Have Universities Abandoned their commitment to free thought and ideas?

Niall Ferguson:

I was brought up to think of a university as a haven for free thought and free inquiry; a place where established scholars and students communicate ideas, in both directions; a place where old thoughts and new are subjected to rigorous examination.

I was therefore appalled by the accusations made against me at a live-streamed Stanford University Faculty Senate meeting on February 11th and published online by Joshua Landy, David Palumbo-Liu and two other faculty members. I was included in a group of some half-dozen Hoover fellows who were said to have “abused” the position of the Institution and “quite possibly, contributed to significant public harm.” Landy expressed astonishment that I am “still on the roster” and that Stanford somehow failed “to publicly censure” me.

Like Palumbo-Liu, Landy is a professor of comparative literature. He is the author of two books: Philosophy as Fiction (Oxford, 2004) and How To Do Things with Fictions (Oxford, 2012). In his presentation to the Faculty Senate, Landy chose to present his statements concerning me as fact. Once again, however, he was doing things with fiction.

Landy made no effort to contact me before making his accusations. He based his claims on a 2018 article in the student newspaper, the Stanford Daily, a piece that was not made any more true by its being replicated elsewhere, and he ignored my own published refutation. An elementary understanding of context, not to mention prudence, might have led someone levelling such an accusation to acknowledge that his target had publicly rebutted the allegations against him. To repeat a false allegation is bad enough. To repeat it as if it is unchallenged fact is unacceptable, whether as a matter of fairness to a colleague, or of good academic practice.