Academic Freedom

Eugene Volokh has a post up in the midst of all this Ward Churchill hoopla where he defends academic freedom. He defines it as follows:
By academic freedom principles, I mean First Amendment protection for those of us at state-run schools, but also contractual protection and the protection provided by the profession’s social norms.
Firstly, it seems to me, everyone has First Amendment protection and that’s not even an issue here; there is no talk of jailing Churchill or of throwing him into one of Ashcroft’s gulags in North Dakota. One of the cherished tactics of the left is that whenever some non-academic has the temerity to challenge things they’ve said is to wrap themselves in the Constitution and proclaim that their First Amendment rights are under attack (mind you, these are the very same people who have taken away our First Amendment rights by getting “Hate Speech” legislation passed). Nonsense. Let’s review the First Amendment, shall we?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It says Congress. There’s nothing in there that can possibly be construed as to mean “my boss can’t fire me if I act like a walking talking rectum.” You have the right to say whatever you like without fear of retribution from the government, no doubt, and that’s how it should be. However, your fellow citizens also have that right, and the things they can say include “you’re fired.”
So in no way, shape or form is this a First Amendment issue.
So why do I agree that Churchill should not lose his job over what he wrote?

Let’s look again at what Eugene wrote:
By academic freedom principles, I mean First Amendment protection for those of us at state-run schools, but also contractual protection and the protection provided by the profession’s social norms.
He makes a distinction between state-run and private schools, and it’s an important one: someone at North Jersey State College should not be fired for saying “Religion is a bunch of hooey” but clearly if that person taught at North Jersey Seminary the school would be perfectly justified in canning them.
As I said, professors already have the 1stA (I’m getting tired of typing “First Amendment”) protection we all have, in fact they have more; well, actually we, the people, have less 1stA protection, for while as far as professors are concerned
…(i)f it weren’t for academic freedom, we might face serious retaliation for speech — even outside-the-classroom, on-blog speech — that our colleagues claims creates a “hostile learning environment” for students, supposedly constitutes “hate speech” (a vague and broad category), supposedly discredits the institution in the eyes of this or that group, and so on.
Those of us in the ‘general’ population are quite liable to a number of criminal statutes for any of the above (And I think that that is an affront to our liberty and a gross violation of our freedom which should be corrected immediately…but that’s a topic for another time).
So it’s really an issue of contractual protection, not 1stA, and “the protection provided by the profession’s social norms.” Earlier, Eugene makes his most compelling case for Academic Freedom, which I agree with:
But university professors are supposed to do a good job by saying what they think is right, even when that’s offensive or alienating to people. Such an ability to express highly controversial views, even views that many people find deeply offensive, is critical for the effective functioning of universities as institutions. If university professors know that expressing controversial views about the war effort, about racial differences, about sex or sexual orientation, and so on will get them fired, then effective scholarship and public debate about these issues would be very much stifled. A “don’t offend the customers” or “if it’s controversial, don’t say it” approach may be perfectly sensible for many kinds of businesses or even government agencies. But it would be awful for universities.
No, simply for what he said Churchill should not lose his job, and nor should we refrain from roundly criticizing him, for our rights are every bit as deserving as his. He may very well end up losing his job if it turns out that he mis-represented his ethnicity during his hiring; if this leads universities to think long and hard about what criteria they use to grant tenure all the better, especially if it leads universities to curb rewarding weak candidates for their ancestry instead of their teaching abilities and/or scholarship. But for right now they deserve to be stuck with him.

17 Responses to “Academic Freedom”

  1. Jorgen says:

    “But university professors are supposed to do a good job by saying what they think is right, even when that’s offensive or alienating to people.”
    He does not know much about universities. Most my former colleagues are apathetic, navelgazing moonbats who have no idea of what goes on in real life; noone should have to listen to them.

  2. Mr. Bingley says:

    He does say supposed
    But seriously, as I discuss here, I have no doubt that what you say is true, and I think to some extent they are caught in a vicious circle of moonbatity: they have no idea of what goes on in real life, and their grandiose pronouncements are ignored, which drives them insane and whips them into making even more ridiculous statements, which are ignored and derided causing…and so on.
    The combination of high intelligence, intolerance, ego and political impotence is not a pretty thing, and they don’t take it well. By gum they know they’re smarter than all of us and they know how to fix everything and the fact that we won’t submit drives them absolutely bonkers.

  3. NJ Sue says:

    Groupthink flourishes in academe because everything boils down to peer acceptance and reputation. This is especially true in the humanities. The social dynamic is similar to junior high school in many cases. In the “real world,” practical competence or the bottom line keeps people accountable. Not so in the realm of ideas. There was an excellent article recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the liberal/leftish consensus in academe and how anti-intellectual this pervasive groupthink really is. It doesn’t surprise me that Ward Churchill got as far as he did in the academic hierarchy. The problem in the humanities and in some of the social sciences is that it’s often very hard to draw the distinction between ideology and scholarship.

  4. Ken Summers says:

    See dude? THIS is why we’ve been telling you to get a blog!

  5. Ken Summers says:

    You and the rest of TOWACA.

  6. Ken Summers says:

    Which reminds me, I’m still waiting to see THS’s TOWACAs.

  7. Jorgen says:

    … they know how to fix everything

    Heh, not that many of them, actually. You know the old saying: “if you can’t do anything practical, you have to teach. If you can’t teach, you have to administrate.”

  8. The Real JeffS says:

    I tend to agree that this jerk shouldn’t be fired for what he said, but he damn sure needs to be punished for being insensitive and bigoted. “Political correctness” has come to mean “Lefties can be as insulting as they want but everyone else has to toe the line”. Pure hypocrisy. Bigotry need not target racial divides. Political and social boundaries do as well, I’ve found.
    If the trustees can find a loophole, use it, and squash this turd even lower.

  9. Mr. Bingley says:

    well, ‘fix’ in the sense that their perfect idealized friction-free theories tie everything together…it’s just us morons in the ‘real’ world that keep screwing everything up for them.
    i don’t subscribe to the generalization that teachers are lazy; in fact some of them are some of the hardest working people i know, and i thank them for their efforts.

  10. And thanks everyone, for leaping to my defence at Ken’s lewd, lascivious and licentious TOWACA leering loungelizardlike obiter dictum.

  11. Mr. Bingley says:

    I figured Old Peculier would take care of him.

  12. Emily says:

    Eugene Volokh is a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA. I can’t remember the exact age he began teaching, but he’s one of those brilliant prodigy kids who graduated college in his teens sometime. I think he knows a little something about universities.
    This isn’t to argue against any of Mr. B’s points.

  13. Mr. Bingley says:

    and he’s a nice fellow, too.

  14. Emily says:

    He is. I met him at a dinner at Chris Newman’s house once. For all his brains and education, he’s a very friendly, easy-going guy. Not the slightest bit intimidating, as I expected.

  15. Mr. Bingley says:

    i had a very brief email exchange with him, and from that i can say it’s all about oil. wait, agree with you emily, i mean.

  16. Ken Summers says:

    Now now, THS, you’re a fine, upstanding, lovely example of [transplanted] southern womanhood. Nothing wrong with admitting it.

  17. Mr. Bingley says:

    yeah, about 7,000 miles transplanted…

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