On Monday, Dean Moneta went into a campus coffee shop for tea and a vegan muffin, was offended by the lyrics of a rap song that came up on the shop’s Spotify playlist, and promptly had the two employees on duty fired.
In this case—as in other recent cases where professors were fired or threatened with firing for criticizing elite figures, or when legislatures attempt to criminalize protest—we see once more how the real threat to free expression on campus has always come from the abuse of power. Power belongs to administrators, donors, and, in the case of public universities, lawmakers. Anyone serious about defending free speech and promoting ideological diversity should focus their critiques on those who wield that power to crush dissent. This Duke dean’s abuse of power, especially given his hypocrisy, is merely the latest example of a much bigger problem.
A few other notable examples have come to light over the last few weeks. The hard work of a student group at George Mason University has exposed how the right-wing Koch brothers have used their billions to sway faculty hiring. An ex-professor at Arizona State University has written about the Koch-funded creation of a shadow university—a mandatory ideological bubble—within that institution. At the University of Montana this June, a 39-year-old executive from General Electric was named president. His first move was to cut the humanities, especially targeting the independence of interdisciplinary programs like gender or environmental studies. Finally, a new survey of religious schools reveals that administrators routinely exercise approvals over what can and cannot be published in student newspapers, creating cultures and systems of campus censorship.