Free Speech or NOT?  Free speech in Academia- Not So Much Anymore

Academic Freedom & Free Speech


After I wrote the following blog, I asked myself if this was not too much of a rant against the Republican Party.  I had to face the fact that it has been the Republican Party which has been waging the war against public education in this country.  However, I did not want this to be a rant against Republicans. I truly believe that Democrats and Republicans can offer a useful counterbalance to each other’s traditional positions IF they are so inclined to discuss and try to reach a compromise on positions and policies.  I am afraid that what I would like and what is possible today given the demonization of each party by the other side is no longer an option.

Some friends suggested that I simply avoid using the word Republican.  I thought about this, but the idea crossed my mind that if it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims and flies like a duck and looks like a duck, then it is most likely a duck.  Republicans are at the forefront of an anti-intellectual agenda taking place across America today.  There can be no hiding or denying this fact.  If you identify as a Republican and are for free speech in schools, then you should speak out against these anti-public education policies or else vote as an independent.  If you continue to be silent or vote for Republican candidates simply based on party affiliation, then you are as guilty as those who would banish free speech in schools.

speech under attack

Freedom to Speak

Once upon a time, the freedom to speak the unspeakable was protected in Academia by a system unique to the hallowed Ivory Halls known as “Academic Tenure.”  Academic Tenure was thought of as an almost ironclad guarantee that would allow the professorial class the ability to speak their minds on any subject without fear of reprisals.  Wikipedia defines the system, and its purpose as follows:

“Tenure is a category of academic appointment existing in some countries.  A tenured post is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency or program discontinuation.  Tenure is a means of defending the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for society in the long run if scholars are free to hold and examine a variety of views.” Wikipedia

Now the purpose of education is mainly to create people who think for themselves.  Over the years, schools have had only minor success at accomplishing this goal.  There once was at least some correlation between the amount of education people had and their ability to think independently of political or economic ties.  As education for jobs, what I call Technocratic Education, has gradually replaced the idea of Liberal Education, this correlation has diminished.  Under the goals of the old Liberal Education, the correlation between education and independent thinking was stronger albeit, it still left a lot to be desired.

Today, we live in an age of Technocratic Education.  Students are now more interested in IT, Computer Science, Law, Medicine, and Engineering than English, History, Philosophy, and the Liberal Arts.  People go to school to get training in job skills and less in creative thinking skills.  We have doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer programmers, and many other graduates who while they may be experts in a certain field often have no idea of what happens beyond their chosen discipline.  This fact of specialization could make a strong case for the old Liberal Education.  Sadly, we cannot bring back the past.  Students pay ridiculous amounts of tuition in hopes of finding a job.  It is not easy to pay bills today.  The cost of living keeps skyrocketing.  That will not change.

Years ago, the Republican Party recognized that American Universities were saturated with professors who tended towards a liberal political perspective.  A large majority of professors were Democrats and some even very left wing.  A small minority were Conservatives.  The Republican Party schemed how they could change this.  Liberal Education and Democrats went together.  This would not do for the Republicans.  They came up with three ideas.

  1. Destroy and or neuter public education.
  2. Destroy tenure in institutions of public education
  3. Create conservative think tanks which would skew information and research to the right.

They were aided in their efforts to destroy public education by the prevailing zeitgeist which saw a decrease in the number of students interested in a Liberal Arts Education.  Technocratic Education had become the new standard.  Teacher Education was also declining as a preferred career field under an assault by school boards and Republicans to control curriculums and what teachers could say and teach.  In Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Free State of Florida,” a charter school principal was forced to resign after sixth-grade students were shown images of Michelangelo’s notably nude sculpture, “David.”  Apparently, DeSantis never visited downtown Louisville where a 30-foot-high gold painted statue of David is in the middle of a major street.  David is complete with his genitalia.


The lack of funding for teachers, lack of prestige in the profession and war on ideas and free speech may kill public schools simply because of a shortage of teachers willing to deal with this denigration.  The Republican assault on tenure has been very successful.  It has led to a decrease in the number of schools with Academic Tenure.

Tenure Under Attack Nationwide:  Continued political pressures threaten to erode tenure on public campuses and compromise academic freedom. — Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., Dec 8, 2021

“In January, legislators in South Carolina will consider a bill to eliminate tenure at the state’s public colleges and universities. While this may seem like an extraordinary move, it actually aligns with current and recent plans in several other states nationwide.”

Several other state legislatures have moved to abolish tenure in public schools.  News sources like Fox News continually portray educators as flaming Liberals and Radicals who want to brainwash our young people into believing in Socialism or Communism.  Here is a recent story on Fox News:

“Former teacher warns new Minnesota educator licensing standards includes every ‘buzzword’ from the far-left.”  — America Reports, January 30, 2023

The usual formula by Fox is to find some story with a “real teacher” who supports their conservative perspective and who is “blowing the whistle” on yet another dastardly plot by Liberals to brainwash students.  Conservatives hate “WOKE” ideas and liberal ideas that might be promoted to help protect the rights of minorities such as Blacks, LGBTQ, and Immigrants.  They also hate unions because they try to protect the rights of teachers.  This former elementary school teacher has made a second career out of railing against such liberal policies and support for unions.   The following video by another teacher is more emblematic of what teachers are thinking and doing today.  Please take a minute to listen to this teacher.

Gross Pointe Teacher Roasts School Board and Resigns 

A tribute to Republican propaganda is that the term Conservative has not become a dirty word in politics.  However, few Liberal politicians will define themselves as Liberals.  Hardly a day goes by when I do not read of some Republican Legislature bringing out new laws to muzzle teachers and ensure that they do not say anything which would lead to a questioning of authority.  We now have a “Parents Rights bill” sponsored by “you know who.”  This is a party that is all in for “Rights” but seem to forgot that as my Principal Sister Giovanni always liked to say “For every right, there is a responsibility.”  I would love to see a “Parent’s Responsibility Bill.”


I find it ironic, that 2600 years ago, Socrates, the smartest man in the world was tried, found guilty and executed for daring to teach young people to think for themselves.  He was executed in another place famous for its claim to democratic principles. Socrates believed that the foundation of education was based on questioning everything.  Republicans believe that the foundation is based on discipline, following instructions, and doing what you are told to do by your leaders.  One philosophy leads to pluralism, while the other leads to fascism.  The results of the Republican strategy can be clearly seen by the attack on the US Congress by a mob of Trump supporters and the resulting silence by the majority of the Republican leadership.  As tenure and unions decline, more and more educators find themselves threatened with jail and/or fines for teaching ideas and theories that are anathema to Conservatives, Evangelicals, and Republicans.

“In Indiana under a proposed bill (Senate Bill 12), if a prosecutor charged a teacher or school librarian with disseminating material that is harmful to minors, the school teacher or librarian would not be able to argue that the material had educational value as a defense.”Feb, 28, 2023, Indiana Senate passes bill to ban ‘bad’ books, ease prosecution of teachers, librarians.

The final plank in the Republican platform to destroy education was to establish several think tanks and political action groups that would sponsor bills and laws to support their agenda.  If this seems somewhat absurd, allow me to explain further.  The current Republican Party is the most anti-intellectual and anti-science party that has ever existed in the USA.  There has always been a strong strain of anti-intellectualism in America   (Read Hofstadter’s book “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life).  The Republican Party has carried this strain to new heights.  Two examples as evidence of my statement:

  1. Their denial of climate change.
  2. Their anti-mask and anti-covid vaccine stance during the epidemic.



It can be argued that not all Republicans supported these positions but enough have done so to stymie efforts at reducing oil and gas emissions that directly contribute to climate change.  In terms of the Covid Epidemic, their opposition to masks and vaccines probably led to thousands of needless deaths.

The idea of “think tanks” and political action groups was sheer genius.  The Republicans realized that truth was ephemeral and that those who controlled the press or so-called research could write their own narratives.  Groups like AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH and the CATO INSTITUTE are nothing but shills for the Republican Party.  They exist to put a pseudo intellectual veneer on Republican efforts to destroy honest science and scandalize public policies that they are opposed to.

“The Trump team may not have been prepared to staff the government, but the Heritage Foundation was.  In the summer of 2014, a year before Trump even declared his candidacy, the right-wing think tank had started assembling a 3,000-name searchable database of trusted movement conservatives from around the country who were eager to serve in a post-Obama government.  The initiative was called the Project to Restore America, a dog-whistle appeal to the so-called silent majority that foreshadowed Trump’s own campaign slogan.”  — How One Conservative Think Tank is Stocking Trump’s Government, — By Jonathan Mahler, NY Times Magazine, June 20, 2018

There is nothing wrong with vigorously supporting your ideas and policies.  However, when fake science is done with people paid off by bribes or when research is perverted to support a political agenda rather than the public good, there is a great deal wrong.  The Republican Party has shown repeatedly that they will stoop to any low to win votes and to control American policies.  Their agenda ignores the art of compromise or finding the middle ground.  One early study into the purpose or goals of conservative think tanks noted the following in its summary:

The study revealed that these conservative think tanks are substantially different from more traditional policy institutions in their open advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and in the relative weakness of the scholarly credentials and policy experience of their personnel, compared to more established policy organizations.  

Their positions on higher education issues focused on a perceived decline in the teaching of Western culture, opposition to affirmative action and multicultural studies, and calls for decreases in funding for higher education.   — Conservative Think Tanks and Higher Education Policy: by Susan Marie Wilis, Bowling Green University, A Dissertation, 1991



I have little doubt that much of my information in this blog is not news to many of my readers.  I fear that I am preaching to the choir.  My hope is that some of you who support my positions and ideas will either repost my blog or send it to someone else who you think might benefit from reading it.  Many people have already argued my case and most of those arguing have been more erudite and scholarly than I have been.  I have added my voice to the chorus of people who can see what is happening to education in America for a simple reason.  I hope that my simplistic depiction of  those who want to destroy public education and open discourse in our schools will find a place alongside the more extensive treatises that have been written.

PS:  Here is one example in today’s news:  Talk about stifling discussions!

The “Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act,” SB 83, “Affirm(s) and guarantee(s) that faculty and staff shall allow and encourage students to reach their own conclusions about all controversial matters and shall not seek to inculcate any social, political, or religious point of view.”  

Further, “Controversial belief or policy means any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate change, electoral politics.”

Officials have tried repeatedly to control how issues they find controversial are taught — or not — in Ohio.  Two decades ago, after the state Board of Education eliminated creationism from its model curriculum, creationism board supporters proposed a policy of neutrality on topics it deemed “controversial”. Those included evolution, climate change, and human reproductive technologies.

Higher ed bill might as well be called ‘Make College Courses Boring Act.’”, Steve Rissing, Special to The Columbus Dispatch, March 26, 2023

Want to guess who sponsored this act?

Jerry Cirino is a Republican member of the Ohio Senate representing the 18th district.  He was elected in 2020, defeating Democrat Betsy Rader with 60% of the vote. 




10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Mar 26, 2023 @ 20:09:24

    Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Maybe another voice to help rational people regain America.



  2. Jane Fritz
    Mar 26, 2023 @ 20:39:43

    Yes, you are undoubtedly preaching to the choir, John, but it’s a message worthy of shouting from the rooftops. There’s one thing above nearly all others that makes for a vibrant, innovative, engaged citizenry, and that’s a quality education for ALL. THIS MIND-boggling repression of learning and critical thinking is causing irreparable harm to the health of the U.S. democracy. Keep preaching!



  3. barryh
    Mar 27, 2023 @ 15:21:15

    Great post, John. Certainly helps us the other side of the pond to understand what’s going on. Similar trends are apparent in UK, but nowhere near so advanced. That’s what gave us totally incompetent prime ministers and Brexit. I will reblog, if I can work out how to do it, as I can’t see a reblog button!



    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Mar 27, 2023 @ 18:16:20

      Thanks again Barry. When we were in England about five years ago now, it was fun talking to people who supported Brexit. I found many of them thought very highly of Trump. Seems we have the same people on both sides of the bond. I hope your history and traditions can stop it from getting anywhere as crazy as it is here. School shooting today was a woman shooter armed with 2 assault rifles and an automatic pistol. She killed three children and three adults. Very sad.



      • barryh
        Mar 28, 2023 @ 15:34:19

        Yes, your shootings are horrendous. I’ve seen the stats. We’ve had zero in UK since Dunblane 1996, touch wood. it helps that few people have easy access to guns.



        • Dr. John Persico Jr.
          Mar 28, 2023 @ 22:59:49

          Driven by fear and paranoia in my opinion at least in terms of allowing so many guns on the street. The shooters are IMHO mentally unstable but the easy access to guns makes them dangerous.



  4. barryh
    Mar 27, 2023 @ 15:25:23

    Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    John Persico gives a clear summary of what is going on in the US mind and education system. This shows us quite clearly how the Republican Party has moved away from freedom-based democratic values towards doctrinaire and populist values that could well lead to a f0rm of fascism.



    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Mar 27, 2023 @ 18:12:48

      Thanks Barry for the thoughts and reposting. I hope we can get more people to see what is going on. John



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