Guest Column: How University Censorship Works

How University Censorship Works 

By Rob Natelson 

Before hiring. Privileging of leftist opinions and censoring of conservative ones at colleges and universities begins even before the faculty hiring stage. It begins when colleges and universities create faculty positions in fields for which only leftists are likely to be hired. I witnessed this at the law school I worked at, when faculty voted to create more positions in environmentally-related subjects (traditionally held by liberal academics) rather than create even one faculty position dedicated to commercial law (traditionally held by non-leftists). There are many other examples of special programs at universities designed to attract only leftists: African-American Studies, Feminist Studies, Queer Studies, and so forth. All of these effectively disqualify conservatives from applying. 

At the hiring stage. Leftist faculty tend to favor hiring leftists even for neutral positions---that’s human nature. But the bias has become worse in recent years through adoption of explicit political litmus tests. The most prominent litmus tests require job applicants to commit to so-called “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” standards that honest non-leftists cannot commit to. An even more intrusive kind of test requires job applications to document how they have promoted leftist causes, such as DEI. 

The widespread use of racial and ethnic preferences in student admissions (recently struck down by the Supreme Court) is a further tool for political screening. Similar practices are used at the faculty hiring stage. See my article on the subject here. 

Finally, leftists find other excuses to disqualify non-conforming voices at the hiring stage. A group of students objected to my being employed because I refused to use the “proper” pronouns in class. 


Tenure and other forms of survival. Once hired, the new faculty member must get tenure to be assured of staying. That means he or she must be very careful about contradicting dominant views. My views became known shortly before I applied for tenure, and if I had not published extensively and won the teaching award, my application for tenure could have been endangered. As it was, the tenure committee retroactively changed the standards to make them much more difficult for me and for another Republican who was up for tenure at the same time. And I was marked down by one member of the committee for the op-eds I’d written. 

Publication bias. Academic survival at research universities requires a record of publication. However, in many fields, it’s more difficult to get a journal to accept your articles if you do not toe the leftist line. Moreover, some journals apply explicit racial, sexual, and ethnic criteria to the authors whose work they accept so as to privilege leftist views. 

In many fields you need grant money to be able to publish. There is a great deal of grant money (much of it federal) for promoting agendas or doing research the government likes; otherwise not so much. For example, I understand it is almost impossible these days for a professor at a medical school to get tenure unless he or she has gotten an NIH grant. This gives the likes of Anthony Fauci veto power over what is published. 

Other incentives. Most professors today either work at state institutions or are employed by private schools that rely very heavily on government money, if only through student loans. Most faculty learn quickly on which side their bread is buttered. 

In addition, many universities provide special funding for programs that, rather than being academic, are designed to promote leftwing causes. For example, at some universities students have been required to pay fees to support “public interest groups” engaged in left-wing lobbying and agitation. University discussion panels often exclude conservative views, and most invited speakers---and virtually all commencement speakers---are left of center.  

On-the-job retaliation. In recent years, faculty who do not toe the leftist line have been subject to “cancellation”---that is, suppression, punishment, and dismissal. The National Association of Scholars provides a long list here. 

My experience, while not as horrific as some, may serve as an example. Once my political views became known, my law school retaliated by faculty “shunning,” by denying travel dollars, by denying sabbaticals, by harassing memoranda from the dean for imagined offenses, and by refusal (four times) of the normal privilege of moving into a Constitutional Law teaching vacancy. I had to sue to win the Constitutional Law position. Then, on retiring, the law faculty---for unstated reasons---denied me the status of “emeritus professor,” which had been conferred routinely on every retiring faculty member for at least 30 years. 

By moving to the Independence Institute, which has supported my scholarship, I eventually overcame most of the censorship---the major exception being censorship from scholarly law journals, almost all of which are run by universities. Other conservative professors have not been as fortunate as I. 

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content