The Public Interest

Levin, Jeffries, and the fate of academic autonomy

Nathan Glazer

Summer 1995

PROFESSORS Michael Levin and Leonard Jeffries of the City College of New York have both been in the news—Professor Jeffries is still in the news—for things they have written and said, and for which, they have charged, they have been punished by the college. Both, in the end, appealed to the federal courts for redress on the grounds that their freedom of speech had been infringed. Professor Levin offended blacks with his public letters and articles. Professor Jeffries offended Jews with his speeches. Both found satisfaction in the decisions of the federal district court to which they appealed: The court ruled that they had been improperly punished for their speech. Professor Jeffries’ case then ran a different legal course, and may still be subject to further legal developments, but these do not affect the central thrust of this article, which is to ask: Are federal courts and the application of free-speech standards the way to deal with these difficult issues for higher education? I believe they are not, and this article, describing the Levin and Jeffries cases, explains why.

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