matei1_ATTILA KISBENEDEKAFP via Getty Images_hungary student protest Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

The West’s Crisis of Academic Freedom

Across the West, politicians are increasingly condemning and attempting to restrict research in academic fields that challenge their own worldviews. The threat to academic freedom demands intellectual resistance, starting with an effort to develop a common understanding of the concept and why it matters.

VIENNA – A crisis of academic freedom is looming in Europe. Usually when academic freedom comes under fire in the West, people assume that it is a marginal issue, confined to countries like Hungary that have become increasingly authoritarian. But an honest reckoning would show that the problem is far more widespread than Europeans and Americans would like to admit.

Yes, things are bad in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, a European Union country where constitutional protections for academic freedom have been erased, gender studies has been denied accreditation as an academic course, and a former army colonel has been appointed chancellor of the Budapest University of Theatre and Film Arts. But consider France, where Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education, research, and innovation, has accused the country’s universities of promoting “Islamo-gauchisme” (Islamo-leftism), and launched an investigation into the entire academic field of postcolonial studies.

And the threat is not confined to the EU. In both the United Kingdom and the United States, which have long represented the gold standard for academic freedom, lawmakers appear to want to join ranks with Hungary’s illiberal regime. In the US, Republican-controlled state legislatures are drafting bills to prevent “critical race theory” and other academic fields from being taught in public schools.