Fear Of Dissenting

Fear Of Dissenting


Leonard Zwelling


Chalk this up to my ignorance. I never knew that local officials were arresting and locking people up for speaking up against the policies of those officials.

In this op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on March 19, Anya Bidwell and Patrick Jaicomo, two lawyers for a defendant in a Supreme Court case, outline the issue.

In their case, Gonzalez v. Trevino, their client, Sylvia Gonzalez, a city council woman, circulated a petition in the town of Castle Hills, Texas to remove the city manager. She alleges that the manager and his allies, the mayor and police chief, conspired to arrest her for a misdemeanor (misplacing a government document). She went to jail. It was reported in local media, and a month after the arrest the charges were dropped.

Ms. Gonzalez then filed suit against the city and its leaders who claimed qualified immunity. Ms. Gonzalez claimed the city had violated her free speech rights. The district court sided with Gonzalez, but the US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Supposedly, as long as the police have “probable cause” for an arrest, free speech can lose. The Supreme Court will resolve the issue.

In the essay, Bidwell and Jaicomo cite other examples of local officials making arrests for dissent including a local newspaper being raided in Marion, Kansas because the paper was investigating the police chief.

I certainly hope the Court sides with Gonzalez. Local officials (or any authority) cannot use their power to silence citizens. If they do, that’s bad. But, it’s not the worst.

The worst is when leadership of a municipality or any organization uses the power it wields to frighten people in the municipality or organization into silence.

I am going to argue that this is what is occurring in academia today where conservative ideas are not valued. This has become particularly acute in academic medicine where administration officials, especially presidents, demand fealty and tolerate no dissent. Any dissent can be labeled unprofessional behavior and pre-emptively cause the dismissal of the dissenter. There needn’t be many examples of people being fired for their dissenting opinion for a chill to grab hold of an organization and eliminate any hint of dissent.

Look at Russia.

Do you really believe that 87% of the Russian people support Putin and his war in Ukraine? Neither do I. Navalny is a prime example of what happens to those who oppose Putin. Dissent is not tolerated in Russia.

China has even suppressed dissent in Hong Kong where only a few years ago lively dissent flourished. And, we know what happens to those who oppose the mullahs in Iran.

My argument is that the human dynamic found in Russia is the same as that found in many academic centers with despotic leadership that ignores even a hint of shared governance with the faculty.

Yes, arrest and jail time is a great deterrent to dissent. When that deterrence becomes the corporate culture, free speech and freedom of opinion is no more.

Think about it. When’s the last time you spoke up?

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