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Kors and Silverglate on Free Speech and Campus Censorship

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

An Enormously Important Work on Campus Life

The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses
Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate
Free Press, 1998

This is one of the most important books on higher education to be published in many years.

An abundantly-documented report on the hypocrisy of university leadership (the kind of report that only a scholar and a lawyer could produce), The Shadow University exposes the denial of free speech and due process, the veiled institutional racism, and especially the “self-serving spinelessness” that is endemic in university life.

What the general reader might not notice is that while the faculty are by no means let off the hook, the central problems that Kors and Silverglate describe usually originate not from the faculty but from the various non-academic administrative offices that have proliferated on nearly every large campus: offices of student life, student affairs, residence life, and so on. The faculty’s failure was to have turned over responsibility for campus life to these other agencies more than a generation ago.

Some commentators have seen The Shadow University as reactionary, as a condemnation of various trendy academic notions. But it is not a reactionary work: it is a fundamentally libertarian work. The authors defend the right of all university members to express their views, however unpopular (even the repulsive views of two-bit fraternities). The answer to offensive speech, they justly observe, is not censorship but more and better speech. And if we seek to eliminate oppressive and incompetent bureaucrats, then “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

While many university students and faculty will benefit from the volume, I think that parents, alumni, and public legislators especially should read it and take it to heart. Universities are unlikely to fix themselves unless sunlight shines in on them from the outside.


© RJO 1995–2016