The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick held a press conference last Friday to respond to the Faculty Council of the University of Texas, which recently passed a resolution reemphasizing the importance of academic freedom at the university and denouncing political interventions in the university curriculum. Patrick declared that he would make it a top priority in the next legislative session to ban the teaching of "critical race theory" at Texas universities, to terminate any faculty member who does so, and to abolish tenure at public universities. This is a disturbing escalation of the Republican war on higher education. Other politicians are likely to follow Patrick's lead, especially if his current crusade proves to be electorally advantageous.
Tenure protections for university faculty were adopted throughout American higher education in the twentieth century precisely in order to protect faculty from the efforts of politicians, donors, university administrators, and other faculty to suppress ideas that they do not like. The lieutenant governor's proposals strike at the very heart of the academic enterprise by prohibiting the teaching of certain ideas, thus immunizing contrary ideas from intellectual challenge. This, in effect, establishes campus orthodoxies and forbids the expression of dissent. Few things are more toxic to intellectual life.
To fulfill their missions, universities must be places where controversial ideas can be freely debated and where ideas are tested and supported through the consideration of evidence, argument, and analysis and not by subjecting them to popularity contests at the polls, in legislatures, or anywhere else. A free society does not empower politicians—or anyone—to censor ideas they do not like and silence scholars of whom they disapprove.