Newsweek – “Relieved, excited, free!” the distinguished constitutional law scholar Ilya Shapiro told me when I asked him how he felt after resigning following just 72 hours of active employment as a senior lecturer and executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for the Constitution.
Only three days earlier, Shapiro had been energized by what he called a “technical victory” over cancel culture. Earlier this year, before even starting his job, Shapiro was placed on administrative leave and investigated by two Georgetown offices for “inartful” tweets criticizing President Joe Biden‘s decision to limit the candidates for his first Supreme Court pick to black women. After four torturous months, which Shapiro described in the Wall Street Journal as a “personal and professional purgatory,” the inquisitors concluded that he was not subject to disciplinary action because he had posted his tweets before he was a university employee.
Nevertheless, the inquisition’s reports whined that Shapiro’s tweets “had a significant negative impact on the Georgetown Law community” and recommended that Georgetown Law’s dean William Treanor take “actions” to address them. In an awkward statement on June 2, Treanor, who had denounced Shapiro’s tweets at the time of the scandal as “appalling,” announced that his embattled employee would begin active work the next day, subject to further diversity training and meetings to assure student leaders that he is not a racist.
In case anyone made the mistake of thinking Treanor supportive of his faculty or even simply objective, the dean reiterated that Shapiro’s tweets were “harmful” and had caused unacceptable “pain.” He further assured the braying woke mob that Georgetown’s free speech protections do “not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.”
These ominous lines gave Shapiro understandable pause as he contemplated the prospect of daily work with students and colleagues who believe he is an existential threat, that his words are actual violence and that he is a racist and misogynist. He also wondered what it would be like to work under a dean so easily intimidated that he subjected a new employee to a punishing investigation for having exercised his constitutional right of free speech before he even started his job. As Shapiro told me the day he resigned, he has “no confidence in the integrity of Georgetown officials.” He certainly should not, nor should anyone else.
Yesterday’s conservative might have advised Shapiro to take comfort in his technical victory, keep his head down and be grateful for whatever paltry benefits academia still offers. He might perhaps have fastened a crisp bowtie to signal to his new colleagues that he is inoffensive enough to be invited to those all-important Washington cocktail parties, where he would reliably refrain from the faintest peep against the progressive left’s hegemony over intellectual life.
Many D.C. conservatives happily embrace that existence, but where can it lead? As Shapiro remonstrated in a searing four-page resignation letter submitted to Treanor and shared with me on Monday, June 6, “the freedom to speak unless someone finds what you say offensive or infringing some nebulous conception of equity is no freedom at all.” This lack of freedom, under what Shapiro accurately calls “an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices,” would certainly have been his lamentable fate had he clung to his post.
As he convincingly observed to Treanor, if Shapiro were to take public positions supporting possible Supreme Court decisions to overturn Roe v. Wade, outlaw race-based college admissions, or uphold gun rights—all well within his right of free expression and all supported by large numbers of Americans—he could once again, upon the flimsiest complaint by Georgetown’s most emotionally troubled student or psychologically disturbed faculty member, find himself suspended and hauled before the same inquisitors, only without any technicality to save him. Georgetown’s administration “set me up for discipline the next time I transgress progressive orthodoxy,” he admonished Treanor, who he believes “painted a target on my back such that I could never do the job I was hired for.”
Many progressive leftists are twisted enough to rejoice at Shapiro’s resignation. They giddily believe that like-minded enforcers of “repressive tolerance” have succeeded in making it almost impossible for non-woke employees to work in academic institutions, even when technically cleared of wrongthink.
In their infantile self-congratulation, however, they miss the larger picture: that those institutions look ever more like crumbling madrasas for fanatical zealots that are of little value to anyone else. By 2020, only 45 percent of Americans still believed a college education to be necessary for success in life, down from 95 percent in 1980. Most of that decline has come in just the last decade, as wokeism became entrenched on campuses. College enrollments have fallen by over a million students since 2019, with few signs of post-pandemic recovery on the horizon. In just the past six years, some 75 institutions of higher education have disappeared—the largest contraction in American history, and one that some economists predict will accelerate even absent rigid ideological conformity and the strict policing of thought and expression.
Shapiro’s departure from that dying subculture is no setback. He has many other options to explore his interests and amplify his voice, probably more now than he did before. The day after he resigned, he announced that he will join the Manhattan Institute as a senior fellow and its director of constitutional studies. Rather than tiptoeing on eggshells, he tells me, he is free to be “even more in the arena” and “more effective than ever.” Good for him!