The dangerous silence in higher education

Samuel Abrams:

It’s well known that the question of who can speak and on what topics has become a flashpoint for controversy on our nation’s college and university campuses.

I experienced intimidation firsthand after publishing an op-ed in the New York Times in which I questioned some of seemingly liberal, lopsided programming at Sarah Lawrence College (one of the most proudly progressive schools, where I am a tenured professor). I suggested that more balance was needed given our polarized times and reiterated my concerns about collegiate ideological echo chambers.

Within hours, my office door and surrounding corridor was vandalized. Pictures of my family were taken and bumper stickers that I had placed on the door to create a welcoming environment for students were stripped off. The vandals covered my door and surrounding hallway area with hateful paraphernalia intended to intimidate me into leaving the school. I received subsequent threats, and an alumna I have never met claims to be actively working on ways to ‘ruin my life’ while many others are demanding that my tenure be stripped all because I wrote a relatively tame article with which they disagree.

Following the defacement of my door, I was disappointed by the lack of a clear stand against violence and intimidation, and the lack of support for academic freedom and diversity of thought I expected from the College administrators. In fact, a note I received from a College official described the act as ‘alleged vandalism.’

There is a culture at Sarah Lawrence College which is regularly reinforced by various students, faculty, and administrators: tacitly regulate what topics are open to debate and identify which questions should simply be overlooked for fear that asking them could lead to significant negative consequences.

This attitude may be widespread.