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NeoAcademia Episode 8 - Academic Freedom w/John Wilson
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NeoAcademia Episode 8 - Academic Freedom w/John Wilson

What is it, who deserves it, where it comes from, and how it's being attacked from all angles

NeoAcademia is a biweekly exploration of the shifting walls of the ivory tower. 


I’ve known John K. Wilson for a year or so through the Heterodox Academy writing group. I never got anything published on their blog, and the organization disbanded us as a group, but that’s another story. John was always interesting to me because he and I were the only Ph.D-holding, non-academics in the group. I asked myself on several occasions What the fuck am I doing in here? I always felt like an outsider, whose opinion wasn’t really valued, but then I remembered… that’s just how academics act, and also, I don’t care.

We wrote largely about viewpoint diversity, and I got tired of the same old arguments about woke-ism, religion, and the culture wars and never really wanted to write about it, so I’ve stopped attending. When the group was “let go” from HxA, we tried to keep it going, and a few people still meet. I really like a handful of them, one of which suggested a funding announcement and I penned a grant for the group, which one of the members submitted since I wasn’t faculty, but that in and of itself was a process. No one took initiative to write it, so I did. No one wanted to submit it, so I pointed at a couple of people. As it stands, I’m slated to administer the grant if it is awarded, but honestly, unless we get some fresh, non-academics in there… I don’t think I’ll continue.

The reason I bring this up is that John and I disagreed largely on reform. Some institutions like academia are too big to reform. It’s like saying ‘let’s reform central banking!’. Yeah, no. How about we build an alternative? That’s more my speed. The HxA group felt much the same. Once an institution becomes an Institution, it is rigid and immutable. I hoped that being ousted from HxA would free us from their constraints, but everyone seemed to want to keep doing things the HxA way. Academics who leave academia are often traumatized. They rarely admit it, but the Ivory Tower has a way of making you think you’re not good enough unless you’re the cream that has risen to their top. The institution is not open to ideas. They make sure their constituents don’t have time or freedom to reform it, and no one from the outside cares enough to try or has the inroads to make progress.

But then there’s John.

That’s all I’ll say for now, but this was a great debate. Tomorrow, I’ll share some addendums to my thoughts in the bonus content. There were a few points that needed clarification on my part and things I realized I should have said after the fact, as always. Enjoy!

Show Notes:

4: 13 The insular character of academic freedom

7: 33 ThreeThreats to academic freedom: the Left, the Right, and the Centrist Administrators

11:00 Desantis’ Stop Woke Act

13:40  Scopes Monkey trial

15:05 Why protecting people who say and think horrible things is important not only in academia?

21:42 Academic Freedom and The 1st Amendment

25:50 Brett Weinstein and The Evergreen State Incident

27:34 Vectors of disease

27:59 Centrist administrator-led witch burnings

29:33 Boise State University Hoax

33:11 Kanye and social shaming bad ideas

37:58 Why independent scholars still want to be hired by the university

41:03  University of Austin controversy and who should decide who gets hired on the university

44:20 Remodel, rebuild, or destroy: what to do with Academia?

49:56 “Good” harm, critique vs defunding

52:13 The Multiversity concept vs academia as an idealistic sandbox to ignore capitalism

John’s work at Academe blog

John’s books


For more resources from this episode, check out the collection John and I created for you. Use the password “neoacademia” for access

Readocracy is NeoAcademia’s first sponsor, and I highly encourage you to sign up for an account. I have been using it daily for years now, and I even include some of my personal metrics in my monthly Rabbithole newsletter for my paid subscribers. It’s a fun way of reflecting on what you consume, and potentially building your expertise as a NeoAcademic.


Thought experiment:

What could be an unexpected consequence of granting everyone "academic freedom"?

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