Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth published a book entitled It’s Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom (2022). Alexander Riley, Senior Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, finds it disappointing. Indeed, Dr. Riley, Professor of Sociology at Bucknell University, describes Bérubé and Ruth’s study as “a shameful exercise in the deceptive assertion of the prerogatives of expertise by people who consistently break their own rules regarding how expertise is supposed to work.”
In an “Advanced Ideological Disease in Academe,” Riley reviews Bérubé and Ruth’s book for the May 15 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Ideology has infiltrated education, he says, and much else in American life. Where once contemporary experts deserved deference in the pursuit of truth because of the need to defend expertise, those days have all-but ceased. Hubris has vitiated humility in the conduct of enquiry. Bérubé and Ruth’s claim “to respect expertise as something more than just an exercise of power” in the service of an ideology” rings “utterly hollow.”
Dr. Riley takes umbrage at Bérubé and Ruth for their dishonest targeting of Amy Wax, a law professor, and Bruce Gilley, a political scientist, “two of the most courageous professors on American college campuses today.” Wax had argued that “some cultures are more effective than others at preparing people for social success in the modern West, and Gilley argued that colonialism offered some benefits to the colonized.” Instead of taking on these theses with evidence and argument, Bérubé and Ruth disparaged them with rank superciliousness, using such labels as “white supremacists” to erase their contributions. What’s more, the two professors of English had “no relevant training or expertise” in Wax’s and Gilley’s fields of expertise. Bérubé and Ruth are dogmatists, not scholars. From their point of view, freedom of thought will have to knuckle under to not merely freedom from discrimination but from freedom to discriminate between.
Bérubé and Ruth pose as dispassionate in their method. Nothing, says Riley, can be further from the truth. Take, for example, Nicholas Christakis and his wife Erika, both professors at Yale University. After Erika suggested that policing Halloween costumes was against liberal values and that Yale students must engage the attire of their fellow community members in a spirit of tolerance, the enraged undergraduates with ginned up outrage dripping from their pores called for their head. Both professors ultimately resigned their positions. “Yet Bérubé and Ruth assert that “the impact of statements must be prioritized over the intent of a speaker.” They do not even feint an attempt to defend this position.
In an age of ideology, Dr. Riley shudders at what will come next. Faculty experts will become the be all and end all of academic life. “You can surely guess who will control such committees” of the “learned.”