Knowing little more about Sarah Lawrence College politics prof Samuel Abrams beyond his self-description as a “conservative-leaning” academic and visiting professor at the American Enterprise Institute, his op-ed in the New York Times was almost certain to evoke outrage on campus. It’s not that it was inflammatory. It wasn’t.
It’s that he questioned the orthodoxy by asking why his small, private, prestigious liberal arts college assumed there was no possible ideas worthy of consideration beyond the fringes of progressivism.
As a conservative-leaning professor who has long promoted a diversity of viewpoints among my (very liberal) faculty colleagues and in my classes, I was taken aback by the college’s sponsorship of such a politically lopsided event. The email also piqued my interest in what sorts of other nonacademic events were being organized by the school’s administrative staff members.
I soon learned that the Office of Student Affairs, which oversees a wide array of issues including student diversity and residence life, was organizing many overtly progressive events — programs with names like “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Microaggressions” and “Understanding White Privilege” — without offering any programming that offered a meaningful ideological alternative.
As if this was nothing more than masterful trolling, the students and administration of Sarah Lawrence set about proving his point. The decorations on the outside of his office door were torn down, replaced by threats and demands that he quit.
Abrams’ office door was vandalized on October 16, hours after the op-ed’s publication. The perpetrators posted a sign on the door that read, “Our right to exist is not ‘ideological,’ asshole,” and was signed “transsexual fag.” Another flyer demanded that he apologize to residence life staff and the director of campus diversity, students of color, queer students, trans students, and other marginalized persons. Multiple messages instructed Abrams to “quit,” and one told him to “go teach somewhere else, maybe Charlottesville.”
Students can be so very passionate about their enlightened self-interest, but the administration was no kinder.
In the two weeks since the incident, Samuel Abrams, a tenured professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence, has repeatedly asked the college’s president, Cristle Collins Judd, to condemn the perpetrators’ actions and reiterate her support for free speech. But after sending a tepid campus-wide email that mentioned the importance of free expression, but mostly stressed her “commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence,” Judd spoke with Abrams over the phone; according to him, she accused him of “attacking” members of the community.
“She said I had created a hostile work environment,” Abrams said in an interview with Reason. “If [the op-ed] constitutes hate speech, then this is not a world that I want to be a part of.”
But here’s the kicker. Abrams may describe himself as “conservative-learning,” but is he? Nowhere in his op-ed does he suggest that Black Lives Don’t Matter, or that LGBT+ students don’t, or shouldn’t, exist. Rather, he challenges the intolerance of administrators.
The 12-to-one ratio of liberal to conservative college administrators makes them the most left-leaning group on campus. In previous research, I found that academic faculty report a six-to-one ratio of liberal to conservative professors. Incoming first-year students, by contrast, reported less than a two-to-one ratio of liberals to conservatives, according to a 2016 finding by the Higher Education Research Institute. It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.
Is tolerance for the full panoply of ideas conservative? The answer came from his own college president.
What’s more, when the two met in person, Judd implied that Abrams was on the market for a new job, he said.
“I am not on the job market,” he said. “I am tenured, I live in New York. Why would I go on the job market?”
Abrams interpreted Judd’s remarks as a suggestion that he might be better off leaving the school.
Judd’s reaction to Abrams, essentially telling him that he would do well to seek a tenured position in Charlottesville, has become a very common reaction to anyone who maintains the liberal values of tolerance for diverse ideas, rather than adherence to the illiberal politics of progressive orthodoxy. If you’re not an adherent of social justice, then you’re deplorable. If you don’t subscribe to the victimocracy, then you’re alt-right. If you are open to ideas that fail to adhere to the strict dictates of the newly woke, then you’re a dirty conservative-leaning person who has no place on campus, or in polite company.
The language of politics has become garbled, such that the words “liberal” and “progressive” are used interchangeably. Abrams makes that mistake in his op-ed, unfortunately. That, perhaps, is the clearest indication that he’s conservative-leaning, even if that doesn’t provide much of a clue as to his beliefs beyond tolerance for differing thought.
But the reaction to Abrams makes one thing very clear, and very disturbing. There is a world of thought that is not progressive, in fact quite antagonistic to the illberialism of progressive control, that is not at all racist, sexist or otherwise conservative. There are liberals, people who support the putative outcomes of the left, such as equality, but do with with tolerance rather than a mob carrying a bludgeon and demanding adherence or else.
These are the people who support constitutional rights, all of them, for everyone. It includes the First Amendment’s promise of free speech as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection. And they are willing, no, desirous, of hearing all rational views without fear of being told to move to Charlottesville.
But in today’s atmosphere, the once-tolerant liberals, the one-time lefties of old, are now conservative-leaning because they reject the left’s authoritarianism as they do the right’s. Not that any student will ever learn this at Sarah Lawrence, where the woke run the show.