Steven Pinker

Universities are becoming laughing stocks of intolerance

Universities are becoming laughing stocks of intolerance
Text settings

This week my employer, Harvard University, announced its next president, Lawrence Bacow. The campus newspaper asked what advice I would give our incoming chief, and I reiterated the counsel I had offered the search committee: ‘The President of Harvard University is not just the steward of our institution, but, because of Harvard’s fame, a voice for the integrity of academia as a forum for free inquiry. Yet universities are becoming laughing stocks of intolerance, with non-leftist speakers drowned out by jeering mobs, professors subjected to Stalinesque investigations for unorthodox opinions, risible guidelines on “microaggressions” (such as saying ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job’), students mobbing and cursing a professor who invited them to discuss Halloween costumes, and much else. These incidents have drawn worldwide ridicule, and damage the credibility of university scientists and scholars when they weigh on critical matters, such as climate change. Many of these illiberal antics come from a radical fringe of students, egged on by an autonomous student-life bureaucracy. It’s up to the president of a university to stanch this credibility drain by imposing adult supervision on both: publicly affirming the sanctity of free inquiry and civil disagreement, and reining in the factions that are assaulting them.’

This is an extract from Steven Pinker's diary, which appears in this week's Spectator