William F. Buckley's Attacks on Academic Freedom
The death of William F. Buckley is sparking tributes to the man. But when it comes to academic freedom, his impact was strictly evil. One of the products of the anti-Communist crusade in the universities was William F. Buckley's 1952 book, God and Man at Yale, a book still widely admired in conservative circles. Buckley attacked Yale University because he believed it had failed to enforce a conservative ideology on its faculty and students. Buckley complained, for example, that the Religion Department did not have "a remarkably pro-religious bias."(Buckley, 9) He attacked the presence of an atheist professor because students might become "full of suspicions and doubts about religion"(13) and a sociology professor who "subverted the faith" of students.(17) Most horrifying of all, Buckley reported that "several atheists and agnostics" were used as ushers at chapel.(Buckley, 29)
Religion was not the only faith which Buckley felt was inadequately indoctrinated. Buckley criticized the American Studies department because it did not follow a major donor's demands for it to support "the preservation of our System of Free Enterprise" and be "opposed to a system of State Socialism, Communism and Totalitarianism"(Buckley, 101). Buckley adds about the Economics department, "of the nine full professors in the department, only four are forthright defenders of individualism."(Buckley, 99) Buckley believed that Yale would not be set right until every economist defended "individualism" against mainstream Keynesian theories of economics.
But individuals, he said, do not have academic freedom, except the freedom to quit: "no freedom has been abridged so long as he is at liberty to quit his job"(Buckley, 187) and can "seek employment at a college that was interested in propagating socialism."(Buckley, 189) Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today), so Buckley was effectively supporting a blacklist of "socialist" thinkers from universities. As Buckley bluntly put it, "the attitudes of the faculty ought to conform to the university's."(Buckley, 181)
Buckley supported strong measures to remove "the predominance of leftism"(Buckley, 112) at Yale. He complained about President Seymour (who in 1937 urged a return to Christian values and who also refused to knowingly hire a Communist) because Seymour did not "exorcise the extreme secularism" at Yale by getting rid of liberal faculty.(Buckley, 43, 225)
Christopher Lucas, in his 1967 doctoral dissertation, noted that Buckley’s God and Man at Yale “helped smooth the way” for repression in academia.
Buckley's criticisms of Yale bear a remarkable similarity to today's attacks on political correctness. The complaint of "too many radicals" is frequently heard, with the accompanying fear that students might not learn the proper patriotic values and will instead be corrupted by feminism, Marxism, and the other evils of academia. For Buckley, the dangers were Keynesianism and liberal religion, but his attack on radicalism is echoed in the current opposition to multiculturalism. Lipset (1976) noted, “conservatives like William Buckley, Ronald Reagan, and others have argued the need for political balance, that is, for more conservative professors to reduce the predominant liberal-left dominance within liberal arts faculties in major universities.”(p. 209)
Remarkably, Buckley's Yale of the 1950s, where liberals supposedly dominated and "many students manage to cruise through without learning very much"(Buckley, 32) has now been reinterpreted into a Golden Age of higher education, while Buckley's hope for a purge of leftist professors by conservative trustees and administrators continues to be the guiding philosophy of some conservatives who want to take over colleges and universities.