In an eye-opening examination of higher education’s current climate, Bates College stands as a stark example of the struggles with free speech on campus, revealing a disconcerting trend that extends beyond the student body to the very faculty that shapes students’ minds.
Bates, located in Lewiston, is ranked dismally for free speech at 213 out of 250 nationally, At the elite liberal arts college, a chilling environment has emerged, according to an article posted by Bates alum Roy Matthews at The Federalist. Students, accustomed to navigating a minefield of restrictive speech codes and peer-enforced social pressure, are not the only ones treading carefully. According to Matthews, faculty members, too, find themselves in a precarious position, facing the daunting prospect of job termination over once-routine classroom discussions.
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Bates has been at the forefront of this tension. Emails from former professors, related by Matthews, shed light on a troubling reality: questioning a student’s assertion or urging critical thinking can lead to reports to the DEI office. This policy has instilled a deep-seated fear among educators, wary of any misstep that could trigger their dismissal. Professors now fear that making students intellectually uncomfortable, once the very purpose of higher education, could ruin their careers.
A recent incident involving antisemitism – a swastika drawn in a dormitory amid pro-Hamas activities following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks – prompted further investigation into Bates’ DEI practices. Conversations with current and former Bates faculty and students confirmed, per Matthews, not only the ongoing operation of the DEI surveillance system but its use in enforcing a certain ideological stance among professors. Academic freedom, be damned!
The case of Keith Taylor, a geology lecturer, exemplifies the severity of the situation. Taylor’s inquiry into a student’s claim about the college being a “bastion of white supremacy” led to his firing. Reprimanded for racial insensitivity by the Dean of Faculty Malcolm Hill, Taylor chose to denounce the school publicly.
Loring Danforth, another professor, experienced similar challenges. His attempts to foster discussion on complex topics like race and land claims were met with DEI complaints and administrative reprimands. Despite his support for Native American rights, Danforth’s nuanced approach to these issues was not well-received.
The DEI system’s influence extends to various aspects of campus life. Students, like 2018 graduate James Erwin, notice a scripted nature in faculty communications, especially following sensitive events like the 2016 presidential election. This atmosphere, according to Erwin, is partly the result of the faculty’s own teachings.
Economics professor Paul Shea’s concerns echo this sentiment. Shea fears for Bates’ future as activism and ideology increasingly permeate academic curricula, diverging from the college’s mission.
These revelations paint a grim picture of Bates College. As faculty members navigate this hostile environment, the values of academic excellence, egalitarianism, and liberty that Bates purports to uphold are being undermined. Whether free speech, academic freedom, and the pursuit of the true mission of the liberal arts will ever return to Bates is very much in doubt. This situation at Bates is not isolated but indicative of a broader trend in higher education, where the sanctity of free speech and open discourse is increasingly at risk.