1 in 4 Academics Believe Colleagues Should be Fired for Holding Opinions Like Restricting Immigration

A new study found that about 1 in 4 academics believe colleagues should be "cancelled" for their opinions on political issues, according to political scientist Eric Kaufmann's report, Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, published on March 1 by Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

Kaufmann, a professor at the University of London, studied academic and graduate student insights on political discrimination, "punishment of academics for speech," and "experiences of hostility" on behalf of an academic's political thinking. He asked academics and PhD students about their opinions on four hypothetical situations, including the idea a "higher share of women and ethnic minorities in organizations correlates with reduced organizational performance," and whether colleagues who favor reducing immigration should be removed from their positions.

About half of all graduate students expressed support for firing colleagues who hold beliefs such as immigration should be restricted or that women and minorities don't perform highly. Around 25 percent of academics said yes to cancelling a colleague in at least one of the four scenarios, Kaufmann said in an email to Newsweek. And about 35 percent of academics under the age of 35 said yes to firing in least one of the four scenarios, which Kaufmann said shows increased intolerance among younger academics.

"I think the intolerant attitude of graduate students and young academics helps to scare off dissenting research, repels conservatives from academia, and contributes to the growing intolerance of the academy," Kaufmann said. "There are more intolerant progressive activists entering onto committees at every level, pushing initiatives such as bias reporting, unconscious bias training or decolonizing the curriculum, all of which tend to violate academic freedom."

A new study find that academics support firing colleagues over their beliefs about the performance of minorities. The report was published days before a professor at Georgetown University Law Center was fired over comments she made about Black students' academic performance. The campus of Georgetown University is shown March 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The report comes as political thought has jostled a number of academic institutions and organizations across the country. According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS) cancellation database, there were 65 campaigns against academics in 2020 versus 12-13 in 2018 and 2019.

A key recent example is the firing of Georgetown University Law Center professor Sandra Sellers earlier this month. Sellers lost her adjunct professorship after she deplored the performance of Black students in her classes during a Zoom call with a colleague. The school said in a statement: "This is by no means the end of our work to address the many structural issues of racism reflected in this painful incident, including explicit and implicit bias, bystander responsibility, and the need for more comprehensive anti-bias training."

"The professoriate leans left, but when it comes to cancel culture, most social science and humanities academics defy the popular stereotype of the tenured radical."

Written in the HxA Blog by @epkaufm https://t.co/jJZ66ERTyl

— Heterodox Academy (@HdxAcademy) March 17, 2021

Enter Kaufmann's study, which finds that younger academics are more likely to support firing colleagues like Sellers who believe a minority group of students performed less than other groups.

"Opinions around race, gender and sexuality–the three sacred totems of left-modernism – which are offside are what tend to trigger firing campaigns," Kaufmann said. "Right-wing views on capitalism, foreign policy or the environment, or on religion–provided this doesn't touch on sexuality or gender, tend not to lead to firing."

But he said that firing a colleague for their opinions is a "violation" of their First Amendment rights and academic freedom. Removing a colleague for a controversial opinion is not an "appropriate" disciplinary measure. He suggested universities should "accept" that all forms of academic thought, including public and social media commentary, represent the "highest value of the university and is not grounds for any discipline."

"If it breaks the law, it is a matter for the courts," Kaufmann said. "Social norms are something else entirely, and these will tend to frown on dissenters. But the institution should not be enforcing any sanctions. It can always provide counseling for those who are offended."

Ambivalence is also prevalent among academics, enabling the firing of colleagues, according to the study. Most academics don't support cancel culture, Kaufmann's survey found, but small majority also does not oppose it, Kaufmann wrote in an article for for Heterodox Academy. He added there is only slim evidence an academic would make up an opinion about an issue in order to avoid "social or repetitional consequences."

"There is also a more permissive atmosphere created for cancel culture because even those who are not pro-cancellation are often ambivalent, neither opposing nor supporting dismissal campaigns," Kaufmann said. "In my data you see that around half of academics neither oppose nor support cancellation in any given scenario."