a lot of settings. It's like converting voting into a government. You need a constitution that develops institutions and establishes professionals and protocols, things like courts, checks and balances, even morals, what the founders called Republican virtues. You need a lot of stuff. And in the Constitution of knowledge, you need a lot of rules like how to do research.

And on intellectual diversity in the universities:

Some things have gone wrong in academia as well. And one of those things is the decline of sufficient viewpoint diversity in a significant number of disciplines and a significant number of departments in universities so that there's no longer enough conservatives or libertarians or even centrists around to ask the hard questions and make sure that they're really doing science and not just ideology masking as science. And in some of these places, you've had the outright politicization of the curriculum and of the research. I'm not sure how much of that there is, it's hard to mention, I think actually lack of diversity is the bigger problem. The public has figured that out, public confidence in universities has declined by about 20 points over the last five years and by the standards of polling, that's falling off a cliff. Most poll results don't change that much. And that's largely from conservatives, both because of the attacks we've mentioned, but also because they increasingly perceive academia as an ideological racket.

It is a wide-ranging and interesting conversation. I hope you'll check it out. And subscribe to The Academic Freedom Podcast through your favorite podcast platform so that you don't miss an episode.

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  1. Princeton University is a treason indoctrination camp. Its alumni have been extremely damaging to this country. It is a hotbed of wokeness. The process should begin by ending its tax exemption, including that from any local taxes. Then, end all government subsidies, grants, payments, loan guarantees. Any accreditation body that certifies it should lose its government charter. Finally, it should be shut down by force, and all its assets should be seized. They can pay back for the damages done by its education to the country.

    1. Maybe the worst ideas, indeed! Authoritarian nut.

    2. I mean, let’s say something here. I have spirited disagreements with a lot of conservatives here. But Behar is an out and out fascist. He literally and regularly talks about using government force to capture thousands of Americans, seize their assets, deport and often execute them.

      How many of the conservatives here just rain down criticism on him? They might say ‘oh, well, we aren’t going to feed that troll.’ But if everyone routinely mocked this guy he’d likely leave or change. That’s how social norms are enforced in nearly every other context, people in families, companies, churches, etc., don’t just indulge a nut in standing up and spouting extremist, violent rhetoric, they informally crack down on it.

      What’s missing on the internet is that kind of thing. I don’t know if it’s a ‘well, he’s crazy but he’s our crazy and we’re not going to pile on him’ or ‘he’s a troll, I’m going to ignore him because no one takes him seriously,’ but either way those takes are seriously questionable as empirical matters in terms of making our society better ultimately.

    3. The Princeton Economics Department is a prime example. Its member and graduates have single handedly caused $trillions in damage to the US economy.

      1. I am at this upscale party in New Jersey. I am saying to the Chairman, you wankers did a great job of predicting 2008. He says, we are good economics that go in a straight line. We are not good at those that curve.

        I reply, the people back at the diner in Pennsylvania, all knew that if federal thugs force banks to give mortgages to irresponsible ghetto trash, it will not end well.

  2. Please forgive the offtopic quibble.

    Or maybe this is an example of free exchange of information leading to better understanding 🙂

    >I have the covid vaccine in my arm right now

    It’s an important fact that you don’t have it in your arm unless you got a dose within the last few days. The vaccine is broken down and recycled fast. There’s nothing left except memories: memory B cells and T cells and antibodies. That’s one of the reasons I find the clinical safety data so believable. There’s nothing there in the long term to cause long term effects, except an immune response like you’ve had hundreds of times.

    1. You also have a bunch of spike protein in your blood, induced in your ribosomes by the vaccine. You know, the kind that unleashes a cytokine storm. It is not simple.

  3. The value in the First Amendment is not that it keeps the marketplace of ideas wide open.

    The value is that it denies the dictator his greatest tool: censorship of criticism of him by political opponents.

    By assuming it is about the marketplace of ideas, you fall into the trap that people start wondering if this or that idea is worth it, or should be censored by government.

    By that moment, you’ve already given up ground to the advancing dictator. The whole reason this “marketplace of ideas” has been revived for discussion recently is not to buttress it, but to tear it down in that manner.

    Radiolab had just such a marketplace of ideas discussion, where one side kept harping on that very idea.

    Keep focused on the goal: the design of the Constitution is about denying the dictator all the clubs in his golf bag of tyranny. And censorship is the 2 wood driver.

    1. [T]he design of the Constitution is about denying the dictator all the clubs in his golf bag of tyranny.

      Which is why leftists hate it with a passion.

  4. An unfettered marketplace of ideas _will_ bring out the best idea, the worst idea, and every idea in between. Limiting the marketplace of ideas is all but guaranteed to exclude the best idea. We trade the stability and unwarranted certainty of a conservative society (apolitical meaning) for the chaos and dynamism of a free society.

    Campus free speech should be protected from interference by both conservatives or liberals. There is almost certainly a “right answer” to any given question but it’s arrogance to assume that your favorite answer is the right one. As such, any matter that is not unambiguous fact should never be graded on content, but only on form.

    Any professor who cannot suppress their own opinion or take a devil’s advocate approach that they personally loathe is not worthy of the title. They should certainly express their opinion, and even attempt to persuade, but should also disguise their personal thoughts and leave students wondering. This would create an environment where students can express contrary opinions with confidence, if not comfort.

    Absent peer pressure, shaming, and “cancelling” (which should be actively discouraged by a professor) the best ideas will emerge, and the worst will fall to their inherent flaws.

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