The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses.

AuthorCohn, Avern

THE SHADOW UNIVERSITY: THE BETRAYAL OF LIBERTY ON AMERICA'S CAMPUSES. By Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate. New York: The Free Press. 1998. Pp. xi, 415. $27.50.

The acquiescence of top academic leaders to the regime of speech codes, secret kangaroo courts, and mandatory attitude and sensitivity training, all under the close eyes of lawyers seeking to avoid legal or economic risks and of public relations offices seeking to avoid adverse publicity, has led to the creation of vast middle-level bureaucracies. These bureaucracies are charged with implementation of the new world of Student Life -- a world in which selected students, if among the political elect, are to live with neither stress, nor insult, nor unpleasantness. That world, however, can only be achieved by police-state control, injustice, and double standards. That is what actually is happening on the watch of most of our current academic leaders. [p. 330]


The Shadow University is a highly tendentious account of Alan Charles Kors(1) and Harvey A. Silverglate's(2) view of academic and student life in America's colleges and universities over the last twenty years. Kors and Silverglate see these colleges and universities turning from promoting personal and academic freedom to suppressing open expression and denying basic liberties to students and faculty alike. To make their point, they have scoured college and university campuses from coast to coast to find incidents involving student speech code violations, as well as student and faculty discipline and misbehavior proceedings. They also examine multicultural and diversity programs and other efforts to enlarge the gender and race mix of student bodies and academic staff.

Basically, Kors and Silverglate argue against any restrictions on student or faculty speech, call for the same panoply of rights afforded defendants in criminal cases for students and faculty members accused of misconduct, and would prohibit any programs for new students tending to orient them to the more complex cultural life they are likely to encounter on campus or the more diverse community in which they will live. They assert that academic freedom for students and faculty alike can be assured only by the elimination of the particular evils they personally find to exist on college and university campuses across the United States.(3)

Inexplicably, Kors and Silverglate cite neither a time in which the standards they advocate were the norm, nor do they name a college or university that passes muster today as far as they are concerned. To support their assertions, they describe in meticulous detail anecdotal incidents from approximately 150 colleges and universities during the 1980s and early 1990s.(4) The institutions referenced range from some as well known as Harvard University to some as little known as Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Given the breadth of Kors and Silverglate's charges, the variety of the incidents they offer, and the clearly one-sided descriptions they give, the reader must inevitably be somewhat skeptical of Kors and Silverglate's descriptions and the validity of their conclusions.(5)

While most of the reviews of The Shadow University have been favorable,(6) a careful read of the book, combined with thoughtful consideration of its arguments, leads to the conclusion that if one is confined to a single word to describe the text, the choice would fall somewhere among diatribe, jeremiad, philippic, and polemic. If one takes a good look at The Shadow University's website,(7) the word would be self-aggrandizement.

A view of campus life in a more tumultuous time can be found in Professor Sidney Hook's book, Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy.(8) In his discussion of the polemicists who embroiled the American campuses in the 1960s, Professor Hook says:

[A] university is fundamentally a community of scholars dedicated to the discovery and teaching of the truth. No one is compelled to seek entry to it.... It can therefore require both of its students and faculty conformity with a code of manners, speech, and conduct, provided it is not unreasonable or unjust, higher than what obtains in the marketplace.(9) In addition, to better understand the campus of today with its significantly more diverse faculties as well as student bodies, one should read Professor Lawrence Levine's book, The Opening of the American Mind.(10) In it, Levine, a professor of history at George Mason University, explains:

Just when a significant number of historians have begun to study the intricacies of race, ethnicity, class, and gender, just when they are beginning to penetrate the intriguing and difficult questions that the various pluralist hypotheses have posed, just when they are entering into constructive debates on these issues with their colleagues and students, others are crying that the sky is falling and that any deviation from the strict assimilationist melting-pot orthodoxy spells the end of the Republic as we have known it. The results of the new historiography have dismayed critics who don't like the message and all too humanly have wanted to kill the messenger, or more accurately to denounce the messenger as "politically correct." They don't mount a scholarly campaign against this work; they don't attempt to disprove it with their own scholarship; they simply denounce it as "politically correct" and "injurious" to the national tradition, as "trivial" distractions from the essential political and diplomatic work of historians.(11) Simply put, Kors and Silverglate are but two more authors joining in the chorus of voices "who don't like the message."


The authors, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate, met as undergraduates at Princeton University in the 1960s and have continued as friends and collaborators. Kors is now a Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 1965. An expert in seventeenth and eighteenth century European intellectual history, Kors is clearly a notable scholar. He was one of the early members of, and remains active in, the National Academy of Scholars,(12) an organization whose first major assembly was headlined in The Chronicle of Higher Education November 23, 1988, issue as: "Conservative Scholars Call for a Movement to `Reclaim' Academy."(13)

Apparently, little has changed between the time of the 1988 Assembly, where Kors reportedly said that the policies at the University of Pennsylvania dealing with racial and sexual harassment made scholars "afraid to speak freely for fear of being accused of offensive behavior,"(14) and today, except that Kors has been promoted from associate to full professor. The current literature distributed by the National Association of Scholars suggests that if it is asked to participate as an amicus in the current litigation involving the University of Michigan's race-sensitive admissions policies to achieve diversity in its student body, it would weigh in on the plaintiffs' side with Kors's enthusiastic endorsement.(15) In sum, Kors is a highly regarded scholar and a well-known conservative.

Silverglate is a practicing lawyer in Boston, specializing in civil liberties and criminal defense matters. He is also a columnist for the Boston Phoenix and the National Law Journal, and is active in the American Civil Liberties Union. Silverglate has cooperated over the years with Kors defending students charged with misconduct and, according to the biographical sketch in the end papers of The Shadow University, "threatened with the new tyrannies" (p. 415). Precisely how Kors and Silverglate divided responsibility for writing The Shadow University and whether Silverglate actually shares Kors's dismal view of campus legal life today is not clear.

Finally, if the itineraries published on The Shadow University website(16) are any indication, Kors and Silverglate have enjoyed a good life from their authorship. In 1998, together or separately, they made more than 100 appearances, personally or on radio or television broadcasts, across the country. In 1999, they made a like number of appearances, and in 2000, for the first part of the year, made approximately 25 appearances.(17)


The Shadow University is divided into five parts and some fourteen chapters. Part I: "The Assault on Liberty," begins with a description of "The Water Buffalo Affair" at the University of Pennsylvania, (pp. 9-33). In 1993, a student was charged with harassment because he shouted at female students celebrating below his window in a high-rise dormitory, "Shut up, you water buffalo! ... If you want a party there's a zoo a mile from here" (p. 9). After several months, in more of a display of political ineptitude than all effort at political correctness, the charges were dismissed to the...

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