In a recent column, I had this to say about conservative professors: “They’re not just outnumbered. They are also unwelcome. And they know it.”
As a consequence, I argued, conservative professors—which are extremely rare in the first place—can seem even scarcer than they are, because many of the few that exist keep their heads down. They hide their beliefs. Why? Because they know that that is much safer than speaking their minds.
Unfortunately, recent events have proven once again why that’s the case. Just ask Mike Adams, a tenured criminology professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Mike first made national headlines not long after 9/11, when he landed himself in some very hot water for daring to respond to a student’s e-mailed criticism of U.S. foreign policy. Upon receiving a Sept. 15, 2001 mass e-mail citing the “World Socialist Website” and charging that, among other things, “the US government has been engaged in a combination of occupation and imperialist warfare in the Middle East,” Mike did what the e-mail invited him to do—he forwarded it.
And he also included a note that is worth reproducing in full:
I will certainly forward this to others and I hope they will respond. My response will be brief as your “statement” is undeserving of serious consideration. Your claimed interest in promoting rational discussion is dishonest. It is an intentionally divisive diatribe. The Constitution protects your speech just as it has protected bigoted, unintelligent, and immature speech for many years. But, remember, when you exercise your rights you open yourself up to criticism that is protected by the same principles. I sincerely hope that your bad speech serves as a catalyst for better speech by others.
The student did not like that very much, and promptly threatened to sue. UNCW launched a chilling investigation of Mike, including prying into his e-mails.
In the wake of that imbroglio, Jonathan Garthwaite, the editor of Townhall.com, offered Mike a regular column on his very well-read site. Like any red-blooded conservative male, Mike accepted, and he’s made the most of it. He writes weekly or more, detailing the incredible political correctness emanating from his campus and others. And he writes from an unabashedly conservative and Christian perspective—often describing how he came to both of those beliefs from the “other side of the fence” during the Clinton years. His columns are funny, biting, and (not surprisingly) a big hit on Townhall.
But apparently they are not such a hit among his colleagues. UNCW denied Mike a promotion to full professor last week, without explanation.
According to esteemed constitutional attorney David French, it couldn’t be because of Mike’s scholarly or teaching credentials: “He has published more than most members of the department (something like 11 peer-reviewed papers in 12 years), and he is an excellent teacher. Uniformly high student evaluations have contributed to three teaching awards, including two Faculty Member of the Year awards from the Dean of Students.”
No, it’s pretty clear that this episode of mistreatment—just like the earlier one—is purely because of Mike’s personal beliefs and his talent for publicly articulating them in a way that tends to annoy the denizens of PC at UNCW. They’ve got their dogmas, and he doesn’t buy them. He’s a heretic. And they are treating him as such.
And what’s even more pathetic is what this case means for the campuses more generally.
Cast in light of other recent news, UNCW’s show trial of Mike Adams does not mean that today’s professors are not allowed to say controversial things. Were that the case, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of New Hampshire would not both have defended to the hilt their faculty members who bring 9/11 conspiracy theories into their taxpayer-funded classroom. (At Madison, it is religion instructor Kevin Barrett; at UNH, tenured psychology professor William Woodward. You can see where crackpot ideas on the physics of building collapses fit into their classes, I’m sure.)
No, taken in context, the Adams affair shows that today’s campuses tolerate only certain types of controversial opinions. If yours are the right ones, you can go so far as to utter them in class—even if they consist of inane and unscholarly assertions that the U.S. government, not terrorists, brought down the Twin Towers.
But if you think—as Mike does—that our country was right to respond vigorously to 9/11, that campus speech codes that silence conservative and religious students are wrong, and that the only doctrine you obey is found in the Bible, not The Communist Manifesto, you had best stay quiet. Because your opinions are simply beyond the pale, and if you don’t knuckle under, you will be punished.
That is the environment I faced in college (and writing this reminds me that I don’t exactly miss it). And it is the same one students who believe the things Mike Adams does face today.
If you are one such student—or a parent of one—be prepared. Keeping your head down as a campus heretic isn’t the principled choice, but it’s easy to see why so many do it.