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The Democratic University: The Role of Justice in the Production of Knowledge*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2009

Elizabeth S. Anderson
Philosophy and Women's Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


What is the proper role of politics in higher education? Many policies and reforms in the academy, from affirmative action and a multicultural curriculum to racial and sexual harassment codes and movements to change pedagogical styles, seek justice for oppressed groups in society. They understand justice to require a comprehensive equality of membership: individuals belonging to different groups should have equal access to educational opportunities; their interests and cultures should be taken equally seriously as worthy subjects of study, their persons treated with equal respect and concern in communicative interaction. Conservative critics of these egalitarian movements represent them as dangerous political meddling into the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. They cast the pursuit of equality as a threat to freedom of speech and academic standards. In response, some radical advocates of such programs agree that the quest for equality clashes with free speech, but view this as an argument for sacrificing freedom of speech.

Research Article
Copyright © Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation 1995

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1 See, for example, Bloom, Allan, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986)Google Scholar; and D'Souza, Dinesh, Illiberal Education (New York: Free Press, 1991).Google Scholar

2 See, for example, Matsuda, Mari, Lawrence, Charles III, Delgado, Richard, and Crenshaw, Kimberle Williams, Words that Wound (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993).Google Scholar

3 Herzog, Don, Happy Slaves (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 173–74Google Scholar; Walzer, Michael, “Liberalism and the Art of Separation.” Political Theory, vol. 12 (1984), pp. 315–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty (London: J. W. Parker and Son, 1859).Google Scholar

5 See Bromwich, David, Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992)Google Scholar; D'Souza, , Illiberal EducationGoogle Scholar; and Kimball, Roger, Tenured Radicals (New York: Harper and Row, 1990).Google Scholar

6 See, for instance, Drctske, Fred, Knowledge and the Flow of Information (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981)Google Scholar, which takes the paradigm of communication to be between an instrument and an observer, not between people; Quine, W. V., “Epistemology Naturalized,” in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969)Google Scholar, which assumes that science should regard knowers as isolated organisms interacting with the world; and Bayesian theories in the philosophy of science, such as Earman, John, Bayes or Bust? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992)Google Scholar, which define rational belief revision in strictly individualist terms.

7 The arguments and observations in this paragraph are indebted to Coady, C. A. J.'s fine book, Testimony (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).Google Scholar

8 Longino, Helen, “Essential Tensions—Phase Two: Feminist, Philosophical, and Social Studies of Science,” in A Mind of One's Own, ed. Antony, L. and Witt, C. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), p. 264.Google Scholar

9 See Kahneman, Daniel, Slovic, Paul, and Tversky, Amos, eds., Judgments under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Solomon, Miriam. “Social Empiricism,” Noûs, vol. 28 (1994), pp. 325–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar, has documented the influence of these biases in scientists' evaluations of the theory of continental drift.

11 Ibid., pp. 18–20. See also Longino, Helen, “Essential Tensions,” pp. 266–67.Google Scholar

12 Bennett, William, To Reclaim a Legacy (Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Humanities, 198–1)Google Scholar; Symposium on the Great Books, Academic Questions (a publication of the National Association of Scholars), vol. 2 (1989)Google Scholar; and Bloom, , The Closing of the American Mind.Google Scholar

13 Raditsa, Leo, “On Sustenance: Teaching and Learning the Great Works,” Academic Questions, vol. 2 (1989), pp. 3039CrossRefGoogle Scholar (arguing that “it is essential that the teacher subordinate himself … to the texts [of the great books],” p. 34).Google Scholar

14 See, for example, Rorty, Richard, “Feminism and Pragmatism,” Tanner Lectures in Human Values, vol. 13 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992), pp. 138Google Scholar; and Asante, Molefi K., The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1987).Google Scholar

15 See, for example. Hentoff, Nat, Free Speech for Me, but Not for Thee (New York: Harper-Collins, 1992)Google Scholar; and Rauch, Jonathan, Kindly Inquisitors (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).Google Scholar

16 See, for example, Sunstein, Cass, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (New York: Free Press, 1993)Google Scholar; O'Neill, Onora, Constructions of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)Google Scholar, chs. 1–2; and Longino, , “Essential Tensions.”Google Scholar

17 Use of this model by civil libertarians does not imply that they also support free markets in commodities, as political libertarians do. Most civil libertarians are liberals, not political libertarians. My target is all libertarians, whether civil or political, who are attracted by a market model of free speech. In drawing attention to some of the disturbing implications of this model for speech, I aim to persuade liberal civil libertarians that the same reservations they typically have about free markets in commodities apply to free markets in speech. I also aim to persuade political libertarians that free markets in speech are not sufficient to ensure freedom of speech for all, and can even reinforce cultures inimical to free speech.

18 Mill, , On Liberty, ch. 2.Google Scholar

19 See Kahneman, , Slovic, , and Tversky, , Judgments under Uncertainty.Google Scholar

20 Scanlon, Thomas, “A Theory of Freedom of Expression,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1 (1972), pp. 204–26.Google Scholar

21 Oliver Wendell Holmes, joined by Louis Brandeis, promoted the analogy most vividly: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” And: “The ultimate good desired is better reached through free trade in ideas” Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 630, 616 (1919)Google Scholar (Holmes and Brandeis, dissenting).

22 See, for example, Hentoff, , Free Speech for Me, but Not for Thee, p. 152Google Scholar (chiding “the Jacobins” for their lack of humor); Rauch, , Kindly Inquisitors, p. 130Google Scholar (arguing that calls for civility lead people to “go into the business of professional offendedness”); and Taylor, John, “Are You Politically Correct?” in Are You Politically Correct?, ed. Beckwith, Francis and Bauman, Michael (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993), p. 23Google Scholar (complaining that “joking isn't allowed!”).

23 Longino, , “Essential Tensions,” pp. 265–66.Google Scholar

24 This is not to defend “standpoint theory.” Standpoint theorists claim that the position of subordinate groups offers an epistemically privileged perspective on social phenomena. See Hartsock, Nancy, “The Feminist Standpoint,” in Feminism and Methodology, ed. Harding, S. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).Google Scholar Our thoroughgoing epistemic interdependence implies that no particular subject position can claim epistemic privilege over all the rest. The argument for diversity need claim no more than symmetrical cognitive biases on everyone's part. If no one has a perfectly representative sample of experiences, and everyone generalizes from his or her own experiences, then everyone will be biased. If the research community consists of a demographically unrepresentative sample of people, biases will remain that can be corrected by expanding its representativeness, even if the new members are just as biased in their own way as the old ones are.

25 Morris, Aldon, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Free Press, 1984).Google Scholar

26 See, for example, Bleier, Ruth, Science and Gender (New York: Pergamon, 1984)Google Scholar; Tavris, Carol, The Mismeasure of Woman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992)Google Scholar; and Mac-Kinnon, Catharine, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).Google Scholar

27 Cohen, Joshua, “Freedom of Expression,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 22 (1993), pp. 215–17Google Scholar; Sunstein, , Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, chs. 2, 3.Google Scholar

28 O'Neill, , Constructions of Reason, pp. 3031Google Scholar; Longino, , “Essential Tensions,” p. 267.Google Scholar

29 Hall, Roberta, “The Classroom Climate: A Chilly One for Women?” (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges, 1982)Google Scholar; Sadker, Myra and Sadker, David, Failing at Fairness (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994)Google Scholar; Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, How Schools Shortchange Girls (Washington, DC: American Association of University Women, 1992)Google Scholar; Becker, J. R., “Differential Treatment of Females and Males in Mathematics Classes.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, vol. 12 (1981), pp. 4053CrossRefGoogle Scholar

30 Paludi, M. A. and Bauer, W. D., “Goldberg Revisited: What's in an Author's Name,” Sex Roles, vol. 9 (1983), pp. 287390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Fidell, L. S., “Empirical Verification of Sex Discrimination in Hiring Practices in Psychology,” American Psychologist, vol. 25 (1970), pp. 1094–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 Lefkowitz, M. R., “Education for Women in a Man's World,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 08 6, 1979, p. 56.Google Scholar

33 Sanders, Lynn, “Against Deliberation,” Political Theory (forthcoming).Google Scholar

34 Numerous surveys of other campuses reveal similar patterns across the country. See The National Council for Research on Women, To Reclaim a Legacy of Diversity (New York: NCRW, 1993), and the reports in each issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

35 Matsuda, et al. , Words that Wound.Google Scholar

36 Taylor, Charles, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

37 Some of the most interesting cases of a free-market-driven abolition of civil society appeared in the nineteenth-century company towns of the United States. They embodied a culture of class-based inequality incompatible with the egalitarian demands of civil society. George Pullman, the owner of the company town Pullman, Illinois, owned all spaces of public and private association-including church buildings, schools, parks, businesses, municipal buildings, and houses-and asserted the property right to determine what went on in them. Company towns are a social order likely to return in the kind of free-market regime endorsed by political libertarians. On Pullman, see Walzer, Michael, Spheres of Justice (New York: Dasic Books, 1983), pp. 295–99.Google Scholar

38 Addelson, Kathryn, “The Man of Professional Wisdom,” in Discovering Reality, ed. Harding, S. and Hintikka, M. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983), pp. 165–86.Google Scholar

39 “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. …”

40 Gates, Henry Louis Jr., “Let Them Talk,” New Republic, 09 20 and 27, 1993, p. 45.Google Scholar

41 For example, Sadker, and Sadker, (in Failing at Fairness, pp. 4648)Google Scholar report that most teachers who are shown through videotapes how they pay more attention to boys than to girls are surprised and hurt to discover this fact about themselves. Most genuinely like their female students, and sincerely profess belief in the equality of the sexes. People are unaware of many of their habits, which can persist even when they do not cohere with consciously held beliefs and attitudes.

42 See Rawls, John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 152 n. 16.Google Scholar

43 Chafe, William, Civilities ami Civil Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).Google Scholar

44 See, for example, Wood, Gordon, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), ch. 15.Google Scholar

45 See Cohen, , “Freedom of Expression,” p. 203.Google Scholar

46 U.S. constitutional doctrine defines “fighting words” as speech that is not an essential part of the expression of ideas and that is so insulting that it provokes the average person to fight. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. 315 U.S. 568 (1942).Google Scholar

47 This was the opinion Judge Avern Cohn correctly reached about the University of Michigan's student speech code in Doe v. Michigan, 721 F. Supp. 852 (E.D. Michigan, 1989).Google Scholar

48 Spray-painted on the office walls of an African-American student and secretary at the University of Colorado, Denver; see The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, vol. 1 (1993), p. 107.Google Scholar

49 Matsuda, et al. , Words that Wound.Google Scholar An Illinois law against group defamation was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Beauharnais v. Illinois, 343 U.S. 250 (1952).Google Scholar The “fighting words” doctrine is articulated in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).Google Scholar

50 Gates, , “Let Them Talk,” pp. 3940.Google Scholar

51 Ibid., p. 49.

52 See Scanlon, . “A Theory of Freedom of Expression” (supra note 20).Google Scholar

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