Ideas to Impact Blog

Keynote Speaker Greg Lukianoff: Bringing Accountability to America’s Academic Institutions

“You helped FIRE come into existence and have been our most reliable and steadfast friend. Thank you so much for everything you’ve been able to help us achieve.”

Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of FIRE

Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of FIRE-1

Bradley Impact Fund members know well the accountability that the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has brought to America’s academic institutions. But in their 2023 book, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and his co-author Rikki Schlott present an updated view of the layers of pressures that exist in academic and corporate America to conform to woke priorities. In his keynote address, Mr. Lukianoff made sure to not just highlight the “genuinely catastrophic” state of American institutions, but also to talk about solutions.

The increasingly violent anti-Israel protests following the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 perfectly set up Mr. Lukianoff’s key recommendation that leaders finally punish protesters who cross from speech to violence and disruption. Recent events at Berkeley and Yale, he said, were exactly what you’d expect from protesters who don’t believe they will face consequences for their actions. If freedom of expression is to return to campus, and if corporations are to rein in radical politics from their employees, it’s time for repeat offenders to be held accountable.

The incident at Yale hit particularly close to home for Mr. Lukianoff. In March, the Young Communist League of Yale did what communists have always done: they stormed a classroom, demanding in this case that Professor Timothy Snyder, a scholar on the history of Soviet Communism, be silenced. The descendant of kulaks, or more prosperous Russian peasant farmers, Mr. Lukianoff wouldn’t be American if his family hadn’t fled after losing the war started by the Bolsheviks. This old communist tactic of intimidation is now commonplace in America, often deployed (as it was at Yale) under banners demanding that Israel be erased from the map.

While more leaders now openly acknowledge the problem and are starting to act, attacks on free expression on campus may not have peaked yet. According to FIRE’s research, the number of professors fired for non-conformity with campus orthodoxy in the past ten years is approximately double the number who were fired under McCarthyism.

FIRE’s recent research on the prevalence and effect of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements on university campuses has yielded telling, but more importantly, actionable results. While ninety percent of the relatively small proportion of conservative professors agree that DEI statements are political litmus tests, about half of all professors agree with the statement. The most surprising finding was, as Mr. Lukianoff put it, that “almost a quarter of professors thought that [DEI statements] were both political litmus tests and were appropriate. . . so at least they’re being honest.”

After highlighting other troubling findings, Mr. Lukianoff alighted on FIRE’s goal to defend freedom of speech,

not just as a legal right, but as something living in the heart of every American, something that actually … shapes the way we interact with each other as fellow citizens.

As promising as recent moves have been to expel DEI from institutions, or at least hold the worst perpetrators responsible, there is far more to do. This will require careful research so that decision makers know as well as possible the true state of the battle in their sectors and institutions, and can see what real leaders—like those in the Bradley Impact Fund community—are doing to restore freedom of expression and a sense of shared mission in their institutions.