There is a major free speech fight brewing at Concordia University in Wisconsin where Professor (and Minister) Dr. Gregory Schulz was suspended after he criticized “woke dysphoria” as part of the search for a new university president. Ironically, Schulz is still listed as one of the approved candidates for the position.
There is nothing more unnerving for free speech advocates than demands to “recant” viewpoints as a condition for one’s employment or freedom. However, that is the demand of the university, according to counsel for Shultz.
Shultz was suspended with pay after he wrote a February 14 article for Christian News. In the article, he complained that Diversity, Inclusion, Equity (DIE) policies would move the university away from its core values:
“When our BoR committees announce their intentions to install a president who exhibits a “demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion” and promotes racialized “diversity in all its myriad forms,” they are announcing their plan to disrupt the authority of the biblical text and in this way to transform our university from an institution of Lutheran higher education to … who knows what. They are announcing their intention to transform this LCMS institution into a DIE-ing institution.”
I happen to disagree with much of the article, but that does not have any bearing on the free speech and academic freedom concerns raised by this action.
Shultz not only is espousing his deeply held academic and religious views, but also views shared by other academics. Yet, many professors are reluctant to voice such sentiments publicly out of fear of what has unfolded at Concordia.
We have seen others targeted for questioning diversity policies. There is a clear effort to chill such opposing speech and many professors have supported the mob. At the University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,” Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech.
Anyone who raises such objections is immediately set upon by a mob demanding their investigation or termination. The concern is not that such protests occur. They are wrong in their demands and their inherent intolerance for opposing views but they are also the exercise of free speech. Rather the concern is that universities have repeatedly failed to defend rights of faculty members or offered tepid support for such rights.
Some like Concordia are accused of actively targeting dissenters. Few academics want to risk being tagged in this way. There is a new orthodoxy that has taken hold of our universities and advocates threaten everything that an intellectual values if they speak out: publications, conferences, even their academic positions. The result is widespread fear that universities will not support dissenting voices on such issues.
One such campaign led to a truly tragic outcome with criminology professor Mike Adams at the University of North Carolina (Wilmington). Adams was a conservative faculty member with controversial writings who had to go to court to stop prior efforts to remove him. He then tweeted a condemnation of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for his pandemic rules, tweeting that he had dined with six men at a six-seat table and “felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina” before adding: “Massa Cooper, let my people go.” It was a stupid and offensive tweet. However, we have seen extreme comments on the left — including calls to gas or kill or torture conservatives — be tolerated or even celebrated at universities.
Celebrities, faculty and students demanded that Adams be fired. After weeks of public pummeling, Adams relented and took a settlement to resign. He then killed himself a few days before his final day as a professor.
Concordia has been accused of denying Schulz even the most minimal due process protections in taking this action. He is being represented by free speech advocates. In the meantime, he will remain in the curious position of being investigated by a university that is actively considering him as the next university president.