Academic Freedom, Pedagogy, White Privilege, and Racism in Higher Education

College and university administrators and faculty too often lack the political and ethical will to simply do the right thing.

Paul Thomas
5 min readAug 5, 2020


Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

“Reckoning” is an imposing word for those with power and privilege; for white people in the U.S. the threat or possibility of a reckoning is often terrifying, triggering what has now been identified as white fragility.

For those abused, assaulted, or marginalized by racism, sexism/misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc., the possibility of a reckoning is exhilarating — although tinted with at least skepticism if not cynicism about any reckoning coming to fruition.

Amidst a pandemic, however, the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer seems to have reignited with a renewed stamina the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Professional sports, including even the ultra-conservative NFL, have blinked finally against the call for police reform and racial reform across all aspect of the U.S.

Like the symbolism now being allowed and celebrated in the NBA and WNBA, the diversity and inclusion initiatives in U.S. higher education remain mostly rhetoric (and seemingly endless committee work).

While higher education is often characterized (and demonized) as some sort of insular liberal and progressive playground for college professors, the truth is that colleges and universities — like K-12 schools — are deeply conservative and mostly a reflection of society and the populations they serve.

Yes, a good portion of college faculty talk the talk of moderates and progressives, but almost all institutions are conservative by nature in order to exist; revolutionary behavior fits poorly with the economics of running a college or university.

Public universities are governed by politicians (mostly conservative and right-leaning moderate across the U.S.), and college and university boards tend to be populated by wealthy and conservative advocates for sustaining the institution (not brainwashing students with Marxism).



Paul Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education.