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Academic freedom again

This is the text of the speech I delivered on Saturday to the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors.  The bracketed portions of text represent material that I did not read aloud in the interests of time, or (in a couple of instances) references to earlier discussions of such matters on this blog.  Those of you who read my earlier essay on the subject will recognize a few paragraphs here and there; the opening and closing remarks are substantially the same as in the earlier essay, but the middle section of the talk is new.


In the past year I’ve come to realize that very few people know what academic freedom is, or why it matters.  Perhaps that’s not surprising at a time when all too few Americans know what the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is, or why it matters.  But what I’m going to argue today is not only that academic freedom is under attack, but that we are now dealing with a coordinated program of obfuscation about just what academic freedom means.

I’ll make the obvious argument first.  Academic freedom is under attack for pretty much the same reasons that liberalism itself is under attack.  American universities 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 campus 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.

You’re already aware that we have in Pennsylvania a House Select Committee on Academic Freedom.  Its hearings over the past year have largely been uneventful; one of the Democrats on the committee has even described them as a “colossal waste of time.” But it’s worth noting that HR 177, which created the committee, 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; at Penn State, it turns out, we’ve had 13 complaints over the past five years, in a statewide system involving 8,000 professors and 80,000 students.  And those thirteen complaints don’t fit any clear pattern, either; as our local paper, the Centre Daily Times, reported on January 25 of this year, in one such complaint a Muslim student suggested that a professor was opposed to Islam; another student charged that a professor was too conservative. 

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 successfully shepherding it through committe on an 8-2 party-line 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 similar bill one of whose clauses was drawn directly from the AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure: “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.” But when Senator Mumper 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

In recent months I’ve learned something of the back story on the legislative history of Pennsylvania’s HR 177, and I’ve discovered that the bill we now have is significantly different from the bill that was first proposed.  This spring, I was a guest on a conservative radio talk show hosted by Penn State students.  They wanted to know, among other things, just what was so bad about a House committee being convened with the purpose of making sure that universities are abiding by their stated grievance procedures for students who feel they have been discriminated against on political grounds.  I replied that while it’s perfectly legitimate for the state to ensure that universities have adequate grievance procedures for students, Rep. Gibson Armstrong’s proposal for such a committee said no such thing; on the contrary, the original bill called for the creation of a committee that would investigate everything from reading lists to hiring practices, and that would travel throughout the state holding fifteen to twenty hearings on liberal bias—hearings in which accused professors would have no opportunity to face their accusers (that bit about the “48 hours’ notice” was an especially late revision).  Furthermore, the original language of HR 177 sought to ensure that students would be graded on (among other things) their ability to defend their perspectives.  Now there’s a recipe for relativism—in which you have to give a student an A for his dogged insistence on citing the Book of Genesis in a class on evolutionary theory. 

Fortunately, between the first draft and the version that passed the House, the adults in Pennsylvania took over, and revised the charge of the committee so that its focus lay largely on the viability of universities’ internal grievance procedures.  But that was not what the hard-right culture warriors wanted; they wanted a much more wide-ranging and intrusive committee.  And in a weird way, the outcome of those revisions to the bill helped to confuse the public understanding of academic freedom still further—for, after all, here was a House committee investigating “academic freedom” by making sure that students had every opportunity to speak their minds.


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 insists that professors should have intellectual 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.

Now, Horowitz claims that the Academic Bill of Rights does no such thing; he points out that it includes a great deal of language from the AAUP’s Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom, and he insists that it would forbid the hiring or firing of any faculty member on the basis of his or her political beliefs.  But that’s just what David Horowitz says for public consumption.  To his supporters and funders, by contrast, he says that his mission is to “get into the trenches with the radical left and battle them into submission.” That’s a real quote, from one of Horowitz’s fundraising letters, in which he claims that there are “thousands of Ward Churchills” teaching at American universities. [Veteran readers of his humble blog will surely remember my response to that particular Horowitz text in December of last year.] Well, you think, maybe Horowitz is just engaging in a little rhetorical excess here, a little hyperbole for the folks at home; really, all he wants is for university faculties to be more ideologically diverse.  You think wrong.  Here’s Horowitz in his 2000 book, The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits: “[y]ou cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate. You can only do it by following Lenin’s injunction: ‘In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent’s argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth.’” (See Graham Larkin’s take on this passage in an April 2005 essay for Inside Higher Ed.)

There should be no question about this: David Horowitz was a member of the extremist fringe thirty years ago when he was hanging out with late-model Black Panther Party crackpots, and he’s a member of the extremist fringe now.  He’s merely exchanged fringes.  And he’s notoriously slipshod in everything he does, right down to his claim that on the eve of the 2004 election, a Penn State biology professor showed his class Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, compounded by his admission that he had no proof of this claim despite making it throughout the latter half of 2005, compounded still further that his claim that he was holding himself to “a higher standard of honesty” for dropping the original claim when he was challenged on it by Pennsylvania Democrat Lawrence Curry this past January. [About his questioning by Curry, Horowitz said to USA Today, “These underhanded, devious, malicious, dishonest tactics.  I gave 45 minutes of testimony, a half-hour of questions, and I never once mentioned the incident they’re referring to. . . .  Curry saved it to the very end of the hearings and rammed it to me.” Yes, you heard that right: it was underhanded, devious, malicious, and dishonest of Lawrence Curry to ask Horowitz about a claim he had not made at the hearing—but had made repeatedly for six months prior to the hearing.] So why are twenty states considering legislation written by this man, legislation that claims to defend academic freedom by placing professors directly under the control and oversight of the state?  Why does he have the ear of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?  Horowitz has managed to pull off this rhetorical and political feat by confusing the definition of academic freedom, construing it as a property of students rather than teachers.  Basically, he has managed to convince many Americans, including many American students, that “academic freedom” means, among other things, “freedom from liberal professors.”

You can find a neatly condensed form of this confusion in Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom handbook.  I have a copy of the handbook with me, and I hope all of you brought yours.  It’s a little red book of some kind, but I don’t rightly know what to call it.  Anyway, here’s Horowitz on page 19:

VI.  Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Question: Is there a conflict of interest in appealing to the legislature for help in the case of public universities, since the principles of academic freedom seek to protect the university from political interference?

Answer: There is no conflict.  The state legislatures and publicly appointed boards of trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayer-funded institutions and their tax-paying supporters.  Among them is the responsibility to insure that these institutions serve the whole community and not just a partisan political or philosophical faction.  If public universities become politically partisan they act to subvert the democratic process, which is not what their creators intended.  It is illegal under state patronage laws to use state-funded institutions for partisan purposes.  No one has the right to create a closed political fiefdom at public expense.  Such exclusionary practices are the very opposite of academic freedom.  Most importantly, there is a world of difference between asking the legislature to defend principles of academic freedom, intellectual diversity and student rights, and asking them to interfere with the universities’ proper academic functions.

I hope some of you are familiar with the game of three-card monte, because by the time you’ve gotten to that final sentence, the little red book has done a fine job of hiding the little red card: “academic freedom” has now become “academic freedom, intellectual diversity and student rights,” while professors who teach about the history of race in the United States in ways Horowitz does not like, to take but one example, have become “partisan” members of a “political fiefdom” that works to “subvert the democratic process.”

[A more elaborate version of this argument can be found in Mark Bauerlein’s testimony to the Georgia state legislature on Horowitz’s behalf, the full transcript of which is available at FrontPage.com.  Some of you may be familiar with the celebrated Chronicle of Higher Education essay in which Bauerlein argues, “we can’t open the university to conservative ideas and persons by outside command. That would poison the atmosphere and jeopardize the ideals of free inquiry.” But not all of you will be familiar with the fact that eight months before that essay was published, Bauerlein was saying something quite dramatically different:

In a democratic society, universities occupy a special place, namely, the place in which inquiry is to be unfettered by politics, money, and power. But in return comes an obligation for professors to safeguard the principles of free exchange. It’s a social contract: society grants faculty space protected from power politics and business models, and faculty members pledge to uphold the ideals that differentiate the campus from the rest of society.

Academic freedom doesn’t precede the contract, nor does it belong exclusively to the faculty. Every member in the campus community must honor academic freedom and be honored by it. It is just as easy for a professor to violate a student’s academic freedom as it is for an administrator to violate a professor’s academic freedom. For a professor to argue with a student over conservative opinion is altogether fitting and proper, so long as it is conducted with respect and decided on evidence. But for faculty to hire only Left-leaning faculty, teach only Left-leaning thinkers, and explore only Left-leaning opinions is to substitute advocacy for inquiry. For administrators to discourage conservative speakers, while paying radical Leftists five-figure fees, is to throw a mainstream aura around but one narrow range of belief.

The educational costs of such bigotry are obvious, and the ethical example it sets is deplorable. Such behaviors belong outside the campus, not inside, and there is no reason why outsiders should countenance universities that break the terms of the social contract. To be sure, academic Leftists will perceive outside pressure as an infringement of academic freedom. They think that the university is an independent enclave accountable only to itself, and that any incursions from beyond by definition threaten the integrity of higher education. But, in truth, outside pressure arises precisely in order to do the opposite. It is the faculty who have abandoned the ideal, who stifle dissent no matter how learned, who under the guise of a rearguard, adversarial, protest posture rule the campus intellectual world and apportion its many comforts and securities to a slim ideological spectrum.

This is what we must demonstrate to trustees, alumnae, politicians, and parents. Academic freedom isn’t the property of the faculty. It is the responsibility of campus dwellers, yes, but the property of all citizens.

Some people would criticize Bauerlein for lining up with Horowitz so thoroughly—for misconstruing “academic freedom” as a property of students and for telling legislators that universities “hire only Left-leaning faculty, teach only Left-leaning thinkers, and explore only Left-leaning opinions.” But not me! I support all forms of intellectual diversity, including a healthy diversity of intellectually honest and intellectually dishonest positions!]

This past year, some students at Penn State have picked up this idea as well, and have begun to defend their right to academic freedom in the face of stultifying professorial orthodoxy.  Under the banner of promoting “academic freedom,” the Young Americans for Freedom erected a cute little mockup of the Berlin Wall last November, to symbolize their oppression at the hands of their liberal professors. One student was quoted in the Penn State Daily Collegian as saying “communism was pretty much dead,” but at Penn State, “it’s still one of the most heavily taught subjects.” Another agreed that “there were many liberal courses at Penn State, especially in sociology, his minor.” Now, quite apart from the question of whether communism is heavily taught at Penn State, or whether it is synonymous with liberalism, perhaps it’s worth pointing out to conservative students (at Penn State and elsewhere) that the people of the Eastern bloc, the people on the other side of the Berlin Wall, suffered mightily and died in great numbers under Communist rule, from the forced collectivization of the farms through the show trials and purges, the jailing and exile of dissidents, the invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan, and the crackdown in Poland.  Surely, then, one liberal response to Penn State’s Berlin Wall is that such gestures actually trivialize the history to which they appeal.  For it is one thing to experience political oppression at the hands of Stalin, Khrushchev, or Brezhnev.  It is quite another thing to have a liberal sociology professor in a course you have chosen to take at a university you have chosen to attend.  I can’t imagine that Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa would be terribly impressed with Penn State’s Berlin Wall, or the bravery of those who built it.  Nor can I imagine that they would think much of a putatively “conservative” movement whose goal it is to place educational institutions directly under the control of the state.

And yet this kind of thinking is now taken for granted in some quarters of the right.  Last November, National Association of Scholars president Stephen Balch testified to the Pennsylvania House Committee on Academic Freedom that because of the number of faculty members at state-funded universities in Pennsylvania who identify with “a particular political group,” state legislatures should make sure that no “advocacy” exists.  I want to call attention to the evidentiary standard here: a preponderance of registered Democrats among the faculty, in and of itself, is grounds for state action. According to the National Association of Scholars transcript of Balch’s testimony, the state of Pennsylvania must pursue “intellectual diversity” in hiring—meaning, of course, a redress of the shortage of conservatives in academe.  The legislature, Balch argued,

should expect to see the problem of intellectual pluralism addressed with the same vigor that the state’s universities are already addressing what they take to be the problem of a lack of ethnic and gender diversity. . . .

The legislature must expect a full accounting of progress made toward these goals each time the state’s universities seek new statutory authority and renewed financial support.  If a good-faith effort is being made to overcome these problems, it should leave the remedial specifics to the universities’ own decision making.  If a good-faith effort isn’t made, it should urge governing boards to seek new leadership as a condition of full support.  Failing even in that, it might, as a last resort, consider a full-scale organizational overhaul, to design governance systems and institutional arrangements better able to meet the obligations that go with academic freedom.

“Full-scale organizational overhaul”: what can that mean?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good.  And while I don’t want to say it sounds . . . Stalinist, exactly, I’m told that it was more elegant in the original Russian, when it had the secondary connotation of “let’s party like it’s 1929.”

More seriously, Balch is drawing on the history of affirmative action and employment discrimination law in order to argue that universities should make “good faith” efforts to hire people more to his ideological liking.  This is a common theme in right-wing attacks on universities, especially among those critics who have become alarmed that affirmative action has gone too far, insofar as fully five percent of all doctorates are now awarded to black people.  In 2002, attorney Kenneth Lee, a member of the far-right Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, made the case in so many words.  “The simple logic underlying much of contemporary civil-rights law,” said Lee, “applies equally to conservative Republicans, who appear to face clear practices of discrimination in American academia that are statistically even starker than previous blackballings by race.” Even starker than previous blackballings by race: according to Lee, conservative scholars have it worse than did African-Americans under segregation and Jim Crow.  Conservative is indeed the new black.  (This would mean, I imagine, that on some campuses there are fewer than zero conservatives.) It is a fantastic and deeply offensive claim in and of itself, but it becomes all the more offensive if you go back and look at the history of conservatives’ opposition to affirmative action programs in American higher education.


BUT WHERE ARE MY MANNERS? I’ve spent all this time on David Horowitz and the National Association of Scholars, and I haven’t even mentioned the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, even though its president, Anne D. Neal, has come all this way to be with us today.  Last month, ACTA published a report titled “How Many Ward Churchills?”, which consists largely of course descriptions adduced by ACTA as evidence that American universities are in fact infested by Ward Churchills.  As the report says, “it is important to explore just how widespread the Ward Churchill phenomenon” really is.  The first subheading, “Ward Churchill is Everywhere,” would seem to suggest, at least on one reading, that Ward Churchill is everywhere.

Now, I can’t say much about the courses ACTA flags, because I know no more about them than ACTA does.  All we have are the course descriptions, and it’s hard to say on the basis of those that the professors who designed the courses are really willing to blame the World Trade Center dead for the attacks of September 11. [Timothy Burke’s response to the report is characteristically painstaking and substantive, and his followup discussion is far more patient than the report or its defenders deserve.] But there is one course description I recognized when I read through the report:

Penn State University offers “American Masculinities,” which maps “how vexed ideas about maleness, manhood, and masculinity provided rough-riding presidents, High Modern novelists, Provincetown playwrights, queer regionalists, star-struck inverts, surly bohemians and others with a means to negotiate—and gender—the cultural and political turmoil that constituted modern American life.”

I happen to know who taught that course.  He is a brilliant young professor, and, thank goodness, he is nothing like Ward Churchill.  In fact, I don’t see anything objectionable about this course description, regardless of who taught the course.  On the contrary, I suggest that anyone who tries to claim that such a course has no place at an American university has no business commenting on American universities. 

By the way, since ACTA, Horowitz and company are fond of telling people that courses like this are not only evidence of the corruption of the university but also a disservice to students, perhaps it’s germane that the student evaluations of this course, and of this professor, have been off-the-charts spectacular.

[Since returning from Washington I’ve learned that ACTA blogger and University of Pennsylvania English professor Erin O’Connor is now congratulating Ms. Neal on the “civility” and on the “measured, searching, mutually respectful tone” with which she conducts correspondence with her critics, even as she continues to engage in the Horowitzian tactic of associating thousands of fine professors with Ward Churchill—including one anthropologist who committed the thoughtcrime of putting the word “race” in scare quotes.  Interestingly, a commenter by the name of Aretha Franklin, who rightly considers such attacks disrespectful of the work of good teachers, is having none of it.]

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 movement 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.  More recently, I was asked by a member of the Penn State College Republicans whether I taught “both sides” in my graduate seminar on disability studies.  In response, I mentioned the debate over what’s called the ethics of selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities, and briefly sketched out four or five positions on the question.  My point, of course, was that just as it is a mistake to think that there are two sides to every question, it is also a mistake—and a pernicious one, encouraged by Horowitz, Balch, and company—to think that there are only two sides to every question.  But this is the language with which some of our students now 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 a university purchasing system will know what I’m talking about.  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 Feingold 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.  And don’t even get me started about those Greens.

To understand what’s at stake in this principle, 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.  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 the ideal of professors’ intellectual independence from the state—and you should believe that it is an ideal worth defending.

Posted by on 06/13 at 01:48 PM
  1. I wish I didn’t have to bookmark this.  I’m glad I have the opportunity to do so.

    ...it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state.

    I also wonder about another ideological facet to all of this.  The conception of expertise as a public good, shepherded by the academy, offends the Horowitzes not only in its reality-based content, but also in its communal nature.  They seem to want expertise to be a commodity, to conform to the easy machinations of the contemporary marketplace.  I dunno; I clearly haven’t thought it completely through.  But it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  03:52 PM
  2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  bravo.  This is articulate and, I think, required reading for anyone affiliated with a university.

    Posted by Crazy Little Thing  on  06/13  at  04:18 PM
  3. really nice job. What was the response from ACTA/Neal? Also when are you gonna get a bigger microphone?

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  04:46 PM
  4. Excellent! The highjacking of academic freedom is another facet of rampant anti-intellectualism posing as political correctness.  We shouldn’t force the poor student to improve (it might hurt their feelings), let’s degrade the professors instead.

    The only point I would reconsider is the anecdote of the bioethics course.  There IS, of course, another side: “I will experiment on a few unwitting test subjects because my goal is the noble saving of millions.” A plan that all too many would find somewhat compelling if the outcome were certain.  More to the point, the proposition might seem an obviously worthwhile one to a student who has not thought it through.  If, in fact, the students in this course were not allowed to toy with this “other side” enough to see the implications, but, instead, were simply told: “obviously, this was evil,” I would say that they were done a disservice.

    As I read the speech, this example stuck out as the only foothold for opposition because an ethics question NEVER has only one side (or two, for that matter), and presenting it this way plays to the opponent’s point.  If the “other side” in this example were denial of the Holocaust, now we have a winner.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  06:03 PM
  5. One could condense this to two postulates:
    1. Academic freedom pertains to academics.
    2. Academic freedom pertains to state intervention.

    One problem, however, is that so many instructors are now technically students themselves, or else are in a situation where they can be fired without cause—adjuncts, non-tenure-track, etc.  There is also the problem that the administrators of a university quite often have non-academic goals in mind, so that their actions can seem like “outside interventions” into the university even though they technically are not.

    So one might say that clouding the meaning of academic freedom corresponds with a situation in which the space wherein academic freedom might be exercised is already closing down—due primarily to economic factors and to the importation of managerialism into every facet of life.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  06/13  at  07:12 PM
  6. What does “to gender” mean?

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  07:38 PM
  7. While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that the President’s brother just signed into law in Florida a bill that bans the teaching of “revisionist history” in Florida classrooms.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  07:42 PM
  8. What does “to gender” mean?

    To characterize social conflicts or social phenomena in such a way as to align them with assigned gender roles.  As, for example, when critics of the Book of the Month Club, in the 1930s, argued that the BOMC was encouraging a kind of mindless mass consumption associated with women’s culture (an association of women, mindlessness, and mass consumption that was revived in the last quarter of the twentieth century by critics of romance novels).  Or when the Tom Swift series of books for boys—which, interestingly enough, were not widely associated with mindlessness or mass consumption—aligned scientific curiosity with masculinity.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/13  at  07:48 PM
  9. OK, never mind the content...that’s about 5,000 words, right? And you say you got through it in 25 minutes? You must talk a lot faster than I do, since I usually plod along at 150-160 words/minute.

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  06/13  at  07:56 PM
  10. You’re right, Michael, some of my statements in the earlier testimony were overheated. I do believe that state interference with personnel and curriculum would be disastrous. Other outside pressures, including intelligent media coverage and “consumer reports,” would be welcome, but not the intrusion of legislators. Instead of chalking my position(s) up to “intellectual dishonesty,” though, you might consider that I, like many others, am trying to work through complex issues of academic freedom, curricular design, and political bias, and it causes a lot of second and third thoughts, first impressions and lasting impressions, distinguishing one’s own experiences from the objective state of the academy. Ideas change, and approaches, too.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  08:51 PM
  11. Michael, there is another argument against tenure that you don’t consider here.

    At Phi Bet Cons, the site for our good friends on the right to share notes on how badly American universities are (and they have noticed your post), the founder of the NAS has noted:

    [Tenure] allows professors to take on their administrations with far lessM risk than would be faced by any other type of staff. Put another way, its principal effect is on institutional governance not scholarly debate. It creates a system where administrators can be fired but faculty, for all intents and purposes, cannot, where administrations are transient, but faculty is forever. Those deploring the protections tenure gives to outrageous cranks like Ward Churchill, might do better to refocus their gaze on its more collective impact. Any sensible reform of tenure must start with a consideration of its consequences for the university as a constitutional system and the balance of power that exists within it.

    And, that says a whole lot about the right-wing view of tenure. He is right. Tenure does have an effect on institutional governance.

    Unlike business and the government (see the Supreme Court decision on this last week), professors with tenure can disagree with administrative decisions and it is much more difficult for administrators to punish them for such disagreements. Of course, from my experience, having to listening to professors disagreements, however public, has nothing to do with changing decisions.

    I guess the issue for our good friends on the right is why can’t universites be more like private corporations. And, tenure is clearly one of the reasons why.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  11:22 PM
  12. Thanks for stopping by, Mark, and thanks for this comment.  I’m especially glad to hear you say that state interference with personnel and curriculum would be disastrous, and of course I know what it’s like to want to take back an overheated statement now and then.  My point here was simply that it’s not true that entire universities are given over to the hiring of left-leaning faculty, the teaching of only left-leaning thinkers, and the exploration of only left-leaning opinions; and though you may have had second and third thoughts about saying so, those words will continue to resonate in Horowitzistan for years to come.  There are tendentious professors and tendentious courses, to be sure; to that much Timothy Burke and I would agree, though we’d want to ask serious questions about how much harm those people and courses entail.  But the idea that there are entire universities that constitute what Horowitz calls “closed political fiefdoms” in violation of state patronage laws really is pernicious nonsense, and responsible people should say so unambiguously.

    Now, I happen to agree with whole paragraphs of your Chronicle essay, as you’ll see in What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, though I take issue with some of your examples.  And in that spirit, I’m serious about wanting bright young conservatives to apply to graduate study in the fields they want to influence in the future, because there are (as thoughtful liberals and leftists know) some areas of academic life in which the relative absence of countervailing opinion has allowed some people to become insular and intellectually lazy.  I’ll even go so far as to say that Ross Douthat’s response to the Academic Bill of Rights was especially good, and you probably know that I don’t have a kneejerk praise-for-Douthat reflex.  So, again, thanks for commenting.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/13  at  11:22 PM
  13. Thanks, Bob Y.  You’re right that I didn’t mention the role tenure plays in illegitimately protecting faculty from administrative purges, but I did post something on right-wing complaints about tenure about two months ago.

    And, for good measure, I noted some of the finer work of the president of the NAS the very next day.

    Also when are you gonna get a bigger microphone?

    I don’t know, Jim.  I blame the liberal media.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/13  at  11:31 PM
  14. Thanks for nailing this, Michael.  But I’d love to hear more of how you’d answer someone who had no inclination even to read your blog, much less your books or those you link to, and who wanted to know whether (to return to your earlier example) you were “for” or “against” the selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities. When I try to talk to students about the ways that separationist jurisprudence has been invoked to make religions *less* accountable to democratic norms, for example, I’m inevitably asked whether I’m “for” or “against” religion, or religious freedom, or the Establishment Clause--and if I try to sketch out more than one position in response, I’ve already shown which “side” I’m on.  Any attempt to nuance discussion seems fatally built in to the language of “bias and “balance,” so that there isn’t just one side and the other side, there’s the side that knows itself to be right, and there’s John Kerry. So what do you do when you don’t have 25 minutes, or 5000 words?

    Posted by Tracy  on  06/13  at  11:50 PM
  15. Michael, I read your earlier piece and forgot about it. And your post the next day sent me to Phi Beta Cons, and now, I check it out regularly.

    If I were an academic in Connecticut, I sure would want to ask my junior Senator about helping to start ACTA in 1995.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  11:54 PM
  16. Horowitz reminds me so much of Tomlinson and the CPB in the obsessional chase after self-posited bias.It seems like one can’t be discredited in this arena unless misuse of money is involved. Since you might have to be doing this for some time to come please remember to wear your helmet.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  01:27 AM
  17. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant-and very apposite.  I’m still annoyed at how liberals let right-wingers get away with the idea that ‘ALL’ of the academy skews leftward-there seems to be no acknowledgement of the existence of schools of engineering, say, or (especially) business.  For diversity in the latter (especially in their departments of economics) I imagine that recent PhDs from either Mass (Amherst) and Cal (Riverside) will be in especial demand, since I have been led to believe that these are the two best places for Marxian economics? 
    Didn’t Russell Jacoby write something about how the history department @ UCLA was housed in an old house, which was better than the older house that was the home of the English Department, but both were overshadowed (literally) by the parking garage of the Faculty of Business (to which neither historians, nor lit crits., were allowed access)?  I think so, but it is very late, my Oilers are not going to win the Stanley Cup, and I’ve already taken my trazadone, so I can’t look it up right now.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  03:59 AM
  18. Well put and on point, as usual. If I understand what you’re saying, my plan to answer the questions on my Correlation and Regression midterm from the perspective that all these measures of association and prediction really reflect God’s will might need to be reconsidered. And I had worked so hard on delivering the J’accuse! line.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  06:50 AM
  19. Ironically, the students who cry out for “both sides” of “controversial” “issues” are those very same students who would generally decry any sort of postmodern thought or cultural relativism. I have the same problem when people suggest that the news ought to present all sides to an issue and let the viewer decide. While it’s important to offer objective reporting, it’s equally important to offer accurate reporting, and no one benefits from misinformation.

    Another interesting contradiction I noticed is that the groups you mentioned (as well as chaps like Horowitz) seem to base their attacks on liberal academia on some sort of vague notion of political correctness. It’s only fair to offer both sides of the issue, they argue, when often “fairness” is a value held to be highly overrated by most conservative activists.

    Posted by Bryan  on  06/14  at  09:12 AM
  20. Everything you say is flying at a level so far above the heads of the knuckle-dragging creationists and wingnuts they will never hear it. This is their calculation: “YOU NO TEACH MY RELIGION! YOU BAD!” They don’t have another level. If only they could grasp what you are saying in this excellent article.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  09:50 AM
  21. I found the whole text of the Douthat article helpfully and infringefully posted here.

    I’ve got a question for the tenured among us. Did achieving tenure change what you wrote and what you said?

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  10:13 AM
  22. This post has the distinction of being the first blog post I’ve encountered that needs an executive summary.

    Posted by Demosophist  on  06/14  at  10:16 AM
  23. Excellent article.

    I’ve noticed that Horowitz’s “surveys” are always conducted in the Liberal Arts departments of (mostly) large Universities.

    I’m curious as to the idealogical makeup of the Business and Technical departments. As a former student of a “hometown” commuter university I found that the faculty tended to be overwhelmingly conservative, with the exception of the Liberal Arts department.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on that?

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  10:40 AM
  24. Good stuff, Michael.

    To Mark, above: I have to say I was disappointed in your Phi Beta Cons posting regarding the ACTA report. I think I’m going to write about this a bit shortly, but what frustrates me is precisely what Michael points to here, that much of this debate is about finding out who is and is not committed to procedural liberalism as a general value and to its particular forms of practice within academic discourse.

    What I’m waiting for from some of the critics who identify with the positions taken by ACTA, Horowitz or others, which seems to include you, Mark, is a positive description of the best practices you’d like to bring into being. Not just a description, but living those practices. So when you or Erin O’Connor or others fire back at substantive point-by-point criticisms of evidence, reasoning, definition with simply by saying that there are in fact course descriptions which are “tendentious, cliched and argumentative”, and vague language about incremental change, I find that frustrating, evasive, and not a particularly convincing demonstration of the depoliticized academy that you’re trying to envision. It’s precisely because you’re one of the few critics in that group whom I’ve found to be interested in trying to envision a different kind of academic practice that I was disappointed.

    The test of commitment to a more pluralistic academy is that at those moments where people on “your side” of things offer weak or thin arguments or evidence, you need to hold to academic standards over political ones. If “depoliticizing” the academy is just about sweeping out the last set of orthodoxies in favor of new ones, which in the case of Horowitz and others is clearly so, then what’s the point? If it’s not about that, then the very shape of the debate about what academia ought to be has to look different than Punch-and-Judy battles. And I’m sorry, but neither I nor Michael nor many others in the discussion are playing Punch here, so speaking for myself, I’m getting tired of getting hit over the head in return.

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  06/14  at  10:52 AM
  25. I want to ask:
    Why is it that those with faith in open-markets, so rarely have the same faith in open-inquiry? Why it that while the distribution of resources can magically work itself out when given an open environment to operate in; the distribution of ideas cannot?

    And then answer myself:
    There’s a strange irony to realize that if there is any merit at all to the under-riding principals of autonomous decentralized agency that defines much of the right (lets call it freedom); the right shouldn’t require anything even remotely resembling “affirmative action” to stay alive. Requiring such an intervention is actually an argument against many of the core principals of the modern American right.

    But I know the reality is:
    I’m a software engineer (sort-a), and once worked on a project where we hoped to design a communications interface that adapted to various disabilities - including some fairly severe mental disabilities. For certain types of disabilities, the key was to reduce what was presented on the screen so that it reflected a single decision: Do you want next or previous?

    This is what modern politics has become. Left or Right? Modern political participants (citizens) have been effectively disabled.

    Like our software, the next step is to reduce decisions from two choices, to a single choice that can be responded to positively or negatively, and from there to no choices at all.

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  06/14  at  11:14 AM
  26. Gah!  Michael, I’ll give you a quarter AND be your bestest friend if you could just hold off on encouraging the flood of conservative applicants for one year. I have friendship references and everything.

    Good job taking all the ideas they’ve conflated back apart, though.  I’m always amazed at the audacity of the far-right in abducting liberal (and Liberal) ideas for reactionary purposes. Someday soon they’ll probably start arguing that we need affirmative action for royalists, because the Tories are woefully underrepresented in Congress. 

    Ben Alpers: “While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that the President’s brother just signed into law in Florida a bill that bans the teaching of “revisionist history” in Florida classrooms.”

    Ben, I have a copy of Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” we could send him. If he read it, he might get the impression that what he calls “revisionist history” is actually the correction of previous revisionist or just plain ideologically-driven history. Do you suppose that one might be the reader in the family? Nah, probably not. 

    captcha: modern. I think the word ID system is psychic.  It’s rather creepy.

    Posted by Heo Cwaeth  on  06/14  at  12:12 PM
  27. Ben, Heo, I think Jeb Bush merely meant to make it illegal for teachers in Florida to suggest that there were no WMD in Iraq.  As you’ll recall, Jeb’s brother has long complained about “revisionist historians” who questioned the Bush Administration’s casus belli.  “This nation acted to a threat from the dictator of Iraq,” Bush said. “Now there are some who would like to rewrite history—revisionist historians is what I like to call them.”

    And now they are illegal in Florida.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/14  at  01:30 PM
  28. I’ve got a question for the tenured among us. Did achieving tenure change what you wrote and what you said?

    Great question, Amanda.  The short answer is no, not really:  I wrote my initial Village Voice essay on the PC phenomenon in 1991, when I was a second-year assistant professor, and I began working on labor issues and graduate unions the next year.  Then again, my time on the tenure track was blissfully short, because Illinois put me up for early tenure in my fourth year, and I was awarded tenure when I was 32.  It was a relief.

    But the longer answer is that tenure freed me to take positions without risk, just as Stephen Balch fears.  The interesting thing is that this didn’t have quite the effect Balch claims.  My general defenses of liberal academe and my critiques of anti-union university administrations were already under way; with Cary Nelson, I’d convened the “Higher Education Under Fire” conference while still an assistant professor.  So tenure didn’t change any of that.  It did, however, free me to weigh in on a range of debates in my field without fear of career-killing retribution from someone writing a poison-pen letter for my tenure/promotion file.  To take but one example:  in the summer of 1993 I was invited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to review Houston Baker’s Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy for the journal Transition.  “Don’t do it,” Janet advised me.  “You know what Melvin Tolson used to say—‘it is the grass that suffers when two elephants fight.’” “Ahhhhhhhh,” I wittily replied.  “What can they do to me?  Denounce me?  Shun me?  Disinvite me from parties?  C’mon, they can’t fire me from Illinois.” “Still,” Janet insisted.  “Writing for Gates’ journal about a book that attacks Gates?  You’re walking into a shootout.” “Good,” I said.  “I’ll be just like Christian Slater in True Romance.” (I really did say this, having just seen the movie, and—quelle coincidence—having just had a conversation with Elvis in my bathroom.) “I’ll turn in a review that spares no one, and I want the managing editor of Transition to read it and say, just like Tom Sizemore, ‘Hey, I like this Bérubé kid—he’s fuckin’ crazy.’” And that’s kind of what happened, except that no one got shot and no one escaped to Mexico with $200,000.  And neither Baker nor Gates gave me a hard time about it, which was nice.

    Two years later, I wrote an essay on the Yale graduate student strike that pretty much ensured that I wouldn’t be getting any job offers from that direction anytime soon.  And still, nobody fired me from Illinois.

    My point is that tenure doesn’t just protect you from capricious administrators; it protects you from potentially capricious colleagues, as well.  As it was designed to do.

    Now if we could just do something about the fact that two-thirds of all college teachers in the U.S. don’t have that protection.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/14  at  02:09 PM
  29. I am not sure where in range of amusing-appalling-has some sort of legit point to make- this series of postings at Haaretz (the usually left of center pro-peace Israeli paper) are, but they were at least somewhat interesting.




    Basically takes off on blackballing of Cole at Yale and general anti/pro Israel campus activism, and recent counter-donation by pro-Israel rich American Jewish guy to Georgetown in response to prior pro-Arab donation from rich Saudi guy.  Suggests tongue in cheek that Universities should stir the pot enough so can solciit donations from both sides as money making scheme.  Old joke: judge say I have a bribe of $100 from the defendent and $200 from the prosecution. I am returning $100 to the prosecution and will decide the case on its merits.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  02:17 PM
  30. I sometimes wonder, Michael, if it doesn’t protect those of us who do not need its protections as an incentive. E.g., the way you tell it, you would have done what you did anyway, in all likelihood, that you did what you believed was smart and right and appropriate to your interests even before you had the protection of tenure. I wrote about children’s television while I was still an assistant professor, which was a provocative thing to do given that I was hired to be an Africanist historian and nothing else. And so on.

    For people who are intimidated early on at the thought of the consequences of their scholarly arguments, I strongly suspect that many of them do not become unintimidated at a later date simply because they have tenure.

    In a way, what tenure amounts to is the glass box that you break when there’s a real fire burning down the house, not a routine incentive for free thought. E.g., under the more unusual circumstance that a capricious colleague behaves in a truly threatening manner, tenure is the protection of last resort. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be unpleasant to have a collegue who is gunning for you, or that you won’t be a target of intellectual abuse. Tenure hasn’t saved anyone from being subject to various more insidious ways of controlling or suppressing intellectual or scholarly conversations, and how could it? It’s an institutional rule, and rules don’t change subtle forms of everyday praxis. They just fix the outer boundaries of what can and cannot be done.

    So we need it. But we also need to find ways to shift the culture so that the trajectory you describe for yourself becomes closer to the expected norm of academic career practice: write with freedom, with joy, with passion, without microcalculations of mandarin etiquette.

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  06/14  at  02:26 PM
  31. Horowitz and his ilk don’t really care at all about academic freedom.  Horowitz wants to win, and winning is his only goal.  Still, I’m glad you present such a clear defense of the reasons we in academia don’t (for the most part) want legislatures to get involved in issues of academic freedom.

    So many of us who have corresponded with Horowitz have found that he will start out seeming to be interested in real discussion and debate.  Invariably, though, he ends up cutting off the exchange, for he doesn’t convince.  He doesn’t win--and that makes him angry.

    You mention his The Art of Political War and rightly so; it’s one of the scariest essays I have read in quite a long time.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  06/14  at  02:28 PM
  32. In your essay and the comments, you make two important points that are underapprciated. The “public” share of university funding has declined sharply in the last couple decades and most teaching faculty do not have the protection of tenure. In departments/colleges that rely on soft money, such as medical schools or schools of public health, tenure is often irrelevant. If you don’t have grants, you don’t have a job. And in the case of Dan Kirschenbaum (a psychologist who was dimissed by his department at Northwestern Med School), grants and tenure can sometimes provide no protection, at all.

    Conservatives often seem to target cissues/constitencies that are already vulnerable or already on a particular path. Bill Bennett discovered the “drug problem” just as drug use was in decline and education, just as a consensus was emerging for school reform--it’s easy to declare victory. If universities already struggle for public funds and rely on postdocs, grad students and adjuncts to to teach, then freedom in the classroom is all the more in danger.

    Private institutions are sometimes worse than their public counterparts. A number of years ago, I was associated with a highly respected private university in the Southeast. The place was very litigation phobic and afraid of negative responses from donors whose kids were accepted (often as legacies). It was the kind of place where one could get an education that was excellent, in many ways. OTOH, it was a place where faculty were afraid to give a low grade to the child of some Buick dealer from Biloxi or say something that could provoke donor resentment. The university had had no Jewish faculty until the 70s and discovered affirmative action for racial minoritiesin the late 80s. To its credit, the administration was trying to broaden the student body (the best students came from outside the region, which made this easy) and the provost was an actual lefty, but faculty still felt constrained. Faculty who really wanted to set their own agenda tended to leave and I can think of several who are happy in other institutions.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  03:58 PM
  33. Timothy Burke: I don’t think an observance that some who reach tenure were as brave/fool-hearty before, is much of an argument against the protection of tenure, which I think is what you’re getting at. There’s a difference between making a daring intellectual point within academia and being a tenured elder of academia who takes a stand. The former is an amusing youth, and the later strikes terror into the hearts of… well, those who don’t like the idea tenure and liberal academia.

    The threat of the tenured is that they occupy a position of status that isn’t subject to the coercive elements of economics and popular politics. In a weird and wonderful way, the protection of tenure creates the very status that gives the tenured their teeth.

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  06/14  at  04:03 PM
  34. Screaming Bolshevik, I’m in the engineering college at a large land-grant university.  I’d describe the overall atmosphere as rather apolitical.  The engineering faculty that I know personally span the spectrum (or more precisely, a modest subset of the spectrum).  In my department, one prof. has a big Reagan poster on his door, another was the local Howard Dean organizer in 2004.  The students are more conservative than the faculty, but that is hardly a surprise.  The faculty come from all over the world, the students mostly from our state. 

    Thanks for a terrific essay, Michael.  I might add that not only are we accountable for how the money gets spent (i.e. following all the byzantine rules for purchases), but we are also accountable with respect to accreditation of our programs.  I spend a lot of time on assessment of student learning outcomes, etc., much of which is mandated by the regents.  While some of that assessment is a pain in the neck, it is reasonable that we be asked to demonstrate that our students are achieving the learning objectives of our courses.  As you point out, it is not reasonable for the legislature to control what those course-specific objectives are.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  04:15 PM
  35. As an untenured faculty member, I’d reverse Amanda’s question.  I’d ask the untenured faculty if they really do self-censor their writing because they don’t have tenure? 

    I guess I’m kind of like Michael in that I write what I write and do what I do and never think about the supposed vulnerability that being untenured brings.  (I’m unlike Michael in that I am untenured at 44 rather than tenured at 32 [punk kid!]).  I’ve even been reported to the Students for “Academic Freedom” with no adverse consequences.

    Of course, I’m in a good department full of good senior faculty that only deny tenure except on the weakness of the academic record rather than on the basis of the snot-nosed junior faculty rousing some rabble. 

    Capcha: “learned.” I gotta agree that the ghost in the machine has psychic abilities here.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  06:03 PM
  36. I am an applied linguist in an English department at a public regional comprehensive university that values speaking out. My views on my discipline are not really understood by my literature colleagues. Tenure had no affect on what I do in the discipline.

    What tenure allowed me to do was openly question decisions made by administrators at all levels.  It is for that reason that I was so interested in the words of the head of NAS on the fact that tenured faculty can question administrators and administrators don’t have the power others have in the private sector.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  09:07 PM
  37. I sometimes wonder, Michael, if it doesn’t protect those of us who do not need its protections as an incentive. . . .  For people who are intimidated early on at the thought of the consequences of their scholarly arguments, I strongly suspect that many of them do not become unintimidated at a later date simply because they have tenure.

    I wonder about this too, Timothy, though I didn’t know you wrote about children’s television.  Now there’s a risk.  Seriously, I think that most people who become skilled in self-censorship by the age of 35 or 40 have a hard time unlearning those skills.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/14  at  10:02 PM
  38. Tracy, I’m so sorry I missed this question:

    I’d love to hear more of how you’d answer someone who had no inclination even to read your blog, much less your books or those you link to, and who wanted to know whether (to return to your earlier example) you were “for” or “against” the selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities. When I try to talk to students about the ways that separationist jurisprudence has been invoked to make religions *less* accountable to democratic norms, for example, I’m inevitably asked whether I’m “for” or “against” religion, or religious freedom, or the Establishment Clause—and if I try to sketch out more than one position in response, I’ve already shown which “side” I’m on.  Any attempt to nuance discussion seems fatally built in to the language of “bias and “balance,” so that there isn’t just one side and the other side, there’s the side that knows itself to be right, and there’s John Kerry. So what do you do when you don’t have 25 minutes, or 5000 words?

    No doubt I overlooked this one because it’s too hard.  But here’s what I do—not that it’s terribly successful, because, after all, Toyboat’s got a point:  sometimes I simply run into people whose worldviews preclude the possibility of taking mine into serious consideration.

    But I open with this:  does anyone really want to make it mandatory for a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if the fetus has Tay-Sachs?

    Then:  OK, if it’s all right to screeen for Tay-Sachs—and orthodox Jewish organizations, for example, support this enthusiastically, so it doesn’t break down easily on liberal/ conservative lines—then is it OK to screen for Down syndrome?  for spina bifida?  for Huntington’s? for gender?

    Most people—again, merely most—agree that it’s OK to screen for a disease in which a child will lead a short and excruciatingly painful life, and, conversely, most think that screening for gender is not a good idea.  Those are the rough boundaries of our tentative social consensus at present.  Within those boundaries, then, you have to balance (a) what prospective parents think they can deal with; (b) the dangers of mandatory prenatal screening over against (c) the possible harm involved in preventing people from obtaining information about the pregnancy; (d) the likelihood that the child, when born, will require a great deal of health care (and (e) what that means in a country where access to health care is largely predicated on one’s ability to pay for it); (f) the dangers of eugenics, and everything entailed in eugenics; and (g), last but not least, all the usual arguments for and against abortion.  But you’re right, there are plenty of contexts in trying to sketch out more than one position in response is itself an intolerable form of side-taking.

    But that should, at least, give someone an idea of how complex this one is.  Total delivery time, two minutes or less. 

    Am I for or against?  The shortest answer is that it depends on the disability, and on who’s doing the deciding.  Anyone who considers that a waffle is welcome to stay for the 25-minute, 5000-word version. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  06/15  at  12:44 AM
  39. some of your less academically-minded readers may be wondering just who this “American Council of Trustees and Alumni” is.  as their website helpfully explains:

    ACTA was launched by former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Lynne V. Cheney, former Governor Richard D. Lamm of Colorado, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, distinguished social scientist David Riesman, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow and others.

    Posted by  on  06/15  at  02:42 AM
  40. Quick Answers by CCP:

    Q: Are you “for” or “against” the selective abortion of foetuses with disabilities?
    A: All foetuses are equal; regardless of their inherent, potential, or apparent disabilities. Irrelevant question.

    Q: Are you “for” or “against” religion?
    A: Religion means “way of life”. Your life has a way to it whether you’re for or against it. Irrelevant question.

    Q: Are you “for” or “against” religious freedom.
    A: I try not to impose freedom on someone else’s religion.

    Q: Are you “for” or “against” the Establishment Clause?
    A: I’m not an American. Irrelevant question.

    Q: Why do I get the feeling that I should be more “nuanced”?
    A: Maybe it’s a privilege of non-academics to be belligerent.

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  06/15  at  03:27 AM
  41. It is interesting in Michael’s response to Toyboat (#38)that the question shifts from one of abortion to one of screening. 

    If one is against the aborting of fetuses with disabilities, does it follow that one should be against the screening for those disabilities? 

    In the case of PKU I understand that we screen for PKU so that the mother can change her eating habits during the pregnancy to minimize the impact of the disability on the fetus.  But in the case of other disabilities perhaps no change in the mother’s behavior would mean much to the fetus.  So, what is the point of screening for those if you are withdrawing the option of abortion? 

    Another way to ask the question might be:  To what extent is screening for a disability predicated on the notion that we have the ability to do something with the information.  And how does it change our decision to screen if abortion is or is not one of the options?

    Posted by  on  06/15  at  12:56 PM
  42. I think that most people who become skilled in self-censorship by the age of 35 or 40 have a hard time unlearning those skills.

    I left academia pretty much as soon as I earned my doctorate.  In 2001, I started teaching again as an adjunct, enjoyed it, started publishing and cast around for full-time work.

    What I found on return (I was 50) is that I am much more outspoken than all but a few of my colleagues.  This bothered me.  After all, most of them had tenure and I wasn’t even on a tenure track at the time.

    My initial reaction was to decide that there were many bright but cowardly academics, and that they had probably chosen the ivory tower as a safe haven.  Now that I have inhabited the system for a couple of years, I think I was not only wrong but too harsh.

    Our systems of peer review (both of scholarship and in the classroom) make many people decide that the only way to survive is to toe the line.  This isn’t cowardice, however, but a simple desire to surive--one that it often rationalized by the idea that, after tenure is achieved, things can change.

    The problem is that Michael is right: old habits are hard to break.  Just so, it is difficult for me, a shopkkeeper who had to bow to no one as long as the goods kept moving, to learn to shut up.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  06/15  at  01:28 PM
  43. jpj, there’s no “shift” from abortion to screening:  the question of “the ethics of selective abortion for fetuses with disabilities” involves screening right from the start.  How else to determine whether a fetus has a disability?  (Note, however, that prenatal screening catches only a small percentage of disabilities, and is useless with regard to autism, cerebral palsy, most forms of deafness, and disabilities consequent on birth traumas.) As for why one would choose to screen while refusing to consider abortion:  some people screen in order to prepare for a difficult birth and possible neonatal complications.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/15  at  01:56 PM
  44. Off the original topic, but ultra orthodox communities in U.S. accepted genetic screening for various autosommal recessive disorders so carriers would not be set up in arranged marriages. They did allow one time only abortions initially, then arranged for divorce and remarriage where carriers had been partrnered before screening started.

    Posted by  on  06/15  at  02:03 PM
  45. Michael:  Thanks for the response.  I didn’t mean a “shift” in a negative sense of being sneaky.  I was just musing on the idea that the decision to screen for certain conditions is tied to what we can do with the information once we get it.  My question was posed partly because of a hazy memory of a class it took in behavioral genetics and how the PKU screen was developed precisely because there is something that can be done with the information to partially alleviate the condition. 

    Your answer about neonatal complications makes clear that there are always uses to which the information can be put.

    Posted by  on  06/15  at  05:05 PM
  46. Michael,

    A very fine speech, laced with generous amounts of wry humor. My one complaint, however, is with your use of the Horowitz photo.  I’m not sure my already fragile psyche needed to be confronted with the frightening spectacle of Horowitz’s “constipation face.”

    On a brief academic note: are you familiar with Grafton and Jardine’s book “From Humanism to the Humanities?” Although it is a historical treatment of Renaissance humanism, I think you would find some of it useful, particularly what they have to say in their introduction about the persistent assumption within certain quarters of British and American culture that the humanities--and I am quoting them here--"are intrinsically supportive of ‘civilization’--that is, of the Establishment” (xvi).

    As Grafton and Jardine point out, humanists themselves are largely responsible for advancing this view of the humanities curriculum, having appropriated this rhetoric rather uncritically from the classical models they idealized.

    In some ways I think the challenge sets in with the Enlightenment, because the Enlightenment tradition doesn’t sit squarely with the traditional humanities curriculum, which continued, and indeed still continues in many places, to express its value in terms of its ability to prepare people for life as active citizens. While there is certainly a potentially very critical element within humanism, I don’t think this element is anywhere near as large as that of the Enlightenment tradition.  As a number of writers have recognized--despite Kant’s best efforts in “What is Enlightenment?” to contain the corrosive potential of an autonomous Enlightened reason, this element is potentially quite corrosive to any easy assumption that education forms an important support for contemporary society.

    That’s not to say that it is inherently critical and emancipatory, only that in its rhetoric and in its conceptualization of itself the Enlightenment tends not to promote its value along quite the same lines as traditional humanistic study.

    So what’s my point?  My point is that Horowitz and company often express a view of education’s function that is more in keeping with traditional humanist premises, albeit with a distinctly right-wing cast. They want education that supports the state, that cultivates and builds up a common ethos, and so on. While they might occasionally speak in ways that suggest they are the defenders of Enlightenment traditions, the last thing these folks really want is something like a reactivation of the radical potential of Enlightenment principles. That’s just a breeding ground for the kinds of interrogations one sees happening in academia today.

    What is needed is some clarification of the divergence of these approaches and of their blurring throughout U.S. educational history and the persistence of such blurring in the present. Unfortunately, some liberal educators--I’m thinking of someone like Bottstein here--continue to engage in this kind of blurring, refusing to see the ways that humanistic and Enlightenment educational traditions are sometimes at cross purposes, often starkly so.

    This won’t solve everything, not by a long-shot.  But it might help to clarify some of the reasons why someone like Horowitz can defend his positions on education as “liberal,” which he does (and not, I think, in act of obviously bad faith). “Liberal” in this context means something like the classic humanistic tradition for Horowitz. We need to recognize the extent to which defences of the humanities curriculum along traditionally humanistic lines (i.e. as preparation for a life of active citizenship) in some ways only perpetuates a view of education as supportive of (rather than critical of) “the Establishment” (xvi), and to which folks like Horowitz frequently appeal.

    Posted by  on  06/15  at  09:08 PM
  47. In re the “American Masculinities” course:

    At the little state-sponsored liberal arts college where I teach, one of the courses that is available for Core Curriculum credit is called “Real Men.” Here’s the description:

    Provides the opportunity to examine and determine the validity of stereo-types as they apply to the image of the American male. Through the use of feature films and selected readings from various disciplines, most from the social sciences, the student will explore, describe, analyze and evaluate the concept, behavior, attitudes and characteristics of “Real Man”.  The following film genre have been selected: The Wild West; War; Cops & Robbers; Sports.  Among the feature films selected are: High Noon; The Magnificent Seven; Casablanca; Dirty Harry; Die Hard; Bull Durham; Slapshot.

    The teacher is, shall we say, rather right-wing (I had to ban him from my own blog due to his obscenity-laden tirades), but it sounds like the two courses are actually not that far apart.


    Posted by Wes F. in North Adams  on  06/15  at  10:47 PM
  48. Good one, Wes.  The difference is, of course, that the Penn State course has a distinct whiff of teh gay, which is why ACTA objects to it as a form of “politicization.” Not a very savory or particularly defensible position on ACTA’s part, but it plays well, to . . . ah . . . certain constituencies, shall we say.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/16  at  09:31 AM
  49. Not so! Masculinity is an intrinsically politicized subject, which is why noted conservative Harvey Mansfield has written his book Manliness, which appears in ACTA’s report as an example of the kind of assigned work which marks off a course using the text as obviously politicized and…

    Oh. Right. Never mind. Carry on.

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  06/17  at  03:33 PM
  50. I have bookmarked your website because this site contains valuable information in it.I am really happy with articles quality and presentation.Thanks a lot for keeping great stuff.I am very much thankful for this site.Traditional Chinese Medicine Meadowbank

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  03:14 AM
  51. The reference on your site to a new McCarthyism is what attracted by attention. Yes, PC is the new McCarthyism.
    I am worried to learn that gay activists have brought a charge of scientific misconduct against Professor Mark Regnerus of Texas University.
    Prof.Regnerus, as I am sure you know, has carried out by far the biggest and most thorough study ever done of the impact of gay parenting on children. The gay activists are furious because his results were unflattering towards them. A certain Mr Scott Rose now accuses Regerus of improper bias although his work was peer-reviewed and 18 other scientists confirm that he conducted the research to objective professional standards.

    Have we now reached a point where only research that fits in with the extremist gay agenda will be permitted in Western universities?
    Has every other scholar got to be hounded out of the profession and prevented from teaching?
    The “flaw” consists of the results not being what they want to hear. Previous “studies” that gays like to quote consisted of asking a tiny sample of about 45 white, lesbian, middle-class mothers, all in the same town, what grades their children were getting at school, or if they had any “problems”. Regnerus’s study was much more objective. He asked 500 adults across the USA from all different classes and backgrounds about a range of issues, then asked them whether their parents had been straight, gay, married or separated without telling any of them what the purpose of the research was.
    It is of great importance to defend Prof. Regnerus’s right to conduct and publish his research along with that of any other academic, without dictatorship or censorship from any vociferous self-interest group such as the gay extremists.
    Regnerus is only one of a number of academics who have been hounded in this unethical way. Dr Christian Raabe in England was another. In Israel there was the disgraceful case of Professor Yeruham Leavitt, dismissed by Ben Gurion University for opinions idssenting from gay-extremist dogmas.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.../yeruham-leavitt-ben-gurio_n_636927.h...6 Jul 2010 –

    The whole future of academic freedom is now at risk.

    Posted by  on  07/17  at  05:44 AM
  52. I want to ask:
    Why is it that those with faith in open-markets, so rarely have the same faith in open-inquiry? Why it that while the distribution of resources can magically work itself out when given an open environment to operate in; the distribution of ideas cannot?

    And then answer myself:
    There’s a strange irony to realize that if there is any merit at all to the under-riding principals of autonomous decentralized agency that defines much of the right (lets call it freedom); the right shouldn’t require anything even remotely resembling “affirmative action” to stay alive. Requiring such an intervention is actually an argument against many of the core principals of the modern American right.

    But I know the reality is:
    I’m a software engineer (sort-a), and once worked on a project where we hoped to design a communications interface that adapted to various disabilities - including some fairly severe mental disabilities. For certain types of disabilities, the key was to reduce what was presented on the screen so that it reflected a single decision: Do you want next or previous?

    This is what modern politics has become. Left or Right? Modern political participants (citizens) have been effectively disabled.

    Like our software, the next step is to reduce decisions from two choices, to a single choice that can be responded to positively or negatively, and from there to no choices at all.

    Money On Toast

    Posted by Ian  on  08/06  at  04:53 AM





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