This conference has raised something of a row:
There’s mounting faculty opposition to an invitation-only, no-media-allowed academic freedom conference scheduled for next week at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. The conference, headlined by libertarian tech billionaire Peter Thiel and organized by the business school’s Classical Liberalism Initiative, has been criticized as pre-emptively limiting dissent in the name of open discourse.
Critics also fault the conference for platforming such speakers as Amy Wax, Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, who is known for making racist remarks—including to and about students.
“While we respect the rights of free speech and academic freedom, both are meant to encourage debate and discussion that can test those assertions,” more than 30 Stanford professors from a variety of fields said in a statement asking Stanford to distance itself from the conference. “The organizers have in fact gone out of their way to create a hermetically-sealed event, safe from any and all meaningful debate, filled with self-affirmation and self-congratulation, an event where racism is given shelter and immunity.”
Safe from “meaningful debate,” you say? Were no anti-free-speech scholars – i.e., scholars on the Left – invited to this colloquy?
Conference organizers told [The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] that they’d invited numerous progressives to participate, Perrino also said, but over time “more conservatives said yes, and very few of the big-name progressives said yes. The political polarization and tribalism is dispiriting.”
Abbot said that organizers invited several dozen progressives who’d previously expressed a “negative view” of academic freedom, who ultimately declined.
Marinovic said that “we invited many academics who have argued for some kind of restrictions on academic speech to present and debate their views, and all of them declined.”
Hm. So if anti-free-speech and anti-academic-freedom types were invited but declined, where’s the beef?
David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford and professor of comparative literature, who’s publicly opposed the conference, said he wasn’t asked to participate, but that a few of his colleagues had been asked and “objected to the lopsidedness of the program. The organizers placed them on panels where it was clear they were there only as tokens.”
Livestreaming the conference doesn’t change much at all, Palumbo-Liu added.
“This in no way solves the problem of the inability of those not present being able to substantially question or interact with speakers. That is, it does not reflect a change of thinking whatsoever, nor does it cover up the original intent of the conference.”
“The original intent of the conference” — ? Which, according to the organizers, is to discuss free speech and academic freedom. While my own positions on those things are fixed. I have no doubt that there will be some attendees who differ with me. Academia is like that today. Perhaps Professor Palumbo-Liu differs with me. Does he contend that his viewpoint won’t be represented?
From the above, I’d infer that what he fears is that his viewpoint will be defeated in open debate. But let’s be generous. Perhaps his real objection is that media representatives won’t be present. But why would the presence of the media be beneficial to an academic conference?
In my salad days, I attended a number of such conferences. Not one was attended by any representative of the media. Moreover, as the event will be livestreamed, the media will be able to see, hear, record, and comment on any or all of it. No, they won’t be able to interrogate the attendees, but when was that privilege ever guaranteed to the media by any academic institution?
I think we must look further. I think we must consider the possibility that without a horde of Left-wing disruptors to interfere with the proceedings, the academics present might enjoy a civil atmosphere, in which evidence and reason will prevail. That’s become anathema to persons who champion the position that those who disagree with them have no right to speak. And so, with the conference being closed to non-invitees, academia’s Barbara Foleys won’t be able to silence or intimidate their ideological opponents, as they believe is their “right.”
As for Amy Wax and her supposedly racist remarks:
“Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.” — Amy Wax and Larry Alexander
I think I agree: that’s way too incendiary to allow anyone to say it today! 😉