OK, so you may have noticed that I haven’t written any substantive posts for the past two days. Well, we’re gonna make up for that today, and then some.
On Wednesday I taught my disability studies seminar (syllabus available on request—just e-mail me), and then Wednesday evening and Thursday morning I put the finishing touches on yesterday’s talk. And here it is! All five thousand words of it. Yes, I know five thousand words is a long blog post, even by the standards of this famously long-winded blog. But it actually wasn’t a terribly long talk; it clocked in at about 35 minutes, and no, I didn’t read it at the “lightning speed” some people attribute to me. I read it at an entirely reasonable pace, and if you don’t believe me (and if you have access to Penn State’s Mediasite [this will be available to anyone with a computer for the next 30 days]) you can check out the audiovisual record for yourself. (They gave me a CD of the presentation, but I can’t figure out how to upload the thing.)
So, then, here’s the actual draft, complete with hyperlinks for extra bloggy pleasure. Feel free to take your time, of course, and have a great weekend. The quiz will take place on Monday.
I’m going to start off by saying a terribly obvious thing—but I hope that over the next half hour or so, it will come to seem less and less obvious as we go along.
The obvious thing is this: the title of today’s presentation, “Recent Attacks on Academic Freedom: What’s Going On?” can be answered in a single sentence. Academic freedom is under attack for pretty much the same reasons that liberalism itself is under attack. American campuses tend to be somewhat left of center of the American mainstream, particularly with regard to cultural issues that have to do with gender roles and sexuality: the combination of a largely liberal, secular professoriat and a generally under-25 student body tends to give you a local population that, by and large, does not see gay marriage as a serious threat to the Republic. And after 9/11—again, for obvious reasons—many forms of mainstream liberalism have been denounced as anti-American. There is, as you know, a cottage industry of popular right-wing books in which liberalism is equated with treason (that would be Ann Coulter), with mental disorders (Michael Savage), and with fascism (Jonah Goldberg). Coulter’s book also mounts a vigorous defense of Joe McCarthy, and Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. In that kind of climate, it should come as no surprise that we would be seeing attacks on one of the few remaining institutions in American life that is often—though not completely—dominated by liberals.
In one way, we have seen this kind of thing before. The American Association of University Professors was created, back in 1915, partly in response to the firing of professors who were deemed, at the time, to be insufficiently patriotic or dangerously pro-labor; more recently, even though the right wing claimed that political correctness was “the new McCarthyism” of the 1990s, and the left sees the current attacks as “the new new McCarthyism” of the 21st century, the truth is that abrogations of academic freedom in the McCarthy era were far more serious and far more widespread than anything we’ve seen over the past five years. So, in one way, it’s the same old same old: academic freedom has always been a tenuous thing, especially in wartime and cold wartime. Whenever liberalism is under attack, it’s a fair bet that academic freedom will be under attack too.
But in another sense this is an inadequate answer. Not all college professors are liberals, and attacks on academic freedom are dangerous partly because, in some instances, they can undermine the intellectual autonomy of conservative professors. And I don’t believe that this is the same old same old, either. What we’re seeing today is actually unprecedented, for two reasons. One is demographic: college professors have, in the aggregate, become more liberal over the past thirty-five years—though, as I’ll explain later on, most of the studies that have been done on this subject in the past three years are exercises in cooking the data. The other is strategic: for the first time in American history, there is an organized, national campaign to undermine academic freedom by appealing to the ideal of . . . academic freedom. And the reason it’s enjoyed such success in recent years is that so few people—faculty, students, and state legislators included—seem to have a good grasp of what academic freedom really means.
I assume you already know that we have in Pennsylvania a House Subcommittee on Academic Freedom. So far its hearings have been uneventful; one member of the subcommittee has even described them as a “colossal waste of time.” But it’s worth noting that HR 177, which created the Subcommittee, actually stipulates
that if an individual makes an allegation against a faculty member claiming bias, the faculty member must be given at least 48 hours’ notice of the specifics of the allegation prior to the testimony being given and be given an opportunity to testify at the same hearing as the individual making the allegation.
I think some people read that paragraph in July of last year, when it passed the Pennsylvania House, and imagined a dramatic scenario in which outraged conservative undergraduates would stand up and say “J’accuse!” at hapless liberal faculty members who’d had but 48 scant hours to get their act together and haul themselves before a board of inquiry. Happily, things haven’t unfolded in quite that way. There doesn’t really seem to be a flood of students complaining about their liberal professors; here at Penn State, it turns out, we’ve had 13 complaints over the past five years, a period of time during which nearly 100,000 different students have taken classes with 8,000 professors. And those thirteen complaints don’t fit any clear pattern, either; as Wednesday’s Centre Daily Times reported, in one, a Muslim student suggested that a professor was opposed to Islam; another student complained that a professor was too conservative. Though it’s undoubtedly true that some conservative students here believe they have too many liberal professors, outright instances of punitive liberal bias appear to be as rare as fumbles by Jerome Bettis. Which is, of course, not to say that they never happen, or that they aren’t dramatic when they do.
Pennsylvania is the only state to have passed one of these laws. But thanks largely to the efforts of David Horowitz, bills like HR 177 have been introduced in about twenty states so far, and it’s clear that in many cases, the legislators sponsoring them are doing so in the name of preserving academic freedom—but without having any clear idea what academic freedom might be. In Florida, for instance, State Rep. Dennis Baxley insisted, upon introducing a similar bill and shepherding it through an 8-2 party-line committee vote, that the legislation would help to combat “leftist totalitarianism” on the part of “dictator professors,” by allowing students to sue professors whenever they felt their beliefs were not being “respected.” At the University of Florida, the Independent Florida Alligator reported:
Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule”—for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class—would also be given the right to sue.
“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design [a creationist theory], and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.
In January 2005, Ohio state senator Larry Mumper introduced a bill one of whose clauses read, “Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.” The language is drawn directly from the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which says, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” I want to stress the “relevance” criterion here: we’re not supposed to steer away from controversial issues; on the contrary, it is part of our job to bring up controversial issues. What the AAUP insists is that we not introduce controversial matter that has no relation to our subject. That qualifier makes all the difference in the world; but Senator Mumper gave no indication that he understood it. When he introduced Senate Bill 24 last year, he was asked by a Columbus Dispatch reporter what he would consider “controversial matter” that should be barred from the classroom. “Religion and politics, those are the main things,” he replied. If Senate Bill 24 had passed in Ohio, in other words, there would be at least one state senator who understood it as a license to challenge the existence of college courses that deal with religion or politics. Bad news for political science, history, philosophy, sociology, and religious studies departments, to be sure. All I can say in response is that college is not a kind of dinner party. It can indeed be rude to bring up religion or politics at a dinner party, particularly if you are not familiar with all the guests. But at American universities, religion and politics are two of the hundreds of things we discuss on a daily basis. It really is part of our job, even—or especially—if some of us have unpopular opinions on those subjects.
THE PRINCIPLE OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM stipulates that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”; it expressly insists that professors should have autonomy from legislatures, trustees, alumni, parents, and ecclesiastical authorities with regard to their teaching and research. In this respect it is one of the legacies of the Enlightenment, which sought—successfully, in those nations most influenced by the Enlightenment—to free scientists and humanists from the dictates of church and state. And it is precisely that autonomy from legislative and religious oversight that helped to fuel the extraordinary scientific and intellectual efflorescence in the West over the past two centuries; it has also served as one of the cornerstones of the free and open society, in contrast to societies in which certain forms of research will not be pursued if they displease the General Secretary or the Council of Clerics. But today, the paradox of these legislative “academic bills of rights” is this: they claim to defend academic freedom precisely by promising to give the state direct oversight of course curricula, of departmental hiring practices, and of the intellectual direction of academic fields. In other words, by violating the very principle they claim to defend.
There are two more kinds of confusion behind the attacks on academic freedom, as well, and I’ll just touch on them briefly for now.
The first is that most critics of universities don’t seem to distinguish between unconscious liberal bias and conscious, articulate liberal convictions. They take the language of “bias” from critiques of the so-called liberal media, where it is applied to outlets like the New York Times and CBS News that, in the view of some conservatives, lend a leftish slant to the news both deliberately and unwittingly. But the language of “bias” is not very well suited to the work of, say, a researcher who has spent decades investigating American drug policy or conflicts in the Middle East and who has come to conclusions that amount to more or less “liberal” critiques of current policies. Such conclusions are not “bias”; rather, they are legitimate, well-founded beliefs, and of course they should be presented—ideally, along with legitimate competing beliefs—in college classrooms. Now, notice that I said legitimate competing beliefs. We have no obligation to debate whether the Holocaust happened. And that’s not a hypothetical matter. Late last fall, the philosopher with whom I co-founded the Penn State chapter of the AAUP, Claire Katz, informed me of a graduate teaching assistant in philosophy who had just had a very strange encounter with a student. The course, which dealt with bioethics, had recently dealt with the vile history of experiments on unwitting and/or unwilling human subjects, from the Holocaust to Tuskegee, and the student wanted to know whether the “other side” would be presented as well. I hope you’re asking yourselves, what other side?—because, of course, to all reasonable and responsible researchers in the field, there is no “other side”; there is no pro-human experimentation position that needs to be introduced into classroom discussion to counteract possible liberal “bias.” We are not in the business of inviting pro-Nazi spokesmen for Joseph Mengele to our classrooms. But this is the language with which some of our students enter the classroom; it is the language of cable news and mass-media simulacra of “debate.” There is one side, and then there is the other side. That constitutes balance, and anything else is bias.
A second confusion has to do with “accountability.” The argument goes like this, and I have heard it innumerable times in recent years, here at Penn State and at public universities across the country: We pay the bills for these proselytizing faculty liberals—we should have some say over what they teach and how they teach it. Public universities should be accountable to the public. And you know, at first blush it sounds kind of reasonable. The taxes of the people of Pennsylvania do go to support Penn State, and I take the mission of the public university very seriously. From Virginia to Illinois to dear old State, I have spent my adult life at public universities, and I will be happy to explain my teaching and writing to any member of the public who wants to learn more about it. But let’s look more closely at that funding, and at what forms of “accountability” are appropriate to an educational institution. Only twenty years ago, forty-five percent of Penn State’s budget was provided by public funds; back then, in-state tuition was $2562. Our level of state support is now down to 10 percent, and, not coincidentally, in-state tuition is $11,508. So perhaps it’s worth pointing out that state support has declined as state demands for accountability have increased; or, to put this more dramatically, I sometimes find myself faced with people who say, in effect, “I pay ten percent of your salary, and that gives me the right to screen one hundred percent of your thoughts.”
Now, Penn State as an institution is accountable for that ten percent of its budget. We should—and we do—make every effort to ensure that our funds are spent responsibly, and I think everyone who’s dealt with the university purchasing system will know what I’m talking about. Just this week, my wife and I have spent hours filling out forms and providing blood samples in triplicate in order to ensure that we are in compliance with university regulations every time we buy computer supplies or take a job candidate to dinner. The university has been defrauded in the past, and we need to ensure that our budget is not wasted on, say, the thousand-dollar popcorn makers that have now replaced $700 hammers as the symbols of waste and fraud in the Pentagon’s purchasing system. But that does not mean that legislators and taxpayers have the right, or the ability, to determine the direction of academic fields of research. And I say this with all due respect to my fellow citizens: you have every right to know that your money is not being wasted. But you do not have the right to suggest that the biology department should make room for promoters of Intelligent Design; or that the astronomy department should take stock of the fact that many people believe more in astrology than in cosmology; or that the history department should concentrate more on great leaders and less on broad social movements; or that the philosophy department should put more emphasis on deontological rather than on utilitarian conceptions of the social contract. The people who teach these subjects in public universities actually do have expertise in their fields, an expertise they have accumulated throughout their lives. And this is why we believe that decisions about academic affairs should be conducted by means of peer review rather than by plebescite. It’s a difficult contradiction to grasp: on the one hand, professors at public universities should be accountable and accessible to the public; but on the other hand, they should determine the intellectual direction of their fields without regard to public opinion or political fashion. This is precisely why academic freedom is so invaluable: it creates and sustains educational institutions that are independent of demographic variables. Which is to say: from Maine to California, the content of a public university education should not depend on whether 60 percent of the population doubts evolution or whether 40 percent of the population of a state believes in angels—and, more to the point, the content of a university education should be independent of whatever political party is in power at any one moment in history. Would I say this if Wellstone Democrats were in power in every state house from sea to shining sea? Absolutely. Without a moment’s hesitation. Legislative interference by Democrats would violate the principle of academic freedom just as surely as would interference by Republicans, though I suppose the interference would take a somewhat different form.
Now, about all those liberals in the universities. You know, all those hemp-wearing, pony-tailed aging hippies at the podium, still haranguing their students about the Vietnam War. Well, you might ask, so what? So college faculties are full of liberals—isn’t this like saying “dog bites man”? “Francisco Franco still dead?” Many people, it seems, aren’t surprised or outraged by this at all; they expect college faculties to be full of liberals the way they expect country clubs or corporate boardrooms to be full of conservatives; it’s just the way the world is divvied up. They get the money and the power and the finely manicured golf courses, and we get the survey classes on the American novel. Personally, I don’t see why conservatives would be complaining about this arrangement. To put this another way, the day American liberalism is identified primarily with Hollywood stars and college professors is not a good day for the cause of social justice. Surely, movement conservatives know this every bit as well as I do.
And yet, of course, I know why they complain. Their argument is that the liberal domination of some fields—like my own, English, and I could include most of the arts and humanities—is so complete that it can only be explained by deliberate, conscious discrimination. And as a result, their recent studies of the makeup of the American professoriate have strikingly (and demonstrably) exaggerated the liberal presence in universities.
One recent, comprehensive survey of the political leanings of professors, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute and covering more than 55,000 faculty members from 416 institutions, showed that from 1989 to 2001-02, the percentage of faculty members identifying themselves as either “liberal” or “far left” grew from 42 to 48 percent; the percentage describing themselves as “conservative” or “far right” held steady at 18 percent; and the group identifying itself as “middle of the road” shrank from 40 to 34 percent. The survey noted that “movement toward ‘liberal’ or ‘far left’ political identification over the last 12 years has been especially strong among women faculty: from 45 percent to 54 percent. . . . In 2001, 21 percent of male professors and 14 percent of female professors defined their political views as either ‘conservative’ or ‘far right.’” In the general population, by contrast, a 2005 Harris poll showed that 18 percent of Americans describe themselves as liberal, 36 percent call themselves conservative, and 41 percent are “middle of the road.” Interestingly, those data have held firm for decades: moderates have remained at 40 or 41 percent, conservatives have varied between 32 and 38 percent, and liberals have remained at 18 percent since the Vietnam War.
SO THERE’S REALLY NO QUESTION that campuses are teeming with liberal faculty, at least when campuses are compared with the rest of the country. That 48-18 differential is pretty significant, and the contrast with the general population is especially vivid in rural campus towns like State College. Curiously, however, those numbers are just not exciting or dramatic enough for right-wing culture warriors like Horowitz, so they’ve gone and made up some new numbers more to their liking, in order to portray campuses as places where decent hardworking conservatives can’t so much as get their feet in the door. In 2002 Horowitz teamed up with Karl Zinsmeister of the American Enterprise Institute, whose monthly magazine, American Enterprise, devoted the cover story of its September issue to a survey that apparently showed that liberals outnumber conservatives on college faculties by a ratio of eleven to one. The study was quickly picked up by George Will and U.S. News and World Report’s John Leo, and it made the rounds of mainstream media in due course. But it bears pointing out that the study is severely skewed. As Martin Plissner wrote in The American Prospect, Horowitz and Zinsmeister “sent student volunteers to boards of election to search out the party registrations of 1,843 college teachers at 21 institutions.” And though a liberal-conservative ratio of over 11-1 is stark, Plissner notes that these 11-1 dice are loaded:
In the University of Texas sample, for example, 28 of the 94 teachers came from women’s studies—not exactly a highlight of any school’s core curriculum or a likely cross section of its faculty. At the same time, none of the 94 was from the university’s huge schools of engineering, business, law or medicine—or from any of the sciences.
I should add, though, that some fields in the sciences have high liberal-conservative ratios as well, and it’s not clear how that could be the result of conscious discrimination, unless there’s some clearly identifiable form of liberal molecular biochemistry that I don’t know about. Back to Plissner:
At Cornell University, it’s the same story: 166 L’s by the AE bar graphs, and only 6 R’s. But not one faculty member in the entire sample taught in the engineering, business, medicine or law schools, or in any of the sciences. Thirty-three, on the other hand, were in women’s studies—more than any subject, save for English.
The methodology employed is similarly slapdash at the other chosen campuses. Harvard’s faculty of more than 2,000 is represented by 52 members from just three academic disciplines, all in the social sciences. More than half of the University of California, Los Angeles sample comes from just two disciplines: history and, once again, women’s studies.
My colleagues in the Department of Statistics call this kind of thing “Cherry-Picking 101.” But even if the numbers were good, what, in the end, would those numbers tell you? When you know someone’s party registration, what do you know about him or her as a psychologist or a plant botanist or an electrical engineer? An anthropology department stocked with registered Democrats can still be a contentious, unruly, even dysfunctional department, as can an economics department stocked with registered Republicans. And I can assure you that even in English, with all our registered Democrats, no faculty-meeting debate—about the direction of the graduate program, about the finalists for a new assistant professorship, about a new initiative from the dean’s office—gets resolved when someone stands up and says, “people, people—why are we arguing about the staffing of undergraduate courses and the desirability of hiring a medievalist? Surely we can all find common ground in hating George Bush.”
Still, conservatives insist that they are outnumbered 10 or 11 or 30 to 1. Apparently, a comprehensive study of over 55,000 faculty members’ self-descriptions, revealing that liberals outnumber conservatives by a ratio of 2.67 to 1 (48 to 18 percent) at over four hundred institutions, is just not good enough. No, they have to go and look up the party registrations of eighteen hundred faculty members in liberal fields at twenty-one institutions, because the data are tastier when the data are cooked.
[Speaking of cooked data: not content with exaggerating hysterically about the presence of liberals on the faculty, Horowitz has also advanced the bizarre theory that liberals utterly dominate the world of commencement speeches. In September 2003 he published in his online magazine the results of a “survey” which showed that “99% of graduation day speakers called themselves liberals, Democrats, or Green Party Members.” The survey was conducted by Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture; it covered a mere 32 of the United States’ 1500 four-year colleges (mainly places like Wellesley, Oberlin, Wesleyan, and Berkeley—famously liberal campuses where both students and faculty tend toward what one might call the vegan/ anti-globalization/ Vagina Monologues cultural left), and it listed people like Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Scott Turow, Cokie Roberts, Peter Jennings, Claire Shipman, Christopher Reeve, and Lowell Weicker as “liberals” while listing Alan Greenspan and Helmut Kohl as “neutral.” Greenspan and Kohl are, of course, openly partisan figures, whereas most of the journalists and celebrities listed by Horowitz as “liberals” are invited to speak not because they are liberals but because they are journalists and celebrities. (Oddly, even in this heavily weighted scheme of things, liberals, Democrats and Greens do not actually get 99 percent of the speaking engagements; Horowitz here claims that the left-right ratio is a mere 10 or 15 to 1.) The results of the “survey” appear on Horowitz’s website under the heading “One Last, Leftist Lecture,” and are accompanied by a picture of the Demon Lady herself, Hillary Clinton, dressed in cap and gown. That’s the campus according to Horowitz: leftist indoctrination at the hands of Hillary Clinton, Cokie Roberts, and Claire Shipman—and in a commencement address, no less.]
But why should anyone cook the data? It’s taken me a while to figure this one out, and I think the answer is kind of complicated. I can’t go into it in great detail now, but I’d be happy to take questions about it. Basically, it has to do with the Civil Rights Act. More specifically, with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. More more specifically, with Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the 1971 Supreme Court decision that established what’s now called “disparate impact theory” in civil rights law. Conservatives have been fighting disparate impact theory for 35 years, believing that it inevitably entails race and gender employment quotas. The idea is that if there’s an entrance requirement or an employment practice that leads to an underrepresentation of women or minorities in a field, that requirement or practice has a “disparate impact” on the underrepresented. Conservatives have long argued that this theory puts the burden of proof on employers to show that their application procedures and employment practices do not have a discriminatory effect; now, however, they’re pointing to the relative scarcity of conservatives on college faculties as evidence that faculty hiring programs and employment practices have a discriminatory effect. But they have provided no data at all on the number of conservative applicants in the academic labor pool, and it is not clear to me how anyone could begin compiling that kind of data in the first place, unless we start asking all academic job candidates to fill out fifty-item questionnaires detailing their positions on everything from the minimum wage to environmental protection to the work of Michael Oakeshott.
I know that some of this may sound like special pleading on the part of one more liberal humanities professor. But in closing, I want to insist to you that for the purposes of academic freedom, the liberal or conservative or radical-left or radical-right convictions of professors are actually beside the point. The principle of academic freedom covers all such convictions. But don’t take it from me; take it from a distinguished American intellectual who started out on the political left but who was horrified by Communism and spent most of his career as an outspoken conservative. Here’s the late Sidney Hook, writing in his 1970 book, Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy:
The qualified teacher, whose qualifications may be inferred from his acquisition of tenure, has the right honestly to reach, and hold, and proclaim any conclusion in the field of his competence. In other words, academic freedom carries with it the right to heresy as well as the right to restate and defend the traditional views. This takes in considerable ground. If a teacher in honest pursuit of an inquiry or argument comes to a conclusion that appears fascist or communist or racist or what-not in the eyes of others, once he has been certified as professionally competent in the eyes of his peers, then those who believe in academic freedom must defend his right to be wrong—if they consider him wrong—whatever their orthodoxy may be.
This is a remarkable passage, I think—all the more remarkable because Hook used this rationale at the time (again, 1970) to defend an impolitic young Marxist historian named Eugene Genovese, who had recently made public his support of the Viet Cong—and, as Hook notes, had become immediately infamous for doing so: because New Jersey’s Democratic governor rightly refused to fire Genovese from Rutgers on the grounds of aiding and abetting the enemy, the Republican gubernatorial candidate “focused his entire campaign on the issue of Genovese’s right to teach.” And Hook came to his defense. One wonders what Hook would have said about Ward Churchill. But I think it’s safe to say that we have come a very long way from principled conservatives like Hook to snake oil salesmen like Horowitz.
But you may wonder, why would Hook defend someone who voices his support for the Viet Cong in the middle of the Vietnam War? To understand this, we have to make an important distinction between substantive liberalism and procedural liberalism. For one of the things at stake here is the very ideal of independent intellectual inquiry, the kind of inquiry whose outcomes cannot be known in advance and cannot be measured in terms of efficiency or productivity. There is no mystery why some of our critics loathe liberal campuses: it is not simply that conservatives control all three branches of government and are striking out at the few areas of American cultural life they do not dominate. That much is true, but it fails to capture the truly radical nature of these attacks on academe: for these are attacks not simply on the substance of liberalism (in the form of specific fiscal or social policies stemming from the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society) but on procedural liberalism itself, on the idea that no one political faction should control every facet of a society. There is a sense, then, in which traditional conservatives are procedural liberals, as are liberals themselves; but members of the radical right, and the radical left, are not. The radical right’s contempt for procedural liberalism, with its checks, balances, and guarantees that minority reports will be incorporated into the body politic, can be seen in recent defenses of the theory that the President has the power to set aside certain laws and provisions of the Constitution at will, and in the religious right’s increasingly venomous and hallucinatory attacks on a judicial branch most of whose members were in fact appointed by Republicans. [Readers of this humble blog might want to take note of Chris Robinson’s remark in the comments to the previous post: “I heard a Senator argue this morning that Sam Alito will serve as a corrective to the left-wing excesses of the Supreme Court. And, yes, he meant the left-wing excesses of the Rehnquist Court.” To which I replied, “No doubt that senator—Cornyn? Coburn?—was referring to Socialist Workers Party v. Wal-Mart (2003), in which the Supreme Court abolished private property and established ‘worker’s councils’ throughout the United States. Alito will have his work cut out for him, I assure you.”] What animates the radical right, in other words, is not so much a specific liberal belief about stem-cell research here or gay civil unions there; on an abstract level, it’s not about any specific liberal issues at all. Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state. So, for example (and this is my final example, chosen especially for you librarians out there), when in April 2005 Alabama state representative Gerald Allen proposed a bill that would have prevented Alabama’s public libraries from buying books by gay authors or involving gay characters, he wasn’t actually acting as a conservative. Real “conservatives” don’t do that. He was behaving like a member of the radical right. Indeed, his original intent was to strip libraries of all such works, from Shakespeare to Alice Walker; and as he put it, “I don’t look at it as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children.” Thankfully, relatively few public officials see it as their job to protect the children of America from the heritage of Western culture.
But some do, and that’s why academic freedom is so important. It may not be written into the Bill of Rights—you know, the real one, the one in the Constitution. It is far younger than the rights enumerated there, and more fragile. But together with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the freedom of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, academic freedom is an aspect of procedural liberalism that is one of the cornerstones of a free society. If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom—and you should believe that it is a freedom worth defending.
Bravo. I have one minor quibbleI don’t think the proportion of funding from the state is related to the fundamental issue (for 100% funding from the legislature wouldn’t give the dear Pennsylvania legislature the right to censor you). But this is marvelous.Posted by Sherman Dorn on 01/27 at 12:31 PM
Sorry I missed the actual presentation. Excellent piece, Michael, and an excellent assessment of the situation. For me the most distressing thing about the whole so-called movement for academic freedom is the relentlessness of the right-wing message machine. It’s bad enough that people like Horowitz are indifferent to truth and hope to brainwash with repeated rightous and simplistic anger. I think higher education more “somewhere else” than certain issues--such as deaths and attacks in Iraq, rising utility prices, the failure of secondary education policy, or the racial inequity and government ineptitude around Katrina and Rita--that leap out in person, print, or on television and present stark proof of the falsehood of the carefully scripted messages coming out of the White House and being repeated ad infinitum by their lackies. Unfortunately many people--whether pundits, politicians, hack writers, or ordinary citizens--simply aren’t around higher education and, more specifically, the classroom that much, and so it’s easy for them to accept these allegations of bias and/or difficult to get a firsthand sense of how distorted the characterizations are.
I think, for instance, of even some locals or university staff who will talk about “all those liberal professors brainwashing people.” After a few questions, I find out that they know only a handful of faculty at best (all of whom are good, decent people), but the person is still certain that other faculty must be running around advocating bloody revolution when they’re not forcing students to recite Chomsky or donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to MoveOn for Hillary’s upcoming presidental run. Why? Because Bill O’Reilly said so. God bless him.
Keep up the fight!Posted by on 01/27 at 12:35 PM
I don’t think the proportion of funding from the state is related to the fundamental issue (for 100% funding from the legislature wouldn’t give the dear Pennsylvania legislature the right to censor you).
True. Thanks, Sherman. But I thought it was worth pointing out just how dramatically and precipitously state support has declined over the last twenty years, all the same. So, as you well know, public funding has been withdrawn while calls for “accountability” have grown louder (and have reached inappropriately into research and curriculum), as if taxpayers and legislators were ever more entitled to direct oversight of Penn State as their financial support of the institution declines.
And Brian, I think you’re absolutely right about the elsewhereness of higher education, even for people who work and live in college towns like this one. Somewhere, surely, there are hundreds (or thousands, I forget) of Ward Churchills running around. There must be. Because Horowitz (and then O’Reilly, and then Hannity) said so.Posted by on 01/27 at 12:46 PM
Nice post, as usual. One quick question: from where are you drawing your definition of academic freedom, that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”?
It seems to me that this description (at least in the part you quote) does not actually, as you say, “expressly [insist] that professors should have autonomy from legislatures, trustees, alumni, parents, and ecclesiastical authorities with regard to their teaching and research.” Research and publication are safeguarded, but teaching seems to be constrained by some notion of “adequacy,” which thus grants the freedom of research and publication.
Who determines what constitutes “adequate performance” of teaching (and why is teaching only an “other academic duty")?Posted by on 01/27 at 12:59 PM
Posted by Bulworth on 01/27 at 01:18 PM
One quick question: from where are you drawing your definition of academic freedom, that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”?
Richard—the full text of the AAUP Statement is here. As for the question of who determines the meaning of “adequate,” this too is a matter of peer review (on the department, college, or university levels, as appropriate). Teaching isn’t just an “other academic activity”; it’s addressed more fully in clause (b), “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”
Bulworth, there are clearly two memos making the rounds on religion in the public square. Mumper got one, and these folks drafted the other.Posted by Michael on 01/27 at 01:38 PM
I am increasingly disturbed by the action of this radical right...no, I’ll admit it, I’m afraid. And I’m tired of feeling that way. I sign petitions and send notes to my representatives. What more, would anyone suggest, do I do to feel more empowered in my position as citizen-professor?Posted by ms lynch on 01/27 at 01:58 PM
You’ve always written persuasively, but this one is a masterpiece. It is particularly felicitous that you chose to end thus--
“If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom—and you should believe that it is a freedom is worth defending.”
--because it is the birthday of W.A. Mozart, who was noted, if you will excuse my borrowing Mr. Mumper’s phrase, for “persistently introducing controversial matter” into his productions.
So here’s to Mozart, and here’s to all the profs who take creative tacks in their teaching.
p.s.: And now for the bad news: I’m afraid the Emperor has decided your classroom lectures do not meet the standards set forth by Provost Salieri. “Too many notes,” is I believe what he had put in your personnel file.Posted by david ross mcirvine on 01/27 at 02:19 PM
Excellent speech/post, Michael, as usual. And thanks for linking me—I’ve already had 50-some visitors today as a direct result. But you *do* talk reallyreallyreally fast, though not as fast as “Mr. Brown.” And was your department really *debating* the merits of hiring a medievalist? Did you, in turn, get medieval on their asses? (Last time I’ll quote that line here, I swear.)
I think I may be reiterating something that’s at least implicit in what you said, but it’s worth repeating or making explicit. Part of what may be driving the partial success the Horowitzian “cause” is a sociological and/or historical change in an understanding of authority, opinion, and belief, especially among the “iPod generation,” as I’ve heard the under25 set called. More specifically, there seems to be a widespeard wishy-washy conception of tolerance for ideas and opinions that suggests that presenting “the other side” (even when there is no other rational side, or muliple, polyhedron sides) equals “balance” and “fairness” and deciding which one is best is a mere matter of “gut” or “hunch” or watered-down opinion. Considering all reasonable argument (and disallowing unreasonable ones) then becomes, instead, “my opinion is just as good as yours” regardless of how (un)informed each of those opinions are. Add to that a pretty typical late adolescent (or perhaps human) over-emphasis on personal experience (which may have even been increasingly stressed in elementary and secondary education writing in recent decades) and the students have little cultural context for seeing professors as knowing more about or having considered more a subject, idea, issue, belief, or debate.
In other words, I think Horowitz and his ilk have been pretty canny in taping into a generation primed to hear his message. So it’s not just him and other conservative with whom we’re arguing and against whom we’re defending academic freedom, but it may also be a matter of battling an entire zeitgeist (if I may be permitted to use a problematic word).
Sigh. What can we do except continue doing what you are doing so eloquently—speaking publically, frequently, and, if necessary, loudly?
PS—Speaking of “ilk” and “canny” and other medieval words and phrases, I loved the fact that you said “more more” for “even more.” It reminded me of OE “swa swa” for “just as.”Posted by Dr. Virago on 01/27 at 02:31 PM
Excellent commentary. Your assertion that the radical right wants to control everything is dead on. They have already been successful with the MSM. So successful they still get to scream about the liberal media bias. After their ethnic (and ethical) cleansing of academia, I’m sure their next step would be in the direction of Hollywood.Posted by on 01/27 at 02:48 PM
Thanks for this Michael.Posted by on 01/27 at 03:35 PM
”...the truth is that abrogations of academic freedom in the McCarthy era were far more serious and far more widespread than anything we’ve seen over the past five years. ... ...Public universities should be accountable to the public. And you know, at first blush it sounds kind of reasonable.”
I am always, and constantly, reminded that educators across the grade level spectrum, employed by governments at all levels in the US, must still sign the anti-communist loyalty oath that grew out of McCarthyism. I suspect that there are “far-right” types who would love to have that oath re-worded to include swearing an allegiance to speak only the words they are told.
This is a great presentation and a necessary read for many. I have sent it to several friends in the academe who are struggling with these issues. Thank you so very much!!Posted by on 01/27 at 04:20 PM
I’ll have to read it this weekend. I just had time to skim the post, and, as usual, it was great. Damn, I thought I gave up cramming for exams decades ago!Posted by on 01/27 at 05:59 PM
Thanks for posting the transcript of your speech. Is it possible that the Q&A section can be posted as well, or was that not recorded?Posted by on 01/27 at 06:12 PM
Solid!Posted by on 01/27 at 06:49 PM
"Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state.”
I agree that academic freedom is important and worth fighting for, but it is also crucial to bear in mind that “the state” is not the only external body seeking to gain a foothold in higher education.
As a result of globalization (among other factors) unions have increasingly weakened in their ability to advocate on behalf of their traditional constituents. Autoworkers, for example, who are being terminated in stunning numbers, despite their unionization. These struggling labor organizations now turn to higher ed to augment and diversify their base. Their attempts to find a new market of supporters/due-payers also pose serious threats to academic freedom that few on the left seem to want to acknowledge. (I can already hear people laughing, but universities are potentially the new brass ring for those who have lost control over mediating within their traditional industries; you can’t out-source universities to cheaper countries just yet).
Religious movements, which are not necessarily all part of the “radical right,” also want a piece of the campus pie, as evidenced by today’s article in Inside Higher Ed.com The compelling argument they offer is that many students WANT spiritual life to be part of their education, so why would universities deprive their constituents/consumers of a product that is deeply meaningful and satisfactory?
Military recruiters also want unmediated access to students. So do internet spammers. In various ways, the academy’s confrontational relationships to all these different organizations and ideologies reveal the multi-faceted assaults on the multi-faceted concept of “academic freedom.”
It’s important to recognize that it’s not JUST the state/government carefully chipping away at “academic freedom.” And it’s important to UNDERSCORE that “academic freedom” is not solely the jurisdiction of professors, even if that’s how the AAUP chooses to define this term. There are other stakeholders, and Big Brother wears a lot of different coats.Posted by on 01/27 at 07:30 PM
Is it possible that the Q&A section can be posted as well, or was that not recorded?
It was recorded and is available via Mediasite, Severn, but I can’t reproduce it here without transcribing the entire thing by hand, which I don’t have the time to do. (Indeed, it took me two hours just to reformat my talk from WordPerfect to the internets.) But if you want to replay the Q-and-A, just download the video and FF to about the 40-minute mark.
And Student, thanks for the comment. To your list I would add the burgeoning student-loan industry, which, though not as ideologically motivated as the other “stakeholders” you name, has certainly become an important part of the higher-ed landscape.
Dr. V., thanks for a spot-on discourse analysis. But no, my department is not debating whether to hire a medievalist. We are, however, considering a number of Anglo-Saxonists, who go around saying “swa swa” as a matter of course.Posted by Michael on 01/27 at 08:57 PM
"Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I truly think the radical right is threatened by intellectual independence. Their reactions to dissent are quite telling; rarely do they argue a position solely on merit or with intellectual honesty. They’ll use any tactic to shut off the flow of contradictory ideas—Fox News is a perfect example of this behavior in action.
I work in a public school, and I’m a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, which is an admittedly liberal university in an admittedly liberal town. I’ve yet to meet a teacher in either setting who got into the profession to sway people politically. I’m sure my professors lean to the left politically, I know my fellow graduate students do (hey, it’s the social sciences), yet in class when students bring up politically charged topics, the professors tease out the ideas and deliberately steer the conversation away from the politics.
Is this because of today’s semi-oppressive climate? Perhaps, but it’s also because teachers realize that the ideas sometimes are overwhelmed by the politics. Given a choice between the two, most teachers I’ve met would rather stay in the realm of ideas. In other words, they truely value intellectual independence; agreement based on politics, not so much.Posted by on 01/27 at 08:58 PM
Where were you and all the other liberals in favor of academic freedom when Larry Summers was being asked to resign? Maybe if he had spoken out in favor of an enemy we were at war with, a la Genovese, he would have gotten some support.Posted by on 01/27 at 08:59 PM
First - great post/talk!
Now, to use Lakoff’s terminology: The sole goal of Conservatism is preservation of Conservatism and that goal justifies all means.
Schools (K-12 as well, but especially Academia) are the last bastions of (procedural) liberalism. Also, they are places where new generations are “indoctrinated” (both in the positive and the negative sense of the term).
Without access to the indoctrination of kids, Conservatism (again in Lakoffian sense) cannot destroy all of the opposition, no matter how much they control the White House, Senate, House, Supreme Court, other courts, state legislatures, school boards, the media, etc. Without turning every school in the country into Bob Jones U, they cannot guarrantee absolute rule for the future.
Another place where procedural liberalism thrives is the Internet. I cannot think of a third area of life in the USA today which is not dominated by procedural Conservatives (the “procedure” being: It is so because I say so” [and the captcha word is ‘because’ so, just because...]).Posted by coturnix on 01/27 at 09:15 PM
"from Maine to California, the content of a public university education should not depend on whether 60 percent of the population doubts evolution or whether 40 percent of the population of a state believes in angels”
That should be engraved somewhere (I don’t know, wherever). Because quite a few people don’t believe it - not even a tiny little bit. Many people think it’s an outrage that something only 9% of Americans ‘believe in’ should be taught in public school biology classes.Posted by Ophelia Benson on 01/27 at 09:59 PM
A valuable, persuasive contribution, Michael, thank you. I read it after trying to listen to the talk. Had to stop that though after being too distracted by something you do with what, your teeth, or your lips? That lip-smacking--did you realize you do that? A tasty speech, but still. . .Posted by on 01/27 at 10:14 PM
Where were you and all the other liberals in favor of academic freedom when Larry Summers was being asked to resign? Maybe if he had spoken out in favor of an enemy we were at war with, a la Genovese, he would have gotten some support.
And had he done so, dear Err, do you believe for a moment that O’Reilly, Coulter and company would have supported him? What a very funny idea that is! It makes me laugh until I cry.
As for where I was on the Summers flap: I was right here working on this humble blog, arguing (albeit implicitly) that Summers should have been mocked and ridiculed. Additionally, my frequest guest poster, Mister Answer Man, fielded a Summers question almost a year ago to this day:
Dear Mister Answer Man: In his defense of Harvard president Larry Summers, Steven Pinker responded to the question, “Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?” with some exasperation: “Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.” President Summers had mentioned, in support of the hypothesis that genetic differences between men and women might play some part in explaining the dearth of women in the sciences, his attempt to practice “gender-neutral” parenting by giving his daughter two trucks, only to find that she named them “daddy truck” and “baby truck,” almost as if they were dolls. Did Summers’ citation of his daugher and her trucks meet scientific criteria for “some degree of rigor”? --V. Solanas, New York
Mister Answer Man replies: Yes. The “Two Trucks Test” has long been recognized as a legitimate—and singularly revealing—research experiment by those who are wise in the ways of science. In some circles it is as widely used, as a pedagogical tool, as the famous lightbulb-and-two-apertures demonstration of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation. Additionally, one can discover a young girl’s aptitude for the sciences by weighing her in relation to the two trucks: the law of the conservation of matter proves that if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.
The point my friend Mister Answer Man was making, I think, is that if you’re the president of the leading university in the United States and you address the question of innate gender differences by talking about how your daughter names trucks, you deserve all the grief you get. But I never called for the man’s resignation. Just for the record.Posted by Michael on 01/27 at 10:18 PM
That lip-smacking—did you realize you do that?
I just noticed that tonight as I played back the video, jeune filly. It’s very annoying, distracting—and embarrassing, too, I’ll admit. OK, I’ll make a mental note to drink the damn water at the twenty-minute mark next time.
You might think I would know this kind of thing by now. You would be wrong. I just don’t see myself in the act of giving talks very often. I blame the liberal media for this.
And Ophelia, I’m so glad you liked that passage. I worked on it for a while—for precisely the reason you suggest. I wanted especially to stress the entire paragraph in which that passage appears.Posted by Michael on 01/27 at 10:29 PM
Dr. Virago: “Part of what may be driving the partial success the Horowitzian “cause”” [...]
Have to disagree, Dr. V—Horowitz has a classic astroturf operation, not really dependent on anything in society as such. He just has people funneling him money and giving conservatives the nod to back him up. Which is precisely why he’s had so little real success so far, and failed miserably at getting real student complaints and so on: there’s nothing there but piles of cash and a few phone calls.
If I had similar support, I could put together a campaign to survey the upper management of the largest corporations, divine according to Horowitzian principles their 10-to-1 dominance by conservatives over liberals, and start getting pension funds for unions to introduce stockholder resolutions to rectify this disparity in the name of shareholder value. Surely America’s corporations would run better if they were more like America, right? This would get press and maybe some symbolic actions by some corporations. But that’s about it. I think that the analogy with Horowitz is, so far, fairly exact.
Which doesn’t mean that you don’t have to fight him. The radical right is rich enough so that it can afford this kind of crap shoot, trying a large number of different astroturf campaigns knowing that some of them will get lucky.Posted by on 01/27 at 11:20 PM
"And had he done so, dear Err, do you believe for a moment that O’Reilly, Coulter and company would have supported him? What a very funny idea that is! It makes me laugh until I cry.”
I thought you were claiming to be above mere partisanship, and that unlike them you support the principle of academic freedom.
“if you’re the president of the leading university in the United States and you address the question of innate gender differences by talking about how your daughter names trucks, you deserve all the grief you get.”
So why is it a professor at a leading university who publicly supports the enemy during a war doesn’t deserve grief? Either you support controversial speech in general or you don’t. And Summer’s remarks, by any sane standard, were hardly controversial at all, and not even the most hypersensitive of feminists would equate them to praising the Viet Cong.
“If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom—and you should believe that it is a freedom is worth defending.”
I agree. It’s too bad you only defend academic freedom for those who share your political views.Posted by on 01/27 at 11:47 PM
a) I would have liked to hear more from you about the right to be wrong. I am not very familiar with the Enlightenment, but I’ve began to feel that the Enlightenment put pressure on Western epistemology to be flawless, which is humanly impossible. I feel, for example, that students arrive in class already feeling guilty for not knowing everything, and so when you bring up material they are not familiar with they feel condemned for being ignorant, as if human beings are omniscient. Teaching then becomes a performance to affirm students (with A’s) rather than an opportunity to facilitate reflection on issues. Does this come from the Enlightenment?
b) I was glad to hear your comments on the “other side”. But I feel you should have emphasized that the university and education in general are not there to provide “all sides” to issues but to be “another side” with a unique perspective. Every institution is designed to make unique contributions. There’s no point of students paying 11,000 bucks to listen to a repetition of what politicians say when they could have simply switched on the TV.Posted by on 01/28 at 12:58 AM
Err, did you read the speech? Remember that part about how you can advocate and discuss even very controversial ideas, in your own field of expertise? Is Larry Sommers an expert in the field of gender disparities or employment discrimination? Because it sounded to me like he was mouthing off about something he knew nothing about.Posted by on 01/28 at 01:08 AM
Michael, a question occurred to me in reading all 500 words: what do those Republicans in the business department think about all this? Do they appreciate Horowitz’s efforts on their behalf, or do they reall wish he’d shut up and go away? I hope and believe it’s the latter, but . . .
Also, good speech. I understand why my dad, the physics professor, talked about academic freedom. I didn’t see why it would ever affect him, but this give me a more overall perspective.Posted by on 01/28 at 01:12 AM
"Remember that part about how you can advocate and discuss even very controversial ideas, in your own field of expertise?”
So if Noam Chomsky is attacked by right wing critics for his political statements, he shouldn’t be defended on the grounds of academic freedom because his area of expertise is linguistics?
How was what Genovese said within his area of expertise? He wasn’t an expert on Vietnam or military strategy.
“it sounded to me like he was mouthing off about something he knew nothing about”
How would you know? It’s not your area of expertise.Posted by on 01/28 at 01:53 AM
Did anyone suggest government oversight of what Larry Summers says? Did anyone suggested that students who disagree with Summers should be able to pull him in front of a House subcommittee (with 48 hours notice, of course)? Has anyone demanded that the government reign in Summers lest he brainwash students?
Perhaps someone did, and I missed it. If anyone made any of those suggestions, I’d certainly disagree with them. But as far as I can tell, all that happened is that Summers made a deliberately provoking speech, with a predictable response.
Too many conservatives mistake freedom of speech for freedom from criticism. Larry Summers has the former; he does not and should not have the latter.Posted by Ampersand on 01/28 at 05:57 AM
Wanguchi, I’m not presuming to speak for Michael, but what I gather from talking to professors and other teachers is not that students don’t have a right to be wrong. The issue seems to be, for a few students, intellectual laziness. There’s no harm in being wrong; there may be harm in taking a stance that all disagreements are due to political bias.Posted by on 01/28 at 07:47 AM
Err is making a mistake, an easy one to make. “Expertise” is not the same as “our subject” for the purposes of academic freedom. Summers had a subject in which he had little expertise, and he spoke on controversial matters that were relevant to his subject. No problem with that from the perspective of academic freedom. LIkewise, Chomsky is a trained linguist, but he has also developed an expertise in the subject of mid-east politics, American excesses, etc. He’s a smart fellow (from whom I’ve also heard some really stupid things), and he has earned the respect of his peers. As long as he refuses to punish his undergraduates for taking positions opposite his own, he has done no wrong. “Expertise” is what we’ve developed an expertise in, and hopefully we’ve learned to not claim an expertise in things we know little about (this is indeed what annual performance reviews are designed to nip in the bud).
Political scientists lecture on philosophy, philosophers lecture on political science, literary critics think that can lecture on all of it, and economists take what they like and forget the rest. Expertise is one thing, knowledge is another. Academic freedom protects our pursuit of knowledge in community with others devoted to learning. Provincialism of the type proposed by Err is, well, errant.Posted by Ur Err on 01/28 at 11:20 AM
Oh, and another thing: Coulter and O’Reilly are not protected by academic freedom, but by first amendment freedoms to be viciously stupid, aggressively inane, and to defend McCarthy, internment, and the equation of liberalism with fascism. Once they get hired at a university near you, THEN they’ll be protected by academic freedom. And should be. (And MIGHT be).
[PS: The fuzzy word I had to type for my last post was “WAY” and for this one “HARD.” Is anyone else getting harrassed?]Posted by Ur Err on 01/28 at 11:29 AM
So why is it a professor at a leading university who publicly supports the enemy during a war doesn’t deserve grief? Either you support controversial speech in general or you don’t. And Summer’s remarks, by any sane standard, were hardly controversial at all.
Err, until you recognize the distinction between giving someone grief and calling for him/her to be fired, you’re not playing by the same rules as the rest of us. As for whether Summers’s two-trucks remark was sane . . . well, yes, I suppose it was. But rather stupid, too. Ampersand’s final paragraph in comment 31 pretty much nails it. Actually, Ampersand’s first two paragraphs nail it as well.
As for mouthing off outside one’s area of expertise, speaking as a citizen, etc.: see clause (c) of the 1940 Statement. It’s right there on the Internets.
Wangechi, I don’t think the Enlightenment put pressure on Western philosophy to be flawless, and I don’t think it’s to blame for students arriving in class already feeling guilty for not knowing everything—not least because I haven’t seen very many of those students myself. The salient problem with the Enlightenment, I think, was the gap between principle and practice: on one hand the assertion of universal human rights and the power of reason, on the other hand the claim that certain humans lack the power of reason and are therefore something other than rights-bearing beings. The answer to that flaw in the Enlightenment, in my own humble opinion, is better Enlightenment: universalism not as a stalking horse for imperialism but as an open-ended promise that can be challenged and redefined—universally—by any person or group formerly excluded by parochial definitions of the universal. I have more to say on the subject from the perspective of disability studies, right here.Posted by on 01/28 at 11:34 AM
The fuzzy word I had to type for my last post was “WAY” and for this one “HARD.” Is anyone else getting harrassed?
Ur Err, you’re claiming that this comments section constitutes a hostile environment? I’ll consult my attorneys, but I think they’ll tell me that the case law is unsettled as to whether a captcha function in blog comments can constitute harassment.
And hey! Thanks for linking to my “In a Just World” post from March of last year. I’m still hoping for Utah Valley State to make those appointments.Posted by on 01/28 at 11:45 AM
Somewhere in my net travels I came across the point that “academic freedom”, as classically defined, is a right of teachers, but not of students, which would be another major point of (deliberate?) confusion by the Horowitzites. The 1940 Statement seems to bear this out. Students have other rights, but to apply the term and model “academic freedom” to their right of reply, or of “balance”, is a radical redefinition of the term.Posted by DonBoy on 01/28 at 11:49 AM
Best part of my grad training/prep for teaching was the availability of videotaping services and visiting critics to give us feedback about how we appear in front of the classroom. Horrifying!
But, yeah, too fast at first; later, you slowed down, thankfully.
Love the beard. I shall update my blogroll lewdity accordingly! even though *sigh* my roll forever goes unrequited. ahhhh. courtly love.Posted by Bitch | Lab on 01/28 at 11:56 AM
Bitch Vertical Slash Lab, I’m sorry—I’m just the worst blogroll updater in the solar system, as Corndog, Phronesisaical, Ancrene Wiseass, Dr. Virago, Mitchell Freedman, and about a hundred other bloggers will tell you. It’s one of my 2006 resolutions, though.
Glad you like the beard. I just had an “author’s photo” taken, so I suppose that means I have to keep it around for another year or so. After which I will shave my head.
And DonBoy, you’re completely right. Not until Janet made this point (that it’s a major point of quite deliberate Horowitzian confusion) the other night did I realize how far the semiotic slippage had gone.Posted by on 01/28 at 12:25 PM
Dr. Virago: “Part of what may be driving the partial success the Horowitzian “cause”” [...]
Have to disagree, Dr. V—Horowitz has a classic astroturf operation, not really dependent on anything in society as such. He just has people funneling him money and giving conservatives the nod to back him up.
I don’t disagree with you Rich. Perhaps I should have said “very partial succeess”—as in the students who post their complaints on FrontPage’s message boards and the trolls at IHE. I agree completely that his so-called movement is astro-turfing. (As Michael points out, few actual complaints about professorial bias have been lodged at his university.) And maybe it’s completely accidental—and not due to any canniness on Horowitz’s part—that the “that’s just my/your opinion” environment is fertile ground for him.
I don’t think I was expressing myself very well. What I was trying to get at is this: when some of my literature students say things like “that’s not what I got out of the text at all” and then proceed with a “reading” that’s a impressionistic misreading, and are a little crushed when I gently suggest that they’ve misread the text, it’s because they think “what I got out of the text” is all that matters and one opinion/reading is as good as the next. I suppose that’s no big deal—it’s just a lit. class, right? But when that carries over to political debate, to issues with real material consequences, and to issues of academic freedom, it certainly *helps* people like Horowitz and such warped ideas of “sides” and “balance.” Perhaps it’s more sheer luck than canniness on Horowitz’s part that he stepped in at a time that’s ripe for his brand of lunacy.
Btw, my fuzzy word is “another”—as in providing another “side”? How ironic.Posted by Dr. Virago on 01/28 at 12:47 PM
What a great piece, Michael, thank you for writing it. It is timely for me as a colleague of mine, an award-winning writer and radical feminist, is enduring the ordeal of having been sued for opposing tenure for a young woman (who ultimately did not get tenure and is blaming my friend) whose idea of literary excellence is writing teenage romance novels wherein the heroines, at age 14, decide not to have abortions, and whose idea of an excellent addition to the Creative Writing program (in a state university) is “The Bible as Literature.” Another friend in a grad school program says her school has been sued twice this year by Religious Righters. In one instance, a student turned in what was basically a sermon on creationism, got a poor grade, and some right-wing foundation or another agreed to represent the sermonizer in a lawsuit against the school.
Having said all of that, to some degree, I think the universities and colleges are hoist on their own petards. The “my-opinion-is-just-as-good-as-anyone’s” perspective is, in my opinion, a sad legacy of postmodern theory misunderstood, run amok and over the edge, and (absurdly and oxymoronically) politicized. I also think the firing of Mary Daly from Boston College (for insisting on woman-only classes) was a shot across the bow far more academics should have paid attention to, an event which should have received far more public attention (and alarm. In Daly’s case, a male right-wing agents-provocateur, affiliated with a right-wing political/legal organization, enrolled in her class, without the necessary prerequisites, and challenged Daly’s woman-only policy. (Daly had consistently offered to teach male students separately, and note that this is Boston College, Jesuit, where women are forbidden the priesthood and its attendant coursework.) Daly refused to change her policy. She was then fired-- in her 70s after years of having been tenured for many years. She sued and there was a settlement but no admission of wrongdoing on the part of Boston College. I think that was a very clear case of a college kow-towing to the Religious Right, in large part, I believe, because it wanted rid of a controversial professor like Daly who had been a thorn in the administration’s side for years for her dedication to radical feminist politics. And few paid the kind of attention they should have, because they didn’t like Daly or her politics either; the ox being gored was a particularly unpopular ox. Well, here we are.
The distinction being made here between opposing ideas and resisting them tooth and nail and asking that people be fired for having them in the first place is right on.
Again, thank you, Michael, for this good piece. I will be forwarding it on to my embattled friend and others.
CherylPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/28 at 01:55 PM
A remarkable post/talk! When I get back to school on Monday--I teach at Nassau Community College on Long Island--I am going to forward the link to my colleagues. We are, of course, dealing with similar issues here, and I think what you’ve written will be a morale-boost-shot-in-the-arm, not to mention providing some marvelous resources and reasoning for the arguments we need to build.
Cheers!Posted by Richard J Newman on 01/28 at 03:24 PM
Nice post, Michael--one of your best ever. Funny thing is, I doubt there’s a single point in it that most of your readers haven’t already considered in one way or another. It’s putting them all together that’s the trick. In my case at least, I find Horwitzian/SAF arguments so maddeningly obtuse that when I try to engage them I can’t muster anything approaching this level of coherence or simplicity. I may have to commit this post (all 5,000 words) to memory.Posted by on 01/28 at 03:44 PM
"Err, until you recognize the distinction between giving someone grief and calling for him/her to be fired, you’re not playing by the same rules as the rest of us.”
Professors at Harvard called for Summers resignation, as did activists groups, most prominently NOW. For all your hot ait about principles and freedom and the enlightenment, you have a blatant double standard when you agree with the politics of those demanding someone be punished for speech.Posted by on 01/28 at 03:55 PM
What hot ait, Err? And what double standard? I never called for Summers’s resignation. You did understand that the first time around, right? This time around you seem to be trying to say, “some liberals called for Summers’s resignation, you are a liberal, therefore you called for Summers’s resignation.” I hope not, though. That would be very silly.Posted by on 01/28 at 04:18 PM
I think there’s a big difference between citizens or organizations “calling for someone’s resignation” and firing someone, or making it impossible for a brilliant “heretic” to be hired in the first place, and the difference has to do with who has power in a culture and who doesn’t, with whose sensibilities get enacted into law and upheld by the courts and whose don’t. The apparent inability on the part of educated people to see or to make such distinctions is disturbing. I have no problem with anybody “calling for someone’s resignation.” So what if they do? I sure called for Summers’ resignation in the full knowledge that my “call” was going to have negligible to zero consequences to Summers, also in the full knowledge that I have one voice that I’d best use in every way I can. My call for his resignation can’t be compared with filing a lawsuit against him or working for the enacting of legislation that would take him out on the basis of the (inexcusable) comments he made.
CherylPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/28 at 04:42 PM
"Many people, it seems, aren’t surprised or outraged by this at all; they expect college faculties to be full of liberals the way they expect country clubs or corporate boardrooms to be full of conservatives; it’s just the way the world is divvied up. They get the money and the power and the finely manicured golf courses, and we get the survey classes on the American novel. Personally, I don’t see why conservatives would be complaining about this arrangement.”
Yep. I have to admit that I have a particularly difficult time understanding this trope in the rhetoric of the radical right. It also shows up in arguments about how the media is unfairly biased because relatively few journalists vote Republican.
Since one important conservative value seems to be amassing stability, power, and influence through the collection of personal wealth (which is, I will note, not necessarily a bad idea in and of itself and is also something I seem to have no personal talent for), this kinda seems like a no-brainer to me. Academics and journalists are vastly under-paid and have to be willing to do their jobs for reasons that have little to do with the collection of personal wealth.
If conservatives truly want to change the demographics of academia and journalism, seems to me that they could easily invest some of their cash in, oh, I dunno, recruiting and endowing scholarships for conservative students in those fields. Or even in making the jobs better-paid so as to be more attractive to young conservatives.Posted by Ancrene Wiseass on 01/28 at 04:54 PM
"For all your hot ait…”
What is hot ait and where can I get some? Is it like that delicious artichoke-in-tomato dip I had once? Is it warmed-over V8? Is it Lanford Wilson’s unproduced sequel to “The Hot L Baltimore” (Hot 8) ?
In all seriousness, it’s a pity trolls like Err don’t support academic freedom, and are so beholden to their conservative masters they can’t think independently at all. pity. Bravo to Michael Berube.Posted by on 01/28 at 05:01 PM
Cheryl’s right to call our attention to precisely what kind of speech act “calling for X’s resignation” might be. I still don’t think Summers should have resigned solely on the basis of those remarks, but if we’re going to discuss them in a larger context, as well we should, we might as well remind Err (and everybody else) that this was the third controversy Summers had provoked since assuming the presidency of Harvard. (The first had to do with his criticism of Cornel West, the second with his remarks about criticisms of Israel.) As Stanley Fish put it last year,
One can say something about what issues the Summers brouhaha does not raise. It does not raise issues of free speech or academic freedom.
Stanley Kurtz opined in the National Review that Summers’s critics have “turned him into a free-speech martyr,” but that piece of alchemy could have been performed only if the hapless president had been prevented from speaking or punished by some state authority for the content of his words. In fact, he spoke freely (perhaps too freely), and if he is now suffering the consequences, they are not consequences from which the First Amendment protects him. . . .
To be sure, some on the left do want Summers fired because of the content of what he said, while some on the right want him retained (and celebrated) because of the content of what he said. Both sides, then, want, in different ways and for different reasons, to make Summers into a First Amendment martyr and turn this incident into a First Amendment test. But the content of what Summers said is irrelevant to the only question that should be asked: Is he discharging the duties and obligations of his office in a way that protects the reputation of the university and fosters its academic, political, and financial health? There is good reason to answer no, an answer that would flow not from the fact that Summers said this or that about women in science, but from the fact that, whatever he said, he said it in a way that brought Harvard weeks, and now months, of hostile publicity, led some alumni to announce that they would never give a penny to the institution, probably led many senior female scientists to cross Harvard off their lists, and gave late-night comedians and independent pundits like me a new target. That’s not exactly what you want on the résumé of your chief executive officer.
Defenders of Summers usually take two (related) tacks. They say, first, that he is an intellectual pathbreaker, and that (I quote from a particularly smarmy and pious editorial in the Chicago Tribune) his “comments were in the best tradition of free intellectual inquiry.” Not unless the best traditions of intellectual inquiry include opening up your big mouth to pronounce publicly on matters far from your area of expertise. Richard A. Posner, the conservative jurist and law professor and sometime Harvard University Press author, points out (on his blog) that, since Summers has no credentials in the history of science or the field of gender discrimination, the odds of his contributing anything valuable to the discussion of women and science were low, while, on the other hand, the odds that he would misstep in some way were high. On a cost/benefit analysis, then, speaking up as he did was a bad idea.
The second line of defense begins by acknowledging that Summers wasn’t exactly on familiar ground and was talking off the top of his head (with a little help from some members of his faculty), but contrives to make his ignorance a virtue: He wasn’t offering scholarship or long-considered arguments; he was keeping the pot boiling; he was adding to the liveliness of the occasion; he was being (and this is the word Summers himself has used in his many apologies) “provocative.” But being provocative is not in the job description; being provocative may be a qualification for a classroom teacher, or the host of a talk-radio show, or a backbencher in Parliament, but it is hardly first on the list of the qualities you look for when interviewing candidates for the presidency of a university.
I hope that answers that.
Oh, and btw, my captcha word is “death.” Now I feel threatened.Posted by Michael on 01/28 at 05:08 PM
Err, count me as a not-quite-yet academic who believes that Summers should have resigned, not as an academic, but as a member of the administration. I’m happy to entertain counterarguments, as I haven’t thought this through yet, but it strikes me that the duties of an administrator--part of which is to make large-scale hiring decisions--are different from those of just any professor. In this case, Summers more or less admitted to creating a nasty work environment in which women are less likely to be hired into the sciences than they would be without him. With opinions like these, he’s harmful not only to women, but also to his institution. The first sin is bad; the second sin represents contempt for or incompetence at his duties as University President.
Let him go back to being a Harvard economist (where he can recap successes like his instrumentality in kneecapping Russia’s economy (see The Nation 6.14.1998, “The Harvard Boys Do Russia"), and I’d be more than happy to let him do whatever he wants.
Hell, I’m looking forward to one day getting tenure and teaching the remainder of my classes in a blue speedo and a cape, strutting about with a bright red F across my chest.
Cheryl: nothing wrong with a ‘Bible as Literature’ course. The Bible is a literary work, after all. This ex-fundy atheist just did a bit of that last week in introducing my students to Paradise Lost, and I gave several lectures on the Bible years ago during my starter MA. The only problem is when tendentious interpretations relating to questions of faith become the subject of conversation in the class or part of the standards of evaluation, either for the students or teachers, e.g., if a student claims that the creation stories of Gen 1 (the one that’s interested in separating humans from animals) and 2 (the one that’s interested in separating women from men) don’t contradict each other because “The Bible’s the word of God and therefore can’t be contradictory.”Posted by on 01/28 at 05:28 PM
Goddammit MP. You posted your Fish quotation at precisely the point when I began writing and little comment: and now I’ve been rendered largely redundant.
Thanks. Thanks a lot.Posted by on 01/28 at 05:31 PM
How handy. I’m reading the Jones decision (in Kitzmiller), and I still have this window open, so I can just slot this extract right in here. Page 23 - from Judge Jones’s backround history of religious opposition to the teaching of evolution, and court decisions on same:
“the Supreme Court in Edwards concluded that the
challenged statute did not serve the legislature’s professed purposes of encouraging
academic freedom and making the science curriculum more comprehensive by
“teaching all of the evidence” regarding origins of life because: the state law
already allowed schools to teach any scientific theory, which responded to the
alleged purpose of academic freedom...”
Apt, isn’t it? Pure Trojan Horse stuff. And don’t forget - Judge Jones said the defendants lied.Posted by Ophelia Benson on 01/28 at 05:42 PM
Here’s another bit. Page 48. It’s all the same stuff, you see.
‘Consider, for example, that the Supreme Court in Santa Fe stated it presumed that “every Santa Fe High School student understands clearly” that the school district’s policy “is about prayer,” and not student free speech rights as the school board had alleged...’Posted by Ophelia Benson on 01/28 at 06:07 PM
I’m puzzled by the reference in #41 above to “The ‘my-opinion-is-just-as-good-as-anyone’s’ perspective’” which context suggests the writer believes is common at universities.
It is certainly true that quite a few students enter university thinking along these lines, perceiving a world of personal opinions about which nothing more may legitmately be said. This is sometimes a defensive pose: “what I got out of the reading was...” or “I feel...” or indeed “in my opinion...”, and then a wounded response if anyone suggests that what follows is ill-founded. Indeed that is possibly why, like “Err,” they conflate criticisms of statements with attacks on the right of people to make them.
But, Cheryl, it is the first task of university teaching to move past this kind of mindless relativism, and to develop ways that we can assess interpretations. The charge that universities are *promoting* this perspective needs some support.
I hope it’s clear that academic freedom is in no way freedom from critique. All of us critique other scholars in our writing, and we’d better hope to be critiqued in turn, because if we’re not being critiqued we’re being ignored. This is more or less the polar opposite of the alleged “‘my-opinion-is-just-as-good-as-anyone’s’ perspective”Posted by on 01/28 at 07:18 PM
Thanks for this, Michael. Those of us who teach feminist philosophy are in a particularly vulnerable position these days, and I’m quite sure Horowitz would like to see the last of us. This is what tenure is *for,* dammit! Don’t let’s any of us be fooled by the arguments for why tenure isn’t necessary anymore (as in, corporations don’t have tenure so why should academics?). There are too many powerful people who (a) don’t understand what we do or (b) are made uncomfortable by what we do for talks like yours ever to become unnecessary.Posted by on 01/28 at 09:20 PM
Karl, in general, I agree with what you posted there about Bible as Literature courses. I wasn’t suggesting they be forbidden, even given the hazards you describe (although I realize I wasn’t clear about that). The issue is, my friend’s opposition *to* such a course in her college (in an intensely red state, teeming with students out of the Religious Right, who would insist on precisely the kind of classroom discussion you describe and worse, and who already do, in virtually every other class they’re part of) together with her opposition to tenure for a fundamentalist candidate (who wanted to teach that course to those students; it would bother me a whole lot, too), got her SUED by this candidate, with the backing of a right-wing political/legal foundation. This is so although my friend certainly wasn’t the sole-decision-maker as to the candidate’s tenure. It was my friend’s own radical feminist politics and her opposition to religiously-oriented courses which made her the target of this suit.
Colin, I was responding to what Dr. Virago said in post 40 as follows, (and I apologize, I didn’t check to see if Michael’s blog is html or ubb so I’m not attempting to bold or italicize):
***Dr. Virago: What I was trying to get at is this: when some of my literature students say things like “that’s not what I got out of the text at all” and then proceed with a “reading” that’s a impressionistic misreading, and are a little crushed when I gently suggest that they’ve misread the text, it’s because they think “what I got out of the text” is all that matters and one opinion/reading is as good as the next. I suppose that’s no big deal—it’s just a lit. class, right? But when that carries over to political debate, to issues with real material consequences, and to issues of academic freedom, it certainly *helps* people like Horowitz and such warped ideas of “sides” and “balance.”***
I understood Dr. Virago here to be commenting on what I see continually in political discussions, this insistence that everybody’s political opinion or reading of a situation is “as good as” anybody else’s. As Dr. V suggests, this is not so big a deal when it is texts being discussed in a lit class, but it IS a big deal when it comes to politics, issues with “real material consequences.” The opinion of a white, middle class, conservative Christian heterosexual, married man about what political strategies might offer the most hope and relief for, say, a poor, lesbian woman of color are *not* “as good as” the opinions of the poor, lesbian, woman of color about what politics will best serve her. There are power disparities operating here, among other things, which have to be factored in to the value of these “opinions”. The opinions of, for example, Christian reconstructionists (these are Taliban-like Christians, a highly educated, highly published group) about “academic freedom” are not going to be “as good as” the opinions of academics in general, in that the Recons believe the Bible should be the law of the land and whatever is taught in the colleges is to be measured against the Bible. Should the politics of this latter group prevail, it would mean the end of academic freedom as we know it and the inauguration of, basically, a new Dark Age. But it’s the improper understanding of, or use of, really, postmodern literary critique—originally meant to *be* a critique of institutionalized Western power—which, in part, got us here, this pretending that issues of societal power and privilege and, especially, religious agendas, ought not be factored into evaluations of ideas and opinions, and that’s what I meant when I said to some degree, academia is hoist on its own petard, that it bears some responsibility for what has happened. I don’t think there was anything particular intentional about this; more like, the Right found a way to harness what was meant to be a critique of power to its own power-mongering agenda, something which more academics should have foreseen (and some distinguished feminist academics *did* foresee it and warned against it, but it fell on deaf ears, so here we are.)
HeartPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/28 at 10:06 PM
Oh my god! Thank you for this. I have to ask, may I post this onto my site? I just went through this...actually it was more something like an attempt at inimidation(which didn’t work). Alas, I would love to have this. Thanks. BrandonPosted by Brandon on 01/28 at 10:20 PM
A good piece Michael. Here’s my own libertarian take on some of these issues: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/20221.html . I’d be interested in what you and others think of the AAC&U document that was the basis for my blog entry, which can be found here: http://www.aacu.org/about/statements/academic_freedom.cfm
As a libertarian in the academy, there is nothing more important to me than defending academic freedom. And as you and others rightly note, there is a difference between criticizing and embarassing someone for saying something stupid, and actually hauling them before a legislature or threatening their job. I only ask that folks on the Left remember that the next time conservatives or libertarians do that to them.Posted by Steven Horwitz on 01/28 at 10:34 PM
Thank you for this piece. It is being sent to all three of my undergraduate sons who spend far too much time on the “Rate your professor” web sites complaining about the bias of their faculty.Posted by John Kuttenberg on 01/28 at 11:07 PM
Thanks Cheryl, but #40 is clear that all-opinions-are-equal is something that students bring in with them that Dr. V is heroically trying to resist. It is scarcely “a sad legacy of postmodern theory” as #41 suggests. The students who say this kind of thing have not gotten it from Rorty or Baudrillard.
You’re right that there is a simplistic identity-politics rhetoric out there that can be linked to the all-opinions-are-equal approach, and which a variety of political movements of different stripes have taken up. David Horowitz and others sometimes speak in identity-politics fashion about wanting conservative professors to teach conservative students. But that’s a parody of a parody, a mimicry of what they contend is their opponents’ argument.
I’m not sure what “postmodern” means to you, but you appear to associate it with a view of society as split into discrete groups each of which has an opinion about what is good for it that is better than the opinions of other groups. Who seriously argues that? That’s the parody that is being parodied.
Within feminist thought, for example, there have been decades of critique of identitarian notions of gender and sexuality. The “academia is hoist on its own petard” argument is therefore a little too pat. This is not to say that individual academics don’t ocasionally say things that get taken up opportunistically by different groups in different ways. But it’s the slide to “academia” as a whole, and to this “postmodernism” that allegedly characterizes it or once characterized it, that seem unfounded.
You’re hardly the only person to make an argument of this kind—that those of us who have made one or another critique have, in so doing, fatally undermined reason or truth or progress or virtue or the social whole, and thus bear responsiblity for this or that bad thing. But aside from the fact that this imputes to us a thousand times more influence than we have, such arguments are almost never based on careful refrencing of texts, and almost always characterized by broad gestures at the bogey of “postmodernism.”Posted by on 01/28 at 11:39 PM
Argh, I just wrote a careful response to you, Colin, and lost it because it was 5030 characters instead of 5000. Well, I needed to say it with far fewer characters anyway! Let me see whether I can.
I do not doubt that Dr. V is resisting the “all opinions are equal” perspective that his students bring into the classroom with them. If he were not, he would not have been able to articulate the problem so clearly and succinctly. But their perspective came from somewhere, no? I think it has made its way into the mainstream, originating in academia, over the last couple of decades. Hell, there is now a significant movement within the Christian church called “postmodern Christianity,” and youngsters being raised in conservative Christian homes are cutting their eyeteeth on it. (!) That came from somewhere, and I think it came, originally, out of the universities. Which doesn’t mean it was universally embraced by all professors by a long shot, but nevertheless.
I agree that “all opinions are equal” become identity politics is a mimicry of a mimicry and a parody of a parody, but that doesn’t matter to those who have harnessed it in the service of their attacks on academic freedom, like Horowitz, like the Religious Right. All that matters to them is that it is working for them politically. Which is why what Michael wrote resonates with so many of us. We can dismiss it all we like, and our dismissals will be accurate, in the meantime we’ve got scary folks like Horowitz and the Right posing very real threats to academic freedom in this country via the practice of what we are dismissing.
I think postmodernism has value to the degree that it interrogates and critiques western grand narratives so-called, and to the degree that it moves those who have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised in the direction of subjectivity by recognizing that art, literature, philosophy, ideas, politics emerge out of specific cultural and societal contexts in which some have enjoyed power, visibility and voice and others have not, have been made to be largely invisible and voiceless. My examples were meant to illustrate what happens when the heirs apparent to these western grand narratives—white, heterosexual, Christian men who can readily see their forefathers, men like them, in all of recorded western history—attempt to vault themselves out of power and privilege methodologically by practicing an identity politics arising out of the “all opinions are equal” perspective, intending to preserve, protect and defend a political status quo which protects the power and privilege they continue to enjoy. This is postmodernism turned on its head, but it did began with postmodernism, period.
When Mary Daly was fired, debate over her firing ensued. Instead of young, college-educated feminists and their teachers throwing down over a right-wing punk, backed by a right-wing political organization, taking an aging, brilliant heretic like Daly out, we had them defending the administration, and on what basis? That gender is a construct, it is “performative,” it’s not about what’s “between the legs,” and so Daly should not have forbidden male students. The material consequence, then, is that a right-wing punk takes Daly out and feminists, influenced by postmodern notions of gender as performance, inter alia, applaud and agree, all of which amounts to a victory for the Right in its goal of silencing unpopular teachers and their unpopular views and politics. And so it has gone in the universities where, by way of postmodern perspectives, women’s studies become “gender studies” with the ongoing second class status of women, something which is apparent to anyone who is paying attention, increasingly difficult to describe or confront. If there should be no category “woman,” for example, which is the postmodern perspective, then how will those of us who know we are women because we’re treated as women mount a challenge to those vested in our remaining in that second class status, or in the case of the Religious Right, turning back the clock a century or so? I think this is an example of the “material consequences” of making postmodernism political which Dr. Virago was talking about.
I have not meant to disparage academia. Thank god for feminist professors and women’s studies programs wherever they are, because that is about all we have left of visible feminism in this day and age. I do know that visible, brilliant feminists, including academics, have sounded warnings about the real consequences of postmodern perspectives and that those warnings have too often fallen on deaf ears. All along, though, there have been kickass professors, both men and women, who were not so deaf doing their damndest in difficult circumstances and I did not mean to suggest otherwise.
CherylPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/29 at 02:32 AM
"women’s studies become “gender studies”- Do you know I didnt realize this until you pointed it out? I think academia is definitely one of the last bastions of patriarchy and phallocentrism. Cheryl, could I post your response on my blog?Posted by Brandon on 01/29 at 03:04 AM
Brandon, sure, looks like a pretty cool place!
CherylPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/29 at 03:31 AM
The reason why I read your blog is that it is one of the few that combines wisdom with snark. Allow me to add passion to that list, Michael.Posted by Randy Paul on 01/29 at 11:39 AM
Absolutely brilliant Michael - a tour de force of insight into honest academic reality. Thank you.Posted by on 01/29 at 12:41 PM
Just to piggyback on Karl’s comment about Summers as an administrator, since he mostly beat me to it. Summers’ remarks took place at an academic conference on women and minorities in science and engineering, with the background of a large drop in tenure offers to women at Harvard since he became its president. He listed three possible explanations for under-representation of women. The first - many women can’t or won’t balance 80 hr workweeks with childraising - is a worthwhile issue. The second was the infamous genetics, innate ability (explicitly not socialization) and toy trucks babble, and the third was an out-of-hand dismissal of actual discrimination - gasp, shudder - because that would be bad economics, since any school willing to not discriminate would gain a big advantage by snatching up great women candidates.* Forget the name of this idea, which runs into a few problems with reality - ie, the same principle could be applied to orchestra hiring, except it seems that blind auditions, where the applicant performs behind a curtain, you end up with more women hired (Goldin, Claudia and Cecelia Rouse. 2000. “Orchestrating Impartiality.” American Economic Review 90:715-41.)
So the president of a university who has (a) presided over a time where dramatically fewer women are being offered tenure, and (b) promised to work on the issue following an uproar gets up and says, essentially, well, there’s simply no way there could be any (gasp, shudder) discrimination (despite a small mountain of studies documented differential treatment when gender is revealed, hidden, or obscured), so it’s really that women can’t hack it** and my daughter called her toy trucks daddy and baby truck, so obviously women are innately less suited to be scientists and engineers. Forget about any possibility of differential socialization! (whatever other differences might exist).
I didn’t call for his resignation (with my teeny-tiny insignificant voice). I did think this made it obvious he was rather unlikely to address the issue in any useful way. Not “fire him for that horrible un-pc thing he said, how dare he, that bad man!” but “well, now we see why % of women being offered tenture has dropped so much under Summers - everybody should yell at him for being a dumbass and a cruddy administrator, and that last may eventually end up being grounds for Harvard to boot him.” (The comments were made in the capacity as an academic; however, they relate to his performance wearing his other hat, so to speak).
Seemed obvious to me . . .
* amusingly, this same argument could be made against the Horowitzian spin-and-purge campaign, re: hiring claims.
** to be fair, he may have been thinking hard about ways universities could counter the social and institutional arrangements that make this a very real dilemna. Whatever. The whole tone and content - as reported, I never saw a full transcript - seems slanted towards avoiding any institutional (let alone personal) responsibility for gender disparities in hiring.Posted by on 01/29 at 01:08 PM
Cheryl, I’m sympathetic to many of your concerns and thank you for presenting them so patiently. Let me try to narrow our differences.
The story I’m hearing is more or less that some (you won’t say who) academics invented a kind of criticism that you term “postmodern.” It escaped from the lab, multiplied, mutated, infected popular culture to the extent that every 18-year-old knows it, swept over academia except for a few hardy individuals, got Mary Daly fired, and is now undermining feminism as a political movement by eliminating the category “woman.”
I have a simpler and less exciting story. Parts of 1970s feminist theory invoked powerful, stable gender categories. Since then a lot of work, in a variety of areas and theoretical traditions, has critiqued the idea that “woman” or “man” are coherently uniform categories across human history and across the world. And given our original theme of academic freedom, we should be delighted to see this critique!
I don’t have a single explanation for everything that’s happened in politics and popular culture in the United States for the last 30 years, but I strongly suspect that neither undergraduate relativism, nor Mary Daly’s firing, has a single explanation. In any case you need to do more than assert these connections.
*Any* brand of powerful critique can be used opportunistically. But unless you’re willing to specify who says what, and really think about how we show historical causality, we’re talking about monsters, phantoms, parodies. How postmodern!Posted by on 01/29 at 02:19 PM
All of your arguments are superceded by one simple fact which is conveniently ignored by liberal/leftist academics. Since liberals have taken over higher education students have become - what’s the word?- uneducated.
Individually and collectively as a profession, you should all be ashamed of yourselves. Instead of worrying so much about your “academic freedom” try exercising some academic responsibility by insuring that your college graduates actually get a college education that allows them to function in a dynamic society. That will go a lot farther towards safeguarding our open society than all your other bellyaching.
Study Says College Students Lack Skills For Complex Tasks
January 20, 2006
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON—Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.
Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.
More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.
That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees.
A sample of 1,827 students at public and private schools in 2003 was evaluated. Margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Pew Charitable Trusts funded the survey.Posted by on 01/29 at 04:09 PM
Since liberals have taken over higher education students have become - what’s the word?- uneducated.
I just read that article, and there’s no a wit of comparative analysis across time. There’s no indication that college-educated types were any better prepared for the world 100 years ago than they are now.
Nor is there any comparison to college graduates in other countries with a breakdown according to the general political affiliations of the faculty of those foreign schools.
Nor, for the analysis within this country, is there any discussion about whether these studies are majoring in English--typically dominated by liberals--or business and econ--typically dominated by conservatives.
Moreover, you’re faced with the simple fact that there’s just a much larger percentage of the population entering college than there was in this unexamined, perhaps mythical time before liberal academia stopped teaching children how to spell or calculate compound interest. Result of that? I’ll leave probable results on the data to the statisticians.
Try again, troll; and next time try to stay on topic.Posted by on 01/29 at 04:38 PM
Irene, Karl, et al: Along those lines, you may be interested to read Bob Somerby’s recent take at the Daily Howler.Posted by on 01/29 at 05:40 PM
Mr. Bérubé, thank you so much for writing this. I’m an adjunct at a small liberal arts college in NC, and I often grapple with these issues myself. I’m so glad that you have articulated this so well.Posted by Jason Erik Lundberg on 01/29 at 05:41 PM
A commentator upthread has already made reference to the notion of being hoisted by one’s own petard, and I’d like to second that argument.
The liberalism of the academy has wrought restrictive speech codes for students and faculty, workshops inflicted upon innocent men so that they may learn to be sensititve to the gender crimes that they may one day commit, the propogation of ideological tainted notions like “race doesn’t exist,” Gilligan’s “women’s voice” and the stifling of inquiry of those academics who challenge liberal canon, not to mention abominations like dispositions theory.
Last year, a UNLV economist was sanctioned for noting in his economics class that gays tend to plan less for the future than do heterosexuals. An Australian law journal was threated with closure if they published a peer reviewed article that questioned Australia’s immigration policy, and the author was sanctioned by his own institution for having written the article.
Let’s look at what happens when liberal perspectives become really threatened. Arthur Jensen, with over 400 peer reviewed articles, is subjected to immense pressure from colleages, administration and students after his 1969 article. Ontario professor Rushton is investigated for hate crimes and censured by his University. The father of Finland’s Prime Minister, an emeritus professor, faces a similar fate for publishing a book which noted the moderate correlation between a nation’s GDP and the mean IQ of its citizens. Or look to the sociobiology wars launched by Gould, Lewontin and their fellow Marxists against E.O. Wilson and his work.
All of this type of inquiry runs against the liberal grain and the calls for academic freedom were non-existent and please don’t even bother with the defense that this research is equivalent to the human experimentation example you noted above, not when we see research reporting findings like:
Moreover, although g correlates with the parental value, it has a tendency to be closer to the population mean, suggesting a regression to the mean. These observations suggest that some genetic variants that influence g will vary between populations rather than within populations. For instance, certain Asian populations have a frequency of 0.60 in COMT Met158 allele, which predicts lower COMT-enzyme activity and thereby better cognitive performance, while Caucasians have a frequency of 0.42 for the same allele.
When you have guys like Stanford’s Botstein having to demur on interesting research because colleagues fear that he would uncover a linkage between violence and genetics and that there could be a racial component to allelic distribution, then the climate of fear in academia, a fear of liberal retribution, is quite real.
It’s quite easy to call for academic freedom when it’s in support of your own work, bias, or ideology but the real test of such conviction is to support the works and ideology with which you have deep disagreement and the history of liberal action on this test points to failure. Hoisted by your own petard or perhaps getting your just desserts in having to endure what smallminded liberalism has inflicted on those not in their camp.
That said, I don’t think outside agencies imposing control measures are an ideal situation but the academy has shown itself unwilling to live by the code that you profess so I don’t really see another viable solution. Advocating adherence to the ideal while actually practicing a corrupted version of the ideal simply leads to hypocrisy.Posted by on 01/29 at 06:26 PM
Well Karl the Grouch,
You certainly live up to your moniker.
I’m not a troll. And, since you lack reading comprehension skills, let me clarify: I did stay on topic. The good professor’s conclusion to his essay was: “If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom—and you should believe that it is a freedom is worth defending.”
I was challenging him with the very simple and straight forward proposition that academic freedom comes with academic responsibility and that BOTH are needed for an open society to function. His essay, unfortunately was long on the freedom part and short on the responsibility part.
This point is pretty academic - albeit conveniently overlooked. Professors spend days and days writing thousands of words about academic freedom being under attack. Now, the average person like me asks themselves, “WOW! Where are all these liberal professors whose writings and speeches have been censored? Call in the ACLU, now!”
But this is patently absurd. There has been no censoring whatsoever. So, this is all bellyaching.
What is NOT patently absurd, however, has been the academic left’s silence on professors falsifying their credentials (Ward Churchill), left wing professors intimidating and censoring students from Israel studying in the U.S. (Columbia University), and last, but certainly not least, liberal professors’ curricula failing to teach THE MAJORITY of students going to university even the most basic skills necessary to live and work and be successful in our open society.
So to sum up. On average, across this country, liberal academics spend a lot of time and energy protecting something that doesn’t need much protection (academic freedom) and not enough time doing what they’re supposed to be doing, i.e., teaching students and safeguarding the integrity of their guild.
The points you make are specious. There is no need to do any type of international comparative analysis - or to time travel back 100 years - to understand that something is terribly wrong here. When the majority of upcoming college grads cannot understand newspaper editorials - let’s just forego calculating compound interest altogether - I worry for our country.
Oh, and Mr. Grouch, how about your real name? Or are you just another leftist coward afraid to stand by what they write?
P.S. Perhaps you can explain what you meant by you’ll “leave probable results on the data to the statisticians.” The only thing that that sentence communicates is that the author doesn’t know squat about what he’s writing.Posted by on 01/29 at 06:34 PM
Thank you for this post. It’s put a lot of ideas together that have been rattling around for me. As a future academic (currently in grad school at PSU) and resident vocal liberal of my laboratory, academic freedom and differences between the rights and obligations of facuty and administrators are topics of great importance to me. Again, thanks!Posted by on 01/29 at 06:35 PM
Even though she is insufferably rude, Ms. Bernhard has a valid point about how liberals have corrupted American education. Since the liberals took over the Internets, for example, fewer and fewer people have been able to spell “supersede” correctly. Why, thanks to liberals, some of the people of the United States are so downright stupid as to defend Arthur Jensen and to insist that American universities need to be policed because Steven Jay Gould disagreed with E. O. Wilson. Ah, what has become of our intellectual standards? I blame Michael Bérubé.Posted by on 01/29 at 06:56 PM
But this is patently absurd. There has been no censoring whatsoever. So, this is all bellyaching.
This is the best kind of logic. You’re saying that since no one is currently being censored--at the moment--it’s silly to waste one’s breath in responding to the attempts of state legislators to open the door to widespread censorship and intellectual coercion of academic workers. You’re right, Irene. We should wait until after our students can sue us for not teaching the “pro-human experimentation” perspective to start bellyaching.
I thought Karl did a fine job of reading your initial post, by the way. He was saying that you were calling for responsibility, but cited evidence that in no way showed a lack of resposibility. He got your drift.
Sorry, Michael. I’ll stop feeding them.Posted by on 01/29 at 07:17 PM
Steven Jay Gould disagreed with E. O. Wilson.
If only the disagreement was restricted to arguing against mixed-up Marxists like Gould the whole incident would’ve been a minor academic squall, but when:
In due course CAR members attacked Wilson — once physically — hounding and shouting him down in public. Although the shouting has abated, the slurs have never really ended. Meanwhile, Wilson has gone on to win every honor and international prize available to a scientist of his interests, and steadily to publish important new work far outside the field of sociobiology.
Physical attacks, stalking, and intimidation are of a different class than waging an intellectual battle in print and debate, wouldn’t you agree?
Also, I noticed your silence on the issue of censure, dismissal, and police investigation. Oh, and if you’ve got an issue with any of the 400 peer reviewed articles published by Jensen, then make your case by living up to the ideals of academic debate.Posted by on 01/29 at 07:36 PM
full moon?Posted by on 01/29 at 07:47 PM
And empty arms, no doubt.Posted by on 01/29 at 07:50 PM
My apologies for any words mispelt - whoops! That’s misspelt. So in the interest of full disclosure, let’s not miss my insure instead ensure and - I think in my rush to go grocery shopping before the rain started - there may be one or two others.
Now that we’ve gotten that supremely important topic out of the way, let me reiterate my shock at how not one of you has addressed the main thrust of my argument, i.e., the breakdown in higher education that has occured during the tenure of the liberal academic establishment.
But, of course, that’s not the responsibility of the faculty, right Lee Gildewell? It seems the only responsibility considered important is their ever-imminent lack of academic freedom.
P.S. Glad to see that freedom to express contrary opinions (even if slightly sarcastically) is equivalent to being a troll by all you people. I can see just how committed you are to freedom of speech - and most especially when it doesn’t coincide with your own dearly held beliefs. Just one more endearing trait of the liberal left!Posted by on 01/29 at 08:13 PM
Yet another of our endearing traits is that we put up with all kinds of insults from people claiming to engage in dialogue.
Now, Irene, dear soul, your argument actually didn’t have any main thrust, because it didn’t have any basis. You’re right to say that college graduates should have sharper intellectual skills. You didn’t come close to making even a plausible case that this has anything to do with liberal professors, or with the defense of academic freedom.Posted by Michael on 01/29 at 08:34 PM
Now that we’ve gotten that supremely important topic out of the way, let me reiterate my shock at how not one of you has addressed the main thrust of my argument, i.e., the breakdown in higher education that has occured during the tenure of the liberal academic establishment.
Actually, someone has (Karl the Grouch). In your reply you indicated that “no one has to bother” with proving that the situation of today is any worse than the situation of 100 years ago. Yet now you are explicitly claiming that it is. Here is a question for you: What is your evidence for that claim?
Note that citing the article you mentioned in your original post does not count as evidence for this specific claim. All that article claims is that this is the situation NOW. It does not claim that it is any different from what it was THEN (pick your decade/century, etc).Posted by on 01/29 at 08:44 PM
Ah, I take back the quotation marks around no one has to bother. What Irene actually said was, “There is no need”.Posted by on 01/29 at 08:58 PM
It is ludicrous to blame the lack of what you call essentials for living in the modern world on “liberal” academia. That is akin to saying because a student agrees with a teachers view on the treacheries of capitalism, that no matter what the quality of a given paper, he/she is passed pell mell! Well, that is the implication, is it not? As if they were sworn in some secret society - that if they adhere to essential beliefs (wink,wink) all will be well with their grades - absolutely absurd! Or that poor education can be equated with one’s political leaning.
Let me use a worn out phrase from the far right - there are certain issues that are the students “personal responsibility” before they enter the classroom. Reading comprehension is an aquired trait that should be instilled in the young adult before they reach a campus of higher learning. Perhaps you should revamp the “no child left behind” issue that produces parrots rather than thinking pupils. Of course, there are certain realities that hamper teaching these days - like being *bell curved* to death! Take a prepatory class before you begin your course, and stop whining about basics you should have aquired earlier in life. Next thing you know some students will be arguing that it is the professors duty to help sharpen cursive writing skills!
When you have left the hallowed halls of academia it is hoped that you have an ability to grasp worldviews - and to understand, perhaps a bit better, why the world is afire with atrocities. That somehow, you will be better able to stand in the gap and argue for sanity, in your small circle. Maybe you will be able to comprehend that we do not live in an open society, but one fraught with prejudices, harmful agenda, and issues that are crying out for attention. If you do not consider this, learning how to grapple with percentage points, or, to be able to comprehend a mundane column in corporate media will be a extinct, elite luxury - and it still will have nothing to do with “liberal” academia! (for all you budding pendants out there, I was not trying to write a learned treatise, so pardon my poor writing skills - I just hope I remember that secret handshake with my teacher so I can get a passing grade....)Posted by Virgil Johnson on 01/29 at 09:08 PM
Over 70% of academics and teachers identify themselves as liberals. Most, if not all, teaching theories implemented in schools over the last 30 years have been from the liberal ranks. So, if kids aren’t getting educated, who’s to blame here?
I am not a fan of no child left behind. But get your facts straight. Had all those brilliant liberal educational theories of the last 30 years worked, there would have been no reason for that program in the first place.
Similarly, if all those brilliant liberal educational theories of the last 30 years worked, we wouldn’t be seeing 50% rates of upcoming college grads unable to decipher a simple table or read and comprehend an op/ed piece.
My point still hasn’t been addressed. How about liberal academics putting as much effort into academic responsibility as academic freedom? The former is in much more need of rescuing than the latter.
And Mr. Virgil Johnson, are you channeling Bill O’Reilly? The answer to your question is, “No, it is not.” And isn’t it rather telling that you use as an example “treacheries of capitalism” (or were you being post-modern ironic there?). I’d just love to hear the list of the treacheries of capitalism that you have suffered from. Remind me to tell you about the treacheries of communism one day and all about those members of my family sent to gulags or worked to death (literally) in the mines of upper Siberia. And goodness! They didn’t even receive minimum wage, let alone OSHA protection. But hey, their fate was no worse than the 60-100 million other workers and families murdered or starved to death by the communists this last century.
I can see from the internationalist stance that many of you take, the anti-capitalist off-the-cuff comments, the nasty insinuation that perhaps I don’t get f*cked enough, etc. that most of you are just cookie cutter leftists.
I’m not even a Republican (I’d hate to see what you’d say to them). I’m just truly upset to see leftist/liberal academics in this country who give more of a sh*t about their precious freedom that’s never been attacked in the last 30 years than about their students. Oh yes, that’s another leftist ploy. Argue imminent threat of a non-existent problem to deter attention away from a real problem. How typical.Posted by on 01/29 at 09:55 PM
Evidently you do not believe it to be the responsibility of scholars and teachers to defend academic freedom.
What do you mean, then, by “responsibility?” Let’s hear it.Posted by on 01/29 at 10:20 PM
There’s no “full moon”, there’s just astroturf. Or that’s my guess, anyway. (Astromoon? Hmm. Oxymoronic, perhaps appropriate.)
When people do one of these surveys about why either incoming college freshman or college graduates can’t do something or other, there is very rarely any historical context. There is even more rarely any consideration of what percentage of the population is going to college now than did in past decades. Most rare is any consideration of where the educational failure is really occuring, and whether it is possible to fully catch up in college after bad preparation beforehand.
I could just as easily make up an “academic responsibilities!” argument from a leftist angle. It goes like this. Why are students so poorly prepared? Because of poor secondary education (i.e. grade school and high school). Why are they so bad in the U.S.? Because of localism; poor areas do not share resources with rich areas, and are neglected. Therefore, we must put all secondary education under central governmental funding, get rid of local school boards, and if anyone complains, they are not facing up to their academic responsibility to prepare all students. Q.E.D.
In general, this kind of thing is why responsibility language is not part of the founding liberal documents that created most of the structures of the U.S. republic. They’re big on saying that the government can’t do things, and that individuals have certain rights. Later on, people even talking about positive rights: the idea that a certain degree of redistribution was necessary in order to guarantee that people had actual rather than nominal abilities to do things. But a focus on individual responsibilities? That’s for authoritarian states.Posted by on 01/29 at 10:44 PM
"Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.”
Irene, the above quote was lifted from the article which you are using in order to condemn liberal education. Notice I said article, because you haven’t linked the study.
Has education been declining steadily for the past thirty years? Or did it sink to a wretched level all at once thirty years ago, as soon as the liberals got involved, a level from which it has never recovered? Because unless my reading skills are failing me, the college students are outperforming the adults who were educated before the educational system morphed into the dysfunctional, liberal childcare service it is today. Before the professors spent so much energy fighting non-existant legislation that they no longer had the energy to teach students to read credit-card offers.
How’d that happen?Posted by on 01/29 at 10:51 PM
Has education been declining steadily for the past thirty years?
Far from getting cleverer, our 11-year-olds are, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Or so say a team who are among Britain’s most respected education researchers.
Posted by on 01/29 at 11:10 PM
Posted by coturnix on 01/29 at 11:28 PM
And yet, and yet…
“If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in academic freedom"…
I would have thought that if you indeed believed in those ideals you would not have particularised academic freedom among the freedoms that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Every addition to academic freedom is a subtraction from general freedom. Expressio unius est exclusio alterius. OK, you’re losing the general battle and are anxiously wondering whether your forces can hold out in the Alamo until help comes, but that doesn’t mean you have to adopt that as the way things ought to be.Posted by Chris B on 01/29 at 11:56 PM
This is a fascinating batch of comments. Kudos for generating good discussion, Michael.
Regarding Student’s comment (#16), to which Michael apparently assented (#17), I wonder how exactly the unionization of teaching assistants (or other campus personnel) constitutes a “serious threat” to academic freedom. I have heard academic freedom invoked by university personnel hostile to grad student organization and by professors confronted with the fact that they were overworking their TAs (or were requiring them to perform inappropriate work such as household chores). I have also heard the UAW characterized as an outsider organization imposing its will upon powerless grad students - as though TAs in a UAW-affiliated local were somehow exploited but too naive to realize it. (I guess we’re suckers for all the higher pay, health insurance, and enforceable workplace rights.)
But I have never heard an actual instance of conflict between a TA union and academic freedom. Can you offer any evidence for this, Student? Michael, did you have something in mind?
For that matter, I don’t see how military recruiters, internet spammers, or student-loan companies threaten academic freedom specifically, even if they do affect other aspects of university life. Do these entities constrain what professors may teach, study, or publish?
Along the same lines, Student’s assertion that “‘academic freedom’ is not solely the jurisdiction of professors” doesn’t quite mesh with DonBoy’s later comment (#37) that “‘academic freedom’, as classically defined, is a right of teachers, but not of students.” Clarification, please.Posted by on 01/30 at 12:07 AM
The funny thing, dear Irene, is that undergraduate literacy is highest in fields like English, where there are so few conservative professors to be found. But even if this were not so, the argument “college students are underperforming, so we need abrogations of professors’ academic freedom” would remain illogical on its face.
But you know, poor logic is one thing. Showing up on someone’s blog and repeatedly insulting its author and its regular readers is quite another. No one here has speculated on your sex life. Nor has anyone one here merited the venom with which you speak of liberals. Finally, your claim that academic freedom has not been attacked in thirty years is stunningly ignorant. It’s been instructive to hear from you, Ms. Bernhard, but now you’ve had your say.
As for TangoMan, I have to admit that American liberals are very likely to blame for recent British test results. I’ll get to work on this.
Last, Million B.C.: I actually disagreed with some of Student’s remarks in #16, as it happens. You’ve identified two of them.Posted by Michael on 01/30 at 12:30 AM
Irene, I can sense your frustration about this subject, and the answer is that it goes much deeper that mere teaching philosophies and methodologies over the past 30 years. You are correct that my previous post was a bit of baiting - I did not know where you were coming from and I came off crude. As far as “channeling Bill O’Reilly” take a look at my blog - if you find anything that remotely resembles him I will give you a crisp hundred dollar bill!
Rather than certain failed methodologies in education it is the entire framework of education - it’s foundation and reason for public existence. What Mr. Puchalsky says is definitely a factor - the quality of education has been privatized to the wealth of the community, this is a pertinent but minor factor.
I am sorry for the brevity of what I am about to write. The school system represses independence, it teaches servile obedience - supposedly making you a productive citizen. The students are not induced to challenge or question (except in a restrictive fashion), but to repeat and obey, to follow orders. The prevents many childrens natural capacity and impetus for learning - it is devastating because it contradicts their real world experience, it has become worse with each passing year. It is indoctrination - real education would make sure at a very young age that children would understand the burden of proof is on those who claim legitimate authority. This strikes at the very heart of your cry for academic responsibility - it is much worse and deeper than mere methodologies over the last 30 years. Sorry for the brevity.
As far as what the former Soviet bloc did, of course that was horrible. It was an abberation of what communism was supposed to stand for, the centralization. On a personal note my people did not do so well either, apox. 15 million of them perished in state sanctioned slavery. I will spare you of my suffering which is different from my ancestors.
You mentioned OSHA, let me assure you it did not come from corporate or state kindness. It was the democratic few who fought tooth and nail for what we take for granted in the workplace today. Men and women suffered in unions, having their heads split open by corporate hired thugs (come to think of it, they had a somewhat communistic bent), so we could have working wages today. 40 hour work weeks, weekends off, good pay - all from the same source that sacrificed. Otherwise we would still be working grueling 18 hour days, in hazardous working environments - and when we fell from exhaustion or injury we would be thrown out like so much trash!
I hope this hasty reply contributes in some fashion.Posted by Virgil Johnson on 01/30 at 12:53 AM
Oh, and Mr. Grouch, how about your real name?
Depends on how you measure it, Irene. My real name is Gouchewicz (nee “Louche"), but those bastards at Ellis Island imposed their dreams of a monologic culture on me and my poor family.
I fail to see what the gulag has to do with any of this. Sure, Stalinism bad; Pol Pot, bad. Tyranny is bad. Forces against equality in workplace decisions, whether those of Stalin or the pro-rape decisions for our outer colonies by Abramoff and Delay, should be decried. I was going to ask you what you point was....but forget it.
Basically, Irene, you’ve engaged in a dum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and when called on it, simply repeated the same mistake and demanded that we take you seriously. Hence, you’re either a troll or an ideologue, which is pretty much the same thing.
Did you have a look at the Daily Howler analysis linked to by flipyrwig? Did you take Rich P’s analysis seriously? You should.
Thanks for getting my back, hosses. Some quid pro quo in the future if required.
Million: yeah, the UAW thing was way off, but this rapidly pro-union commenter decided to leave well enough alone to keep on tract for this thread.Posted by on 01/30 at 01:00 AM
Michael, it doesn’t surprise me that you disagree with parts of #16. But I’m still curious what you meant by adding the student-loan industry to Student’s list of “stakeholders” - because I’m still confused about who’s a stakeholder in what, exactly. (Student, you still around?)
Thanks again for the great post, not to mention for your continuing presence in the comments. There’s a lot of valuable material here.Posted by on 01/30 at 01:10 AM
"And Summer’s remarks, by any sane standard, were hardly controversial at all, and not even the most hypersensitive of feminists would equate them to praising the Viet Cong.”
Professor! ProFESSor! Regarding what whatsisface said in this quote: When did they delineate grades of hypersensitive feminism? How did they do it? Who are *they* anyway? How can I discern which level of hypersensitivity I am now performing, and which I can only aspire to? At which point does sensitivity to being told one is naturally inferior by some dork who has no idea what he’s talking about become hyper? Is this on the test?
I’m so confused. And, my captcha word is “george;” that’s just mean.Posted by Heo Cwaeth on 01/30 at 03:28 AM
Yeah, well, clearly I was way too patient for my own good, something I am working on.
You know, Colin, I think we could wrangle all day and night about what postmodernism is and isn’t and get nowhere. It’s, as you say, *postmodernism* we’re talking about, and hence it resists definition. The resistance itself is part of the deal. I don’t know what you’re getting at when you suggest I’m being less than forthcoming as to what academics I’m thinking of. I think postmodernism is the stepchild of ideas which originated with Lacan and Foucault and Derrida and some other guys with French names I don’t want to spell right now, and I think these latter, pretty much to a man (and they were all men) disavowed what academia eventually did with their theories, which isn’t at all unusual, but it goes to the point I was making that these ideas began with academics a long time ago and have had plenty of time to work their way into the mainstream. IOW, I wasn’t suggesting that you or Dr. V or anyone stayed up nights inventing some evil postmodern bogeyman, per your (over)reaction. These ideas have been around working their malignant “magic” for some time now, which is one reason, students show up in college classes insisting their ideas are as good as anyone elses and nobody’s is any better than theirs or anybody’s and all that matters is that a person has an idea, and cultural contexts and subject positions and, hell, reality, what we all see and know of the world around us, the world the way it actually exists, be damned. I am indeed telling you that popular culture is infected in the way you describe (and “infect” is a good word), just as academia is similarly “infected.” The Religious Right got Daly fired, but identity-politics-for-middle-class-white-guys-who-found-a-new-way-to-do-things-their-way were a great aid in that endeavor.
***I have a simpler and less exciting story. Parts of 1970s feminist theory invoked powerful, stable gender categories.***
Absolute bullshit. That right there is anti-feminist mythology, again, most of which mythology exists courtesy of an anti-feminist mainstream which exists courtesy of an ongoing backlash against feminism. 1970s (and later) feminists always, always, always rejected gender for what it was: subordination based on sex.
*** Since then a lot of work, in a variety of areas and theoretical traditions, has critiqued the idea that “woman” or “man” are coherently uniform categories across human history and across the world. And given our original theme of academic freedom, we should be delighted to see this critique! ***
You know, I am done with this conversation now, which I could have any old day anywhere with just about anybody; I do not need to have here, where I am expecting something a little more lucid and intelligent. You will forgive my singular lack of “delight” in all of these bright ideas you are effusing over. Throughout history, until today, women have been, and remain, subordinated to men in ways which are measurable, material, real and devastating. It is the white male leftist penchant for focusing in on such things as the way “man” and “woman” aren’t “coherent categories across time and history”, all the while failing to take note of who historically, til now, has power in the world (men) and who doesn’t (women), and who is doing what to whom in the world (men rape) and who isn’t (women don’t), and the similar penchant for telling tall tales about 70s (and other) feminists (those Second Wavers were a bunch of biological essentialists!) that is, in large part, responsible for the problems we now have with academic freedom, which was one of the points I was making. By all means, let’s discuss the instability of the categories “man” and “woman”, all the while men—and it was, ineed, men, right wingers and leftists and academics and theoretically intelligent guys—are firing a tenured, brilliant, heretic like Mary Daly, a woman with six Ph.D’s and at least two groundbreaking books to her credit.
Well screw it all to heck anyhow, now I am just pissed off. Ugh.
Nevertheless, Michael, I did enjoy your piece. It was interesting.
CherylPosted by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff on 01/30 at 04:47 AM
"The funny thing, dear Irene, is that undergraduate literacy is highest in fields like English.”
Is that supposed to be a tautology? (Just kidding there, Michael.) But honestly, don’t you find it a wee bit embarrasing to make the case that students studying the English language and writing at university have the highest rate of literacy. Hmmm.... Should we swing over to where conservatives teach (would that be the business school?) and see if their students don’t have the highest systems analytic skills in the university?
And THEN you went on to say:
“But even if this were not so, the argument ‘college students are underperforming, so we need abrogations of professors’ academic freedom’ would remain illogical on its face.”
You’re right, it’s totally illogical and that’s why I never made that statement. I argued very simply that academic freedoms coexist with academic responsibilities and that you should entertain the notion that all the energy going to defending academic freedom should be equally matched (if not outmatched) with zeal and energy to teach students (that’s the academic responsibility part for those of you wondering what my definition of “responsibilities"is).
And I’m still waiting to hear of some poor liberal professor who suffered an egregious breach of academic freedom. Michael, you mentioned Sidney Hook and Ward Churchill in practically the same breath. It’s hard to imagine that Hook would have defended any person who falsified their credentials to obtain a teaching position, but you almost managed. So tell, tell. Are you okay with students falsifying their exams too in order to, say, get better grades? If not, I’d be curious to hear what academic freedom is being preserved when a professor lies on his university application. We’re talking about the same Ward Churchill, right? The one who claimed he was a Native American Indian before he wasn’t. Or am I confusing him with John Kerry?
It’s all too delicious.Posted by on 01/30 at 05:11 AM
The short answer is yes, Irene. You’re confusing him with John Kerry.Posted by Michael on 01/30 at 08:23 AM
The beareded wonder wrote: “Bitch Vertical Slash Lab, I’m sorry—I’m just the worst blogroll updater in the solar system, as Corndog, Phronesisaical, Ancrene Wiseass, Dr. Virago, Mitchell Freedman, and about a hundred other bloggers will tell you. It’s one of my 2006 resolutions, though.”
Well, you must follow through then! There, now I’ve learned of new blogs and where would I have been without that knowledge? In the dark! Utterly, horrifyingly, abjectly—in the dark. (I’m trying to write more like James Frey.)
I would toss something in here about courtly love and the connection to the latest attack on Academia—but I’d bet Zizek has done it already.Posted by Bitch | Lab on 01/30 at 09:20 AM
Posted by Chuck Divine on 01/30 at 11:45 AM
More and more school systems in the country are moving the morning start of high school later, in light of scientific findings (your article is from 2001 - pretty old). You can find more information if you search http://circadiana.blogspot.com/Posted by coturnix on 01/30 at 12:03 PM
Yes, the article is from 2001. To me, that’s still recent. You obviously think differently. That’s OK by me. I originally found the article by Googling sleep, school and abuse. Given the nature of Michael’s blog, I wanted something more academic than an article from the Washington Post or the web site of an advocacy group. You’re also right that some school systems are reforming themselves back to what was common when I was in high school (1959 to 1963) or my parents (1920s and 1930s).
I used this topic to illustrate one way authoritarianism has increased in society in recent decades. What’s also interesting is that changing school times to reflect reality is still quite controversial and resisted in all sorts of quarters. Less than two weeks ago I raised the subject at a Democratic club meeting here in Maryland. The occasion was a talk by one of the people, Alan Lichtman, running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He’s a history professor at American University. He also wants to be an advocate for “educators and students.” I was not amused by his brushoff. I was also less than impressed by fellow club members who tried to portray the issue as local.
Perhaps I’m being less than clear. I tried using two examples that were not specifically right or left in orientation to illuminate a phenomenon that troubles me greatly. Personally, I’d prefer a society where more moderate voices and more varied people would listen to others who are different from themselves and try to learn something new.
Thanks for responding.Posted by Chuck Divine on 01/30 at 01:18 PM
To Karl The Grouch Gouchewicz,
I owe you an apology. It was not nice of me to call you on the lack of use of your name. (Which, incidentally, prosciu pan (excuse the phoenetically spelled Polish), is really a lovely name).
But, I was upset.
How can a budding academic, I asked myself, be so disengaged with the world that he could actually argue, albeit in a beautifully written fashion, something so ludicrous as:
“I just read that article, and there’s no a wit of comparative analysis across time. There’s no indication that college-educated types were any better prepared for the world 100 years ago than they are now.”
Karl, liebchen, prior to WWII the majority of the world’s population - yes, even here in the U.S. - lived in family-owned farms and, by and large, did not concern themselves with what was going on with the rest of the world (unless, of course, some poor Iowan sap was drafted to go fight in France or unless you were a Communist fighting for the ComIntern).
Today, and please, don’t take my word for it, go ask the Dean of Architecture if the Balkan’s aren’t draining blueprint drafting jobs from young American architects, or ask the Dean of the School of Medicine if radiologists in Hyderabad haven’t taken to reading American x-rays for our HMOs, and ask your Computer Science Department if those computer programmers in Chennai aren’t taking thousands and thousands of entry and not-so-entry level jobs in computer programming, etc. away from young American programmers.
It’s called globalization and I was so taken aback by your lack of awareness of it and the dislocations that it is causing to our society (yes, some good, but some bad and in the short run a lot of our fellow citizens personally are paying a heavy price until we adjust) that I resorted to personal invective.
For that I apologize.
But Karl, I can’t believe you would take me to task for pointing out something as obvious as the fact that our college grads need to be able to perform basic analytical tasks like comprehending a newspaper editorial to compete in the global marketplace we’re all earning our daily bread in today.
IrenePosted by on 01/30 at 01:50 PM
Just for the record, and because it’s a genre I hate, there was a sexual speculation - see comment 79. Knee-jerk patronizing misogyny, I take that kind of thing to be.Posted by Ophelia Benson on 01/30 at 02:13 PM
You say the content of courses shouldn’t be determined by plebiscite, but actually I think it that’s how it currently works. The state hands over the money, and gives up (most) control over how it’s spent to the board, deans, etc. It’s a simple up or down vote, and business goes on as usual.Posted by on 01/30 at 03:10 PM
But Karl, I can’t believe you would take me to task for pointing out something as obvious as the fact that our college grads need to be able to perform basic analytical tasks like comprehending a newspaper editorial to compete in the global marketplace we’re all earning our daily bread in today.
I’m fully aware of globalization. I’m also aware that making arguments about competitiveness in the global marketplace tends to occlude that in the g.m., people tend not to get jobs on the basis of meritocracy, but on the basis of how cheaply and how abjectly they can be made to work. The competition, in one way, is between a good programmer in the Silicon Valley and one in Budapest or New Delhi, but it’s also between which location is more willing to tolerate subsistence wages, rape in the workplace, the lack of a weekend, and all the other indignities the West’s labor movements have fought against.
To remind you of something that you should know full well, I took you to task for your word “still.” Although you lacked data, and although your article said no such thing, you implied a deleterious transformation over time caused by the rise of a liberal professariate in the USA. To which I responded: horseshit. I stand by that, and I’m not looking for an apology. What I’m looking for is a mea culpa about your central error.
I’m also taking you to task for your pecksniffery at our legitimate concerns of curtailment of academic freedom by mouth-breathers and ideologues who either don’t understand what academic freedom means or want to destroy it because they understand it perfectly well.
So, when you say this, “And I’m still waiting to hear of some poor liberal professor who suffered an egregious breach of academic freedom,” I respond: look at the Red Scares of the 50s and late teens/early 20s in this country. Lots of academics were ground under the wheels. If I weren’t busy preparing for class...oops, I mean preparing how to confuse my poor kids further...I’d name you some names.
Er, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but ‘Gouchewicz’ isn’t my real name. It’s a joke, a pun on ‘Gauche.’Posted by on 01/30 at 03:38 PM
Ah Christ, not “still.” “Since.”
Adios.Posted by on 01/30 at 03:41 PM
I specifically limited my request for egregious breaches in academic freedom to the last 30 years because I specifically didn’t want to get involved in far-leftist mythology.
I also didn’t want to get into a debate with willingfully biased people who ignore all the evidence that has come out of the former Soviet Union in the last 16 years or so about whether or not the Red Scares over the course of the 20th century weren’t for real. (You probably think the Rosenburgs were innocent, right? And that Sacco and Venzetti weren’t guilty either.)
Cry me a river over dog-eat-dog global competition, but really, none of your 19th century, Marxist pseudo-economic clap trap which you refer to as analysis is going to help American students prepare for life in the real world. Oh horrors! Rape, subsistence wages, and no doubt starvation soon to follow.
“you implied a deleterious transformation over time caused by the rise of a liberal professariate in the USA.”
Yes, I did. And you Karl, are Exhibit A.
IrenePosted by on 01/30 at 04:17 PM
Great, smart and tremendously useful essay. Thanks, Michael.
I think the only thing I’d add to it is this: that I am consistently bothered by intellectuals who I take to be (or who explicitly say) that they are opposed in every other respect to the intrinsic claims and foundational arguments behind procedural liberalism nevertheless rising with great ferocity in defense of academic freedom. This of course also goes for the religious or cultural right, as you observe. But when academic freedom is defended by an academic who otherwise doubts the entire logic of it, the defense ends up looking (and being) little more than naked self-interest. If we’re going to meaningfully defend what is embodied in the concept of academic freedom, it require a consistent defence of procedural liberalism across a wider spectrum of institutions.Posted by Timothy Burke on 01/30 at 05:25 PM
I’m sorry for any offence I might have given. None was intended. I meant only to suggest that TangoMan (comments 72, 77) might have too much time on his hands, and would very possibly be better off doing the tango.Posted by on 01/30 at 05:32 PM
Irene, since we are all incapable of admitting our terrible sin, perhaps you can point it out for us. Show us the way, give us some concrete examples of responsibility - something concrete that will undo this terrible problem. Try me - I will stop trying to reconstruct history for a moment to seriously consider your remedies. After all, having thought long and hard about this - and seeing how passionate you are, I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say.Posted by Virgil Johnson on 01/30 at 06:26 PM
From Michael’s talk (essay?), way back there:
… a very strange encounter with a student. The course, which dealt with bioethics, had recently dealt with the vile history of experiments on unwitting and/or unwilling human subjects, from the Holocaust to Tuskegee, and the student wanted to know whether the “other side” would be presented as well. I hope you’re asking yourselves, what other side?—because, of course, to all reasonable and responsible researchers in the field, there is no “other side”; there is no pro-human experimentation position that needs to be introduced into classroom discussion to counteract possible liberal “bias.” We are not in the business of inviting pro-Nazi spokesmen for Joseph Mengele to our classrooms.
I would have thought it was incumbent on an academic in teaching role (as contrasted, perhaps, to research) not to pretend that there is no “other side” to a given issue, and especially not to dismiss any suggestion of another side by invoking the name of Mengele to shut off discussion. It’s too easy to focus on the “vile history”; we should also ask why these people did what they did. Not even to try to justify Mengele, but to ask what he thought he was doing. Was he simply a particularly nasty sadist, or did he think he was serving some scientific purpose? If so, shouldn’t an ethicist be able to explain why he was wrong? And Mengele, though most easily invoked, wasn’t the only one. Certain countries’ armies experimented on soldiers without telling them, for example to assess the effects of radiation or nerve gases. Is it valid to look at how those experimenters justified themselves, in supposedly civilized and democratic countries such as USA and UK? And it it also valid to ask whether any of these experiments, despite being unethical, provided information of any value, and if so, how ethics counterbalances utility? “Unethical” is not synonymous with “useless”, after all.
And my captcha word is “military”!Posted by on 01/30 at 06:27 PM
from one PA faculty to another: thanks for this excellent postPosted by Liz on 01/30 at 06:41 PM
I dont’ know how to be clearer: I have repeatedly stated that when over 50% of upcoming college graduates cannot comprehend op-ed pieces that that is shocking. If we have reached the point where our college grads are unable to interact with the world around them, then, as is always the case when something is not working, it’s time to go back to basics.
Virgil, you and I both know that there is no quick fix that, in your words, “will undo this terrible problem.” And to insinuate that there is is, in a nutshell, intellectually dishonest.Posted by on 01/30 at 06:49 PM
None was intended. I meant only to suggest that TangoMan (comments 72, 77) might have too much time on his hands, and would very possibly be better off doing the tango.
Why would you ever suggest that rather than refuting the points I raised? Could it be that the straightjacketing of thought into Liberal models is actually a claim that has merit? Geneticists have learned how to play the liberal “correct thought” game especially since the Human Genome Diversity Project was killed by protesters as an evil endeavor. We’ve learned. Check out the International Haplotype Map Project and how it was initiated.
Social conservatives don’t want evolution taught at all and liberals want it taught but taught as though it doesn’t matter.Posted by on 01/30 at 07:33 PM
I doubt ths will be of any use way down here at the end of the thread, but I want to put in a recommendation for Thomas Haskell’s essay “Justifying Academic Freedom in the Era of Power/Knowledge” from this collection of essays.
Haskell focuses on both the history and the present (as of the early 1990s, when he wrote the essay) of academic freedom, briefly sketching its origins and then critically examining whether or not the policy can still be justified on the basis of skeptical attacks on “truth” and “reality” (scare-quotes courtesy of skeptics). He is particularly critical of Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, and Hayden White, the implications of whose views Haskell argues actually undercut even the possibility of continuing to justify academic freedom to both academics and the general public. He’s also careful to distinguish between academic and first amendment freedoms.
This seems particularly relevant to Timothy Burke’s comment.Posted by eb on 01/30 at 09:17 PM
Whew. It’s been a long day here in the fair city of Buffalo, folks, but I think I have the energy left for two quick responses.
It’s too easy to focus on the “vile history”; we should also ask why these people did what they did. . . . Is it valid to look at how those experimenters justified themselves, in supposedly civilized and democratic countries such as USA and UK?
I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer, John. The instructor in question did do this. The student was complaining, in response, that the instructor’s review of human experimentation focused too much on the ethical issues and didn’t pay enough attention to all the useful things we learned. Faced with an objection like that, it seems to me, bringing up the name of Mengele is entirely justified.
But when academic freedom is defended by an academic who otherwise doubts the entire logic of it, the defense ends up looking (and being) little more than naked self-interest. If we’re going to meaningfully defend what is embodied in the concept of academic freedom, it require a consistent defence of procedural liberalism across a wider spectrum of institutions.
Thanks for this, Timothy, and for your kind words about my essay. I was kind of hoping that some of those academics who doubt the premise of academic freedom (and the value of procedural liberalism) would read this too. In that spirit, thanks to eb for Thomas Haskell’s essay—plenty of use, I assure, even this far down the thread.Posted by Michael on 01/30 at 09:32 PM
Yeah, that thing Timothy said - that’s exactly why I included the passage about the legacies of the Enlightenment and the General Secretary or the Council of Clerics in the post I did on this at B&W. This stuff all joins up.
(Just ask Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer, who are working hard to fend off attempts by Hindu fundamentalists to get their views into California textbooks - and waging a smear campaign against Witzel for working to prevent that. It’s the Enlightenment or the Council of Clerics, procedural liberalism or theocrats writing textbooks.)Posted by Ophelia Benson on 01/30 at 10:07 PM
I’m not going to get into an argument with you about the red scares, either. However I don’t see what S and V and the R’s have to do with academia.
Your citation of me as evidence that academia has declined in the last 30 years is another example of your habitual conflation of anecdote with data.
At any rate, I’ve got my students for a semester; the schools they came from had them for 12 years, at least. Who’s to blame if they don’t know where a comma goes any better than their grandparents did?
You’ve still been unable to support your central contention, by the way. And now that you’ve added your Friedmanesque bellyaching about competitiveness in the global economy, well, there’s this.
Hurrah for forced abortions and cheap teeshirts!Posted by on 01/30 at 10:18 PM
Oh, and I apologize to anyone who’s been as bored by this argument as I’ve been. Good grief.Posted by on 01/30 at 10:26 PM
Academic freedom is best maintained by being able to establish it’s own check’s and balance’s within it’s own institutional domain. When a disagreement arises from the student body, it should be seen as input and criticism and should be examined for it’s viability (the degree varies) - it is either accepted and correctly assimilated, or it is rejected with ample reason. This should all take place within the purview of the institution.
There is a reason I asserted my point about K-12 public schooling in my previous post(94)within this venue. That is because it is the perfect example of what happens when the state (K-12) - or well intentioned, but naive students become unwitting dupes, and make inroads for damaging political agenda within academia(higher ed.).
We are well aware of what is coming out of K-12 public schools, and they are the product of political agenda and coersive state influence, all of this at the expense of the childs learning what he/she needs to function in western society! There is no more polluted atmoshpere(unfortunately)than the public school, that is so legislated to death that it can barely survive.
So to impose outside influence by the same methodology used in K-12 will produce the same result, absolute disaster! If this is not the methodology that some envision for so-called responsibility, than what is the methodology? Who will apply this critical “input” and can it be corrupted, and used by other powers in society? You cannot cure what you perceive to be an ill, by giving poison to the ill party. Therefore, what I proposed at the outset of this post (the first paragraph), is the best remedy. Let the institution grow and develop by itself, and let those who know it best apply their own remedies to problems (or perceived problems) - academic freedom can and must remain. I hope I made this clear.Posted by Virgil Johnson on 01/31 at 02:25 AM
This may have been mentioned before (I haven’t read all 183 comments) but Horowitz gives his student minions a very specific methodology in gathering faculty party affiliations. They start with the departments most likely to harbor liberals--women’s studies, English, anthropology. If I remember correctly, they do look at sciences—but very specifically “liberal” fields like environmental biology and math, NOT engineering and chemistry. (Maybe these dropped out of their final list.) Definitely not business or economics! It’s not a matter of carelessness or even “cherry-picking” (which sounds a little more innocuous): it’s very consciously calculated to produce a false impression of liberal bias.Posted by on 01/31 at 11:10 AM
“All of your arguments are superceded by one simple fact which is conveniently ignored by liberal/leftist academics. Since liberals have taken over higher education students have become - what’s the word?- uneducated.”
Just to repeat what other folk said much better above (in hope that you will respond to these points): you don’t show any evidence for this.
First, you have to prove that college students in the past would have performed better than the ones in the current study - that they have become uneducated. This decline has to follow the liberal take-over of higher ed.
Next, you have to show causation. Was this takeover the cause of the decline?
As pointed out above, the college population has changed dramatically - and increased enormously - over the last half-century or so, in large part because a college degree is now needed for a much wider range of employment. The meaning and role of college (colleges. really covering a whole variety of models) has been changing greatly, and the institutions haven’t entirely caught up. It’s very akin to the frequent complaint by business associations, etc. that employees today are ridiculously underskilled and have to be trained in basic things - they’re supposed to know this stuff, it isn’t supposed to be our job to teach them!
Given that colleges have been a bit slow to realize that they’re apparently expected to be high schools+4, you make a discussable argument that 1) liberal academics took over, 2) spawned all sorts of half-baked educational ideas for k-12 ed, 3) making our kids stupid.
Ok, we can argue this - even accepting this (flawed) premise, it’s much more complicated, since many ed theories seem to get horribly muddled in practice, with all sorts of fad-grabbing and pendulum-swinging, and district-wide “this idea/practice/theory/package/$$product is The Answer - wait, now that it’s a few years later and we actually have adequate training and support, we must lock everything up in dusty storage closets because here’s The Next Big Thing” - which goes off into whole ‘nother issues of teaching training and institutional practice. (And no, whole language was never supposed to be “give them books and they’ll learn to read.) Along with Communism, Christianity, and Western Civ., it goes into the “would be a good idea” bucket.
But yes, these findings are very worrying. I don’t think you’ll find anyone here who disagrees. I think they’re probably even more disturbing for liberals, or at least anyone who thinks a well-educated citizenry is necessary for a functioning democracy. By all means, trumpet a call to action. Honestly. But
(a) don’t mess it up with a unsupported ideological attack (unless that attack is the point)
(b) don’t confuse responses to, in a sense, point and non-point problems (analogy with pollution) In other words, thinking as a middle school teacher, do you respond to the fight that just broke out in your classroom, or address the overall school climate? The answer, of course, being yes, since one is an immediate, specific, local problem*, and the other is a much broader and deeper issue. (And this is a bad example, since the two are so clearly related, while poorly-literate kids and first-step-to-creepily-proto-Soviet-assaults-on-academic-freedom rather less so.)
* here, at least, you’re not supposed to do anything besides calling security, due to the twin threats of bloodborne diseases and litigation.Posted by on 01/31 at 11:51 AM
I Posted the link to this on an e-mail list to which I’m subscribed. The self professed bitter, middle aged libertarian of the list, “Mr. Lizard” replied (in part):
When everyone’s working out of the same playbook, it’s obvious that the defensive pattern has been determined. What remains to be seen is how it is refined and evolved as its obvious weaknesses are exposed. The liberals are, in effect, being forced to defend against their own ideological weapons—always an intellectual challenge. (If they were more cunning, they’d grab the conservative weapons of tradition ("Professors have always been free to speak their minds"),individualism ("The government has no business regulating private institutions."), and hierarchy ("Teachers teach. Students listen. Sit down and shut up.") and use *them*. We’ll see.)
Ward Churchill is still teaching, if you can call it that. I find it hard to imagine that there is any “threat to academic freedom” brewing so long as that is the case.
Now, he and I disagree about a *lot*, but, I kinda got to agree with him about using the conservative talking points of tradition, individualism and hierarchy.Posted by on 01/31 at 04:01 PM
That is a very shrewd fellow you have there, but there are a few clarifications that are in order if we are going to portray liberalism. Although there are some valuable insights he gives from his side of the camp.
Professors have always been able to speak their mind but the wise one’s have always spoke charitably, with the challenge of their students preconceived thoughts - to breed questions that the student should ask in light of that helpful challenge. Students are better seen as plants that will grow not glasses to be filled. Keep in mind that everyone is human and fallible, ana any discipline for true abuse should fit the offense - within the academic community.
Individualism has never been questioned by the liberal, the individual becomes helpful if he expresses he individualism for the betterment of the community. There is indeed intellectual friction, but that is always to sharpen and shape everyone in community. So individualism rightly defined has never been denied by liberalism.
The liberal has never said that the government has a duty to regulate academia - it has a job to be magnaminous, but not megalomanical. As of late we are getting more and more of the latter (megalo), less and less of the former (magna). Government is the servant of the people, not the other way around. Liberalism has always encouraged the government to be the handmaiden of the people (in the main), never a force that invades the sphere of academia (or any legitimate sphere for that matter) with damaging dictums, with the agenda of foreign political design (as amply displayed in K-12 education, with the attended results).
There is a never a hard and fast hierarchy in true liberalism, but a recognition and respect of earned position. There is also mutual respect that should be displayed in the student teacher relationship. The teacher knowing and acknowledging that they were once in a position of needing growth, and the student acknowledging that the teacher has paid his/her dues in his/her discipline, and has something to contribute in this academic quest. Yes, the teacher understands that they are not harsh disciplinarians - but mentors with a genuine concern for their students.
Liberalism always has a way of recognizing the whiles of men, they know the vulnerability of youth - and how certain people will exploit them for their own gain. So those employed in this practice (of exploitation) should understand that liberals will do everything within their power to expose and stop them - they should be ashamed of themselves. At the same time, they know that students are influenced by their life experience, and that is why they will go the extra mile as liberals, to assuage their fears no matter how unfounded they might be.
So, there are some similarities between liberals and other pursuasions, but we believe that we have the healthier mix. We believe in individualism - but that it makes it’s unique contribution within community; we believe in freedom of speech, but not excessive verbal abuse; we believe in government for the people and by the people (their benefit), but never as a tool of destruction of sovereign institutional spheres; we believe in roles and positions with mutual respect in academia (and elsewhere), we do not believe in harsh subjugation of those left in our charge - nor do we connive in secret to exclude any peer of non-liberal persuasion, but we believe in the maxim of liberal inclusion. I might add that those who accuse the liberal academic community of such practice probably cannot see beyond their own tendencies.
Anything less than this (the above) is not true liberalism grounded in the roots of the enlightenment. Read properly it shows there is room for growth for all of us.
I hope this hasty (and ill written) answer brings some clarification, I am always open to criticism.Posted by Virgil Johnson on 02/01 at 05:09 AM
Regarding “ .. what forms of “accountability” are appropriate to an educational institution. Only twenty years ago, forty-five percent of Penn State’s budget was provided by public ..”
Let me see if I understand this. Does Penn State want to go private? I’d be very careful about that. That’s being tried in VA and CO, with some very stringent performance standards involved. Secondly, there can be a lot of overhead expenses (e.g., buildings, maintenance) that, when properly accounted for, significantly raise costs. All told, bankruptcy in such situations could never be ruled out—fiscal failure could be an outcome. Cavet emptor.Posted by on 02/01 at 11:36 AM
Thank you for a riveting piece. I wish I might have been able to attend the presentation - it would have been exciting to hear it aloud - but it’s wonderful to be able to work through your words. I appreciate your efforts at transcription; and I admire your attempt to respond to so many of your commentators with thoughtfulness and insight.
First, I do think we should grapple with the boundaries of academic freedom (AF) in difficult cases. For e.g., I do think Summers was pilloried for his ill-conceived and unsubstantiated remarks. As a president - even a provocative one - he must have been aware that offending women scholars as a whole was a giant mistake. Nonetheless, I strongly disagree with those who sought, or seek still, to have him ousted. He has brought many issues to light at Harvard - the toll of grade inflation, the need for international study, the urgency of curricular review - and he has done so more passionately, and yes, forthrightly, than just about any university president I’ve heard speak in ages. I respect that. And I stand by the old bromide of despising (some of) what he says while still defending his right to say it.
I also think that the left can express disapproval of Mr. Churchill, and even disagreement with the decision to allow him to retain his position, without the fear of *necessary* reprisal at the hands of those who disdain our views. I think a poor choice was made in Mr. Churchill’s case - I think it was an error, at best, on the side of generosity (or something) to allow him to stay at his job. At the same time, to infer from that some kind of idiocy like “liberals are always forgiving of their own”, or “liberals have no sense of responsibility” is absurd on its face.
Ms. Bernhard - with whom I take issue, as I feel she articulates a fairly commonly held set of views - also errs in equating academic responsibility with *only* “the responsibility to teach”. She is right, in my view, that we should be concerned with educating our children. Heck, our President said so only last night! (amazingly, it was an issue he and the Right have for the most part ignored, underfunded, and derided to date) But I don’t think that is the sole responsibility we have. We also have a core mandate to think, research, create, write, analyze, understand, etc. We engage in a host of important academic tasks - and AF itself encompasses those tasks.
It has often been in the exercise of those tasks, whether in the classroom, in our studies or offices, and in our productive output, that we have been challenged (if you run a quick Lexis search, you will find massive caselaw involving such challenges). It doesn’t, or perhaps shouldn’t, matter whether those tasks have been challenged from any given political vantage point. What matters is, it is not “bellyaching” to worry and get worked up about these challenges. They are attacks on the very essence of what we do. If we are to perform our tasks of pedagogy, research, and creative work, we must be free to perform. Constraints on academic freedom are simply impediments to our work. That in turn shortchanges the students we - and even our critics - care most about.
AF protects our ability to shape thought, expression, and exchange of ideas. That is why I think Timothy Burke’s point is particularly noteworthy: speech codes and other restrictions on expression run absolutely counter to academic work, and have no place in the classroom. Similarly, the restrictions imposed on outspoken teachers will only undermine and impede their ability to serve their students - not just the teachers, but also and especially the students. That is the whole point of defending a freedom, after all - so one can exercise it for the greater good.
Lastly, I have long wondered why liberals don’t launch a comprehensive study of politics in the academy based on the dollar amounts contributed to institutions by clearly politically identified donors, or for clearly identifiable political affiliations and/or causes. Obviously, we could only certain parties, donors, institutes, foundations, university centers, and so forth. But wouldn’t it be interesting? If money talks (hard to argue with, no?), how loudly does it speak in academe? Wouldn’t that be at least as useful a measure of “bias” as asking a bunch of faculty how they voted in a (singularly unilluminating) election?Posted by on 02/02 at 04:26 AM
"More more specifically ...”
That pretty much summed up this incoherent essay. Its not that people are too far to the left or right, but rather how people can obtain PhDs with almost no ability to actually make a straightforward logical argument that continues to amaze me.
This is the sort of essay David Horowitz would write if he were a liberal professor instead of a conservative gadfly.Posted by Brian Carnell on 02/02 at 10:54 AM
A typo summed up the whole essay for you? What the hell do typos have to do with “straightforward logical argument”? And if typos somehow correlate to a lack of the latter then what are we to make of your “Its” gaffe in the second sentence?
Also, Brian, if you’ll forgive me for speaking from a purely stylistic point of view here (this is an English prof’s blog after all), a backwards-running, participle-dangling monstrosity like this—“Its not that people are too far to the left or right, but rather how people can obtain PhDs with almost no ability to actually make a straightforward logical argument that continues to amaze me”—is unforgiveable, unless your first language happens to be Latin.Posted by on 02/02 at 06:42 PM
Many thanks, Rog, but it actually wasn’t a typo. See the ps to comment 9, above—or the video of the talk at the 32:08 mark.Posted by Michael on 02/02 at 07:57 PM
People unable to refute an arguments usually resort to pedantry (slavish adherence to forms or rules).Posted by Virgil Johnson on 02/02 at 10:33 PM
Damn! No one took the bait...lolPosted by Virgil Johnson on 02/03 at 01:57 AM
On Horowitz’s program and its effects (including some further inspection of the cooked books) see “Conservative is the new black, III” and its predecessors, which also comment on Mark Bauerlein’s arguments. Considering what happened in Colorado (before the Ward Churchill brouhaha), I have no doubt that Bills of Academic Rights would be used to harass “liberal” professors. That they could also be used to harass “conservative” professors is true but irrelevant. The instigators of those bills have made their intentions clear.Posted by dd on 02/04 at 07:22 AM
Excellent speech/essay. I was so impressed that I linked it in my own journal (a little while ago: http://foresthouse.livejournal.com/307198.html) and noticed today that someone else on my list linked it recently. (Cool.)
Anyway, as someone who can claim 9 teachers of one sort or another as family, I have seen a number of examples of attempts to stifle academic freedom - and fully agree with the statement that a teacher who has gained expertise in his/her field “has the right honestly to reach, and hold, and proclaim any conclusion in the field of his competence.”
Thanks for the interesting reading.Posted by Emily on 02/19 at 01:15 PM
or, “even after googling™ it. I can see a case for either, but in either case, be alerted to the fact that I have just posted my first diary entry over at Daily Kos. You might want to check it out before they remove it. Apparently, they require substantive posts. Be back soon, Your friend, Fred of the Bush Oh, and even before I finished posting this, I saw my first comment over there was that I had misspelled throughout. Classy. I couldn’t fix the poll.Posted by Sindy on 01/11 at 06:01 PM
On some campuses, rewards of up to $100 have been posted for lecture notes and recordings of liberal professors’ lectures. Are these legitimate interest group tactics or violations of basic principles of academic freedom?Posted by lettings on 03/05 at 08:16 AM
I also think that it’s wrong to record a professor’s lecture without his or her permission. I that lecture is intended for education, and shouldn’t be distributed for the purposes of obtaining money. That is a complete violation of intellectual property standards.Also, it’s biased. There are just as many rabidly conservative professors as there are liberal professors.Finally, we have bigger fish to fry in our nation. Gas prices are sky high; oil companies rake in profits while the rest of us suffer at the pump. We are in a very difficult situation in Iraq, and pay for it by borrowing money for China. I think these are worthwhile issues to address instead of trying to “catch” a liberal professor....!!Posted by automotive jobs on 03/24 at 02:33 AM
very nice blog...I love this tooo...and i would like to ask..What do you think about “academic freedom” in public high schools? Is it ok or not?
My teachers seem to think they know absolutely everything and that everyone else is wrong. We, the students wanting to learn different ideas and facts, can’t even bring up our opinions at all for discussion or debate...do you think that teachers in a public high school should be able to say their opinion (or in other words indoctrinate us with their opinions as facts) and stop us from saying ours...or should they keep their opinions to themselves if we have to keep ours to ourselves...?Posted by www.vancontracthire.ne">lovable Van contract hire on 03/31 at 01:49 AM
I’m half Samoan/Half white..my father comes from American Samoa and I can tell you that Samoans are very religious and believe in Creationism and the huge majority object to the idea of Evolution. So although I cannot say whether or not it’s actually law whether or not they can teach what etc. I can say that you’re most likely not going to find a teacher in American Samoa who is teaching anything about Evolution. Also, American Samoa has it’s own enacting Constitution and reserves the right to put this law in place. Perhaps go to the AS Government site and look it up.With that said, I believe the Academic Freedom Act should be in place. But Teachers SHOULD be teaching both sides whether or not they believe this and the same with the students. As a current College Student, I would never spend time going to University to get a degree in something but then decide, because of personal faith, that I was going to omit something within my academic structure. All sides and facts should be fair and presented and it’s for the teacher/student to decide what they personally believe.Posted by citroen berlingo contract hire on 03/31 at 01:58 AM
A typo summed up the whole essay for you? What the hell do typos have to do with “straightforward logical argument”? And if typos somehow correlate to a lack of the latter then what are we to make of your “Its” gaffe in the second sentence?Posted by Emmanuel VW vans on 04/06 at 03:18 AM
On some campuses, rewards of up to $100 have been posted for lecture notes and recordings of liberal professors’ lectures. Are these legitimate interest group tactics or violations of basic principles of academic freedom?…Posted by high interest checking on 04/08 at 04:21 PM
All of your arguments are superceded by one simple fact which is conveniently ignored by liberal/leftist academics. Since liberals have taken over higher education students have become - what’s the word?- uneducated.Posted by Conchobhar VW vans on 04/10 at 01:14 AM
thanks good page thanks admin (:Posted by vatan gazetesi on 01/20 at 06:17 PM
I don’t think its fair to blame Academic freedom in Universities for illiteracy.Posted by ivan on 02/01 at 04:33 AM
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mcpdPosted by on 03/10 at 01:12 AM