Academia's rough handling of Larry Summers stands in stark contrast to the deferential, even fearful treatment accorded to Ward LeRoy Churchill, who even after being shown to be third-rate fraud continued to be defended on the grounds of "academic freedom". At a time when the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 218-185 to express a "lack of confidence", following his remarks about the difference in scientific aptitude among the genders, a survey by the Crimson showed the students in support of Summers by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. Today the Crimson denounced Summer's "disinvitation" to a University of California dinner meeting of the Regents at the behest of Maureen Stanton, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, as "a disgrace". Stanton had claimed that "inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the university community and to the people of California." The Crimson wrote:
the quashing of Summers’ speech points to a troubling trend in academia. Increasingly, the unrestricted marketplace of ideas that must form the heart of any university worth the name is being poisoned by a perverse pressure to conform truth to political agenda and stifle any speaker who espouses uncomfortable or invonveneint opinions. In the present case, the culprits are academics who fashion themselves as progressives eager for social justice and tolerance, but the other side of the political spectrum is no less guilty in others. This situation is alarming and dangerous. If academic freedom cannot exist in the university, our society is in trouble.
What is truly remarkable about the persecution of Larry Summers is that he cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be seen as a conservative. His liberal credentials are impeccable. Summers served in the Clinton cabinet. He publicly identifies himself as a Democrat. Summers served with the UN. To be sure Summers sometimes flirted with heresy, being among others things a proponent of free trade and globalization. But surely he was entitled to think those thoughts being an academic economist, one good enough to a have serious shot at a Nobel Prize nomination -- before his downfall. Apparently not, in common with all theocrats there is nothing the academic left hates more than the Fallen Angel. Men like Summers, who should have modeled the brightest of chains for the Left, but who instead perversely chose to think their own thoughts deserve only the deepest pits of hell. Better the pious parrot like Ward Leroy Churchill than the critical thinker, even one belonging to their own church like Larry Summers.
But the Crimson editorial staff gets it right when they say that inquisitors themselves stand condemned. Whatever they may style themselves, by their actions and small-mindedness they have shown themselves unworthy to stand in judgment of anything.
Maureen Stanton and company represent the worst of academia. The side that politicizes its classrooms and refuses to hear, or let others hear ideas that they find distasteful or uncomfortable, no matter their merit. We hope the UC realizes the gravity of its error and makes amends by inviting Summers back. We know he’s worth listening to, even if one disagrees with him.