Healthy Debate in Academia

When a Pulitzer-winning New York Times journalist noted for his own “progressive” views laments liberal intolerance on college campuses, we can be sure it’s not just a figment of conservatives’ “paranoid” imagination.1 Nor is it limited to the U.S. All the more reason to laud academics who have had the courage and integrity to defy the prevailing biases.Canadian Art Teacher - cover

One of them is David A. Pariser (Professor of Art Education, Concordia University, Montreal), who was bold enough to consider my contrarian viewpoint, in a fair-minded review of Who Says That’s Art? last year. Published in Canadian Art Teacher (vol. 13 no. 2), his review is reproduced here with kind permission. While expressing significant reservations about some of my positions, he nonetheless endorses the book “as a useful addition to any undergraduate or graduate reading list, . . . for it will generate debate and engaged discussion.”

Generating debate and engaged discussion—isn’t that what education is supposed to be promoting? Quite a far cry from the professor of art education who opined in an email message to me that my work wouldn’t survive the vetting process for peer-reviewed publication because my “arguments are inconsistent with current thinking.” (As I suggested to him, such inconsistency may place me in some notable company. My own favorite example is Ignaz Semmelweis, who bucked the entire medical profession of his day in his battle to protect women from childbed fever.)

In addition to Pariser, praise and thanks are due the editor of Canadian Art Teacher—Michael Emme, Associate Professor of Art Education at the University of Victoria. He not only published Pariser’s review but also welcomed my response to it (just published in vol. 14 no. 1 of the journal,2 and reproduced here with permission), made editorial suggestions that greatly improved its content, and graciously thanked me for contributing to the “rich mix of themes in this issue.”

Two more scholars merit acknowledgment for courageously fostering open debate in an often-hostile environment. One is the late Richard A. Ciganko, Professor of Art Education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Reviewing Who Says That’s Art? for Studies in Art Education (the research journal of the National Art Education Association), he argued that it would be “imprudent” for his fellow art educators to ignore the “serious questions” posed by the book. Finally, the journal’s book review editor—Laurel Lampela (Professor of Art Education at the University of New Mexico)—deserves credit for ensuring that the book was reviewed.

Hearty kudos and thanks to these four academics, who should serve as models to their colleagues worldwide.


  1. Nicholas Kristof, “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance,” New York Times, May 7, 2016. “Universities are the bedrock of progressive values,” writes Kristof, “but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.”
  2. Owing to delayed publication, the date on the journal is 2015—not 2016.