More than 90 professors launched the Council of Academic Freedom at Harvard earlier this month to “promote free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse on campus,” according to a recent press release.
“We have plenty on the left and in the center, and even some on the right. Some of us are religious, some are not. We come from all sorts of academic disciplines,” the professors said in the press release. “We will help ensure that campus leaders respect Harvard’s commitments to academic freedom. We will protest if those freedoms are violated. We will also provide solidarity with Harvard scholars who are threatened with penalty because of their speech.”
Members of the Council of Academic Freedom include self-described civil libertarian law professor Alan Dershowitz and conservative-leaning government professor Harvey Mansfield. Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who led the Treasury Department under the Clinton administration, and economic policy professor Jason Furman, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under the Obama administration, are also part of the initiative.
Steven Pinker, a psychology professor and co-president of the Council of Academic Freedom, wrote an opinion piece in The Boston Globe with psychobiology professor Bertha Madras contending that “repression of academic freedom is systemic and must be actively resisted.”
“The reason that a truth-seeking institution must sanctify free expression is straightforward. No one is infallible or omniscient. Mortal humans begin in ignorance of everything and are saddled with cognitive biases that make the search for knowledge arduous,” the academics wrote. “The only way that our species has managed to learn and progress is by a process of conjecture and refutation: Some people venture ideas, others probe whether they are sound, and in the long run the better ideas prevail.”
Free expression at American universities has been threatened in recent years as faculties become increasingly Left-of-center, producing environments where conservatives report pressure to self-censor and experience overt instances of discrimination. Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan was verbally accosted by protesters and a diversity administrator at Stanford University as he attempted to deliver a speech to law students, while a collegiate swim champion was more recently assaulted by student activists at San Francisco State University after she delivered a speech about radical gender theory and women’s sports.
Harvard has not been immune to the censorship of voices that threaten orthodoxy at the institution: administrators removed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) two years ago from her role on the senior advisory board of the Harvard Institute of Politics for making claims about voter fraud deemed to be incorrect. Students likewise circulated a petition that sought to revoke the Harvard degrees earned by lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) after the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol Building, asserting that the officials had “worked hard to spread the disinformation and mistrust” which led to the incident.