“” Professors are not mouthpieces for the government. For decades, the Supreme Court of the United States has defended professors’ academic freedom from governmental intrusion,” Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), tells Reason. “As the Supreme Court wrote in Keyishian v. Board of Regents: ‘Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.'”
“Unfortunately, Rufo’s ideas aren’t hypothetical. In recent months, several legislative efforts—most notably in Florida—have attempted to quash professors’ academic freedom. “Legislative initiatives like the STOP Woke Act and HB 999 seek to use the power of the state to shut down speech and scholarship on politically disfavored views,” adds Cohn. “These efforts cannot be squared with our longstanding national commitment to academic freedom.”
An argument supporting censorship in the name of “the pursuit of truth as the telos of America’s public universities,” as Rufo claimed, is ultimately shortsighted. Not only does Rufo fail to see how the powers he would give the government could be wielded against his ideological allies, but he also fails to see how censorship ultimately runs counter to the same American values he claims to support.
“Professors must be able to teach, conduct research, and publish scholarship without fear of viewpoint-based retribution from the government,” says Cohn. “And students must be able to learn from faculty who are not muzzled by the state.””