Kenneth G. Langone
Most have sat quietly as the left advances its agenda relentlessly. No longer.
Reflecting in 1818 on the success of the American fight for independence, John Adams wrote, “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”
For years, we’ve witnessed a war for the minds and hearts of students in higher education. Unfortunately, only one side has fought in earnest. Most alumni have sat quietly as the left advances its agenda relentlessly, taking greater control of faculty, curricula, programs and campus life—as the task of expanding minds gives way to the task of controlling minds. Occasionally, a few brave voices are raised to encourage greater debate. Too often, however, they are attacked, vilified and silenced.
Many alumni, concerned yet feeling powerless, have walked away. But not all (“Alumni Unite for Freedom of Speech” by Stuart Taylor Jr. and Edward Yingling, op-ed, Oct. 18). Perhaps the shock of seeing free speech under siege has shaken their complacency and steeled a new resolve. In the minds and hearts of increasing numbers of alumni, the stakes are too high and their love for their alma maters too great to meekly surrender. From Princeton to Davidson, they’re fed up and fighting back.
At Bucknell University, we could no longer remain silent when funding for the Bucknell Program for American Leadership (BPAL), the university’s signature initiative to ensure viewpoint diversity, was cut off, its plans severely restricted, and sympathetic faculty targeted and bullied. Meanwhile, funds remain abundant for those who espouse critical race theory. Numerous Marxist and radical speakers have been invited to campus, most notably an advocate of antifa who believes violence is justified against whomever the left labels fascist.
Emeriti trustees wrote an open letter to alumni appealing for help to save the university. We recalled a great heritage: Bucknellians volunteered and fought bravely in the great wars for freedom and equality. We stood with slaves, assisting their escapes through the Underground Railroad. As early as 1875, we awarded a degree to our first African-American student, Edward Brawley, and we were among the first universities to invite a controversial young pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr., to share his inspiring message.
Freedom of speech and equal justice under the law are not rare favors that require our pleading and begging on bended knee. They are birthrights fought for and hard won. To do nothing while free speech is imperiled is to ensure a tragedy that will dishonor every patriot who has sacrificed for us.
For higher education, there is a road map to higher ground: First, unite and rally around the Chicago Principles. To date, 82 colleges and universities have adopted or endorsed these principles, which express a commitment to freedom of speech on campus.
Second, fund credible initiatives to strengthen free speech and viewpoint diversity. Words and deeds are needed to create real intellectual balance. At Bucknell, full funding and recognition for BPAL are musts.
Third, restore civility to campus culture. While those on the left are treated respectfully—as they should be—others with different views are often jeered, insulted and threatened. The demonization must end.
Fourth, hold academic leaders accountable. It won’t work to thank alumni for their financial generosity but continue to ignore their values and views. A sleeping giant has awakened.
Americans are fair-minded and wish to see discussions around diversity honor differences, not stir divisions. They believe the highest responsibility of educators is to set a standard of excellence and instruct students not what to think, but how to think well. They agree that colleges will benefit greatly from more freedom of speech, not less. Let the battle for minds and hearts be joined—and may the forces of free speech prevail!
Susan J. Crawford
Judge Crawford is chair emerita of Bucknell University’s board of trustees.
Kenneth G. Langone
Mr. Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot and an emeritus trustee of Bucknell University.