Townhall

by Bob Barr

Nicholas Sandmann, the Catholic high school student who recently settled defamation lawsuits against CNN and the Washington Post, is again in the crosshairs of the Left as he prepares to enter college.

In a vivid display of the degree to which the Left — this time those embedded in academia — will mercilessly hound anyone they do not like (particularly someone who has successfully challenged them), members and alumni of Kentucky’s Transylvania University, a school which has admitted Sandmann, publicly are talking about him as if he were a Manchurian Candidate on a mission to destroy the university. He is being called a dangerous “provocateur in training” and a troublemaker because he likely will disrupt classes by daring to question their teachings.

Avery Tompkins, a professor at Transylvania and one of its “diversity scholars,” criticized Sandmann for belonging to groups that hold “anti-intellectualist views.” Media reports quoting the professor did not clarify which groups she considers to be “anti-intellectualist” or what she believes the term means.  Her dislike for Sandmann was echoed by Samuel Crankshaw who is an alumnus of the University and a communications official with the ACLU. Crankshaw labeled Transylvania’s decision to admit the young “provocateur” a “stain” on the institution.

Compare the manner by which the media and academia are treating Sandmann with the fawning praise they lavished on another high school student who found himself in the media spotlight — David Hogg, one of the students who survived the 2018 mass shooting at his high school in Parkland, Florida.

Unlike Sandmann, who comports himself publicly with quiet reserve, Hogg became the Left’s foul-mouthed poster child for gun control immediately following his ordeal. He has relished his role as a belligerent gun control activist — a committed “provocateur” if you will — and was accepted at Harvard University.

The contrasting way these two young men have been treated by academia illustrates with disturbing clarity the distance by which America’s higher education system has strayed from how it was considered by our Founders.

When founding the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson highlighted the institution’s purpose as one “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind” because its students would be “not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.” Jefferson’s vision reflects the fundamental purpose of classical, higher education as a free and unfettered exploration of knowledge, ideas, and human interaction. Yet, as any conservative student like Sandmann can attest today, this ideal is no longer to be found on many, if not most college campuses from New England to the Pacific Northwest. Such institutions now are but a hollow shell of Jefferson’s ideal.

As the so-called educators at Transylvania demonstrate, higher education today is less about intellectual exploration bound only by the “illimitable freedom of the human mind,” than it is forcing students into an environment rigidly confined by speech codes, social behavior standards, and reeducation programs. Fear of truth, not the courage to search for it, has become the guiding principle in America’s once prestigious collegiate institutions.

The institutional bias against students like Sandmann represents the heightened challenges conservative students face today, both in applying to and attending many universities and colleges. By contrast, students either devoid of clear philosophical or political leanings, or whose views are in accord with leftwing campus orthodoxy, have nothing to fear by voicing their opinions, no matter how absurd or extreme.

Conservative students and faculty, however, often find themselves needing help from organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in order to fight back against punitive and even illegal viewpoint discrimination by left-wing tenured professors and university administrators. These so-called “educators” genuinely fear incoming students like Sandmann, because such “provocateurs” might actually challenge their leftist philosophy and force them to articulate a meaningful defense.

For decades, the Left has been working to transform college campuses from places where actual ideas are openly debated and truth genuinely sought, into reeducation camps where debate is hollow (if allowed at all) and the search for truth assiduously avoided. For the sake of Thomas Jefferson’s noble ideals, and for Nick Sandmann’s personal and intellectual survival, this drive to intellectual idiocy must be resisted.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990.  He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.