So, where are the chants from the Left about a self-serving organization with no opposition oversight blatantly lying about international events thereby directly resulting in people dying?
Update: Dean Esmay’s take on this issue is likewise correctly on target.
Richard T. De George of the University of Kansas has an article in today’s Washington Post Opinion section on the topic of academic freedom. I’d suggest anyone who’s interested in the topic read it in its entirety since what follows here isn’t intended to be a line-by-line fisking. My intention here is to raise some points from a decidedly non-academic perspective and to convey my general feelings on the article itself.
De George’s conclusion is that academic freedom is important and that it needs support from the public the most when the public is questioning whether or not academia has gone too far while wrapping themselves in this cloak. On this, I can agree. However, as with nearly all things, there’s such a thing as too much and this topic is no exception to that rule. This is my first problem with De George’s article. At the end of the article you’re left with the impression that the professor is saying that there should be no limit whatsoever in pursuits done under the aegis of academic freedom. He’s got some specific comments where he’s trying to paint himself as being evenly balanced, but it just doesn’t come off that way. Some of his comments, frankly, come across condescending as hell. With that said, let’s deal with some of the specifics.
|::::::::||Harvard President Larry Summers comes under fire for trying to provoke debate at a scientific conference and wins a no-confidence vote from members of his own faculty. The University of Colorado is barraged by critics calling for the head of Ward Churchill, a tenured professor who made comments that seemed to justify the 9/11 attacks. And campus Democrats nationwide blast legislation in 16 states proposing an “academic bill of rights” championed by conservative students demanding a greater diversity of views in academe.
What do these three cases have in common? They all raise the question of academic freedom — that elusive independence on which universities rely in the pursuit of knowledge. If you’ve been reading the newspapers much recently, you could be forgiven for wondering what’s going on with this once sacrosanct concept. The widespread condemnation of Churchill, in particular, seems to indicate that the general public thinks academic freedom has gone too far, and that it’s giving professors license to play politics at whim.
But the current danger for academic freedom is not that it has been carried too far and that we have too much of it. The danger is that we have too little and that it is under subtle attack. And the attack from within the university is even more pernicious than the attack from without.
Well, the professor is certainly pulling out the trifecta here, as well he should. As you read on through the article, you’ll find that he thinks Larry Summers got a bum rap. While he doesn’t come out defending Ward Churchill, he does leave the huge, huge impression that he’s defending him subtly. And for the record, professor, the widespread condemnation of Churchill doesn’t “seem” to indicate anything about a general feeling about academic freedom. It absolutely does indicate that the general public thinks what he did should not be considered worthy of the protection of academic freedom. Churchill is, in fact, playing politics at his whim and he’s using tax dollars to provide himself with the venue to spread his word. The general public is condemning Ward Churchill and his purposely hateful, incendiary commentary, not the existence of an abstract like academic freedom. Even though many today think that professors are going too far and waving academic freedom around like a talisman, what Churchill posits – that America did something to provoke the terrorist attacks of 9/11 – isn’t unique to Churchill. Distasteful as the concept is, it was only Churchill’s character assassination of the dead in the World Trade Center that brought the condemnation. Is Professor De George claiming that the only way for Churchill to pursue the topic is to smear the memories of the dead with comparisons to the willing architect of one of the 20th century’s most heinous events? I don’t buy it, professor, and that’s not saying academic freedom shouldn’t exist. That’s the condemnation you’re seeing.
With that, we come to the first blatant condescension of the professor’s missive:
|::::::::||Whether Churchill’s comments — and other statements he has made since the original controversy broke — fall within the bounds of his academic freedom is up to the university to decide.||::::::::|
By which, I gather that the professor believes the rest of us mere mortals are insufficiently educated to make rational judgements by virtue of the fact that we didn’t chose to become academics. Welcome to the new priesthood, America. Got a problem with that? Well, buzz off. The only people fit to decide whether that’s a problem are the people who are telling the rest of us that if we have a problem, that’s our problem. Professor, I can analyze ethics as well as anyone and Churchill’s comments went far, far beyond the pale of research. What you’re telling me, however, is that even though I (and perhaps my children) are expected to absorb and process this crap, we have no right to tell Mr. Churchill that he’s an un-American quack. The irony of it all is that Churchill’s whole point is completely lost owing entirely to his own choice of how he expresses it. That he, and you, apparently, then have the gall to suggest that the problem lies with we, the unwashed masses, who are incompetent to adequately judge whether Churchill has stepped over the line is largely the reason why people think academia is going too far. To turn Churchill’s argument to this situation, sir, perhaps the problem is one you and your academic brethren have provoked.
This theme of “academics are the only ones competent to judge academic value” continues on his article:
|::::::::||Much of the confusion over academic freedom stems from a failure to understand that it is a three-part concept, aimed at promoting knowledge for the benefit of society at large. The first part relates to the university’s freedom to run its own academic affairs, determine appropriate curricula and hire competent faculty without being subject to the dictates of legislatures or governors, religious leaders, alumni or donors, or governmental agencies. Those within the institution hold their positions because of their competence in their academic areas and so are best equipped to decide what needs to be taught, what needs to be researched, and how to do both.||::::::::|
Thinking back to the schools I’ve attended, I can’t imagine that any rational individual who’s not purposely trying to whitewash something would make a claim like the professor’s, here. I’m afraid if the professor thinks this is true, he’s just simply out of touch with reality. How many university professors have been overwhelmingly described by their students as being clueless in his supposed field of endeavor? How many of you readers have personally been under the unfortunate tutelage of an instructor that couldn’t teach, even if he or she did know the material? Would you call that “competent?” In a perfect world, I would say the professor is right. People hired to be academics would be among the best in their fields. They’d be capable, regardless. As such, they’d be best able to make the decisions he describes. But that’s not the state of the world and to say that those of us outside the halls of academia are supposed to act like it is while the academics themselves don’t hold up their end of the bargain is just crap.
I also think the professor should look for a better subject to press this argument with than Ward Churchill.
|::::::::||Academic freedom is not license; it imposes responsibilities and requires appropriate accountability.||::::::::|
Refreshing as it is to hear someone in academia to actually articulate this, it comes off as a dismissive “CYA” comment designed to do nothing more than give the appearance of a balanced position. After making this one mention, the concept of academic freedom holding responsibilities for the wielder is completely ignored. No where else in the article do we see an exhortation to his fellow professors to use this freedom with a sense of perspective on what will result from its exercise. As I implied above, the manner of expression of a given thought is as important as the content of the thought itself. The responsibility that goes with academic freedom is that one will take the time and make the effort to convey the thought without offending the listener as much as can be done. Churchill failed miserably at this responsibility. Which begs the question, of course, who’s supposed to provide the “appropriate accountability?” De George is quite clear about that: the university and the rest of academia. This is a classic “who watches the watchmen?” situation that academics would never sit still for were it someone else enjoying such protections at their expense. Perhaps it was a matter of space, but I’d really like to hear the professor’s answer to that question: who will provide that accountability and, given that the offense given when the responsibility isn’t met is born by the students and the public, how will that accountability be manifest? Again, I need only point to Ward Churchill and the items already turned up in his past to prove my point that academia isn’t doing a very good job policing themselves.
Finally, the professor’s closing paragraphs deal with that third issue he brought up, that of conservative students and faculty being pressured to toe a liberal line in order to pass or be hired. Honestly, one needs only read the words he choses to get the idea that the professor thinks those people making the complaints are either hallucinating or simply making it all up.
|::::::::||The bill of rights, which was conceived by conservative activist David Horowitz and his watchdog group Students for Academic Freedom, would require professors to present a greater diversity of views on unsettled issues. It is a reaction on the part of conservative students to what they feel is the dominance of liberal faculties at many universities, where the students say that claims made in the name of academic freedom implicitly permit professors to require that students hew to a certain political line in order to pass a course, or where potential faculty members have to hold a certain political ideology in order to be hired.||::::::::|
So, the conservatives are definitely trying to cut the throat of academic freedom, but their impetus is only something they “feel” is a dominance of liberal faculties. Yes, it certainly sounds like an open mind, there, professor. And what would a defense of the poor academic be without some equalizing, eh?
|::::::::||On campuses that are primarily liberal, conservative faculty and students often feel pressure to keep quiet, not to write on or even raise certain subjects, and to stifle their dissenting opinions. On conservative campuses, liberals feel similar pressure.||::::::::|
Sorry, what conservative campuses? Outside of universities specifically run, funded, and operated by religious groups, where in America are you finding a conservative campus? Seriously, if you know one, drop me a note. From everything I’ve read – and I read plenty that steps aside from the right-wing – I can’t figure out where these conservative campuses are, and, if they do exist, why the ACLU isn’t pounding them down into their foundations.
Is academic freedom important to our society? No. It’s crucial. Without it, we’ve got no hope of continuing to be a leader in the world technologically because it’s that freedom to pursue research where it leads that keeps us sharp and constantly discovering. I have no argument with the professor on this one at all. What I do argue is that not enough emphasis has been placed on the responsibility and accountability aspects of that freedom. Until academia is willing to place as much importance on these facets of the gem as on the privileges conferred then the general public is going to continue to have the disdain for academic freedom that concerns the professor so rightly.
Cheerleading isn’t one of those important questions of life and liberty that comes up in my head. I like cheerleading just fine and, to be brutally frank, the bare-midriff uniforms and more steamy routines don’t much bother me, either. In the grand scheme of High School and College, there’s just too few cheerleaders to be making for a plague of debauchery. So when I read the headline of this story, “Texas House Approves Suggestive Cheerleading Ban,” my thoughts were none too kind to the Texas legislature. And, Republican that I am, I remember thinking that some of my fellow Republicans needed to pull the broomstick out of whatever orfice they’d managed to lodge it.
Imagine my surprise:
|::::::::||After an alternately comic and fiery debate – punctuated by several lawmakers waving pompons – the state House on Tuesday approved a bill to restrict “overtly sexually suggestive” cheerleading to more ladylike performances.
The bill would give the state education commissioner authority to request that school districts review high school performances.
“Girls can get out and do all of these overly sexually performances and we applaud them and that’s not right,” said Democratic Rep. Al Edwards, who filed the legislation.
I’m sorry – a Democrat filed this? The ACLU jumped right on this one saying it was unnecessary, which brought images to mind of 2 fingers on the left hand duking it out. Now, fortunately, the Texas Senate is pretty much going to let this one croak. In the follow-up story:
|::::::::||A bill approved by the state House to ban bawdy cheerleading routines apparently isn’t going anywhere in the Senate this year.
The legislation prohibits “overtly sexually suggestive” cheerleading routines at school events and gives the state education chief the authority to ask school districts to review performances. It does not define sexually suggestive.
That’s what’s wrong with the bill, right there, even if you do think sexy cheerleading’s a boil on the butt of society. The offended House member feels that “everyone” knows what’s too suggestive and what’s not, so we can ban this behavior right now. You’d think Rep. Edwards hasn’t been paying attention to the national-level issue of “obscenity” that’s been going on since Larry Flynt started publishing. The reason it’s so hard to get convictions for obscenity is that the term isn’t really defined. The best definition I ever heard for it was that obscenity was anything that gave a judge an erection. (Pardon from the female judges requested. Feel free to substitute your own gender equative imagery for that one.) That’s kind of hard for people to know whether they’re breaking the law in advance, when you don’t have a definition of the illegal behavior. This bill suffers from the same problem, and it just shouldn’t be passed into law.
Fortunately, the Senate believes they have more important issues to deal with.
|::::::::||“We have some very important work to do in the next two weeks, and that’s not one of them,” Republican state Sen. Florence Shapiro, who chairs the education committee, said Friday.
Democratic Rep. Al Edwards, the bill’s sponsor, has argued that sexually suggestive cheerleading exhibitions are a distraction that results in pregnancies, dropouts and the contraction of AIDS and herpes.
Again, I’m amazed. That kind of tenuous causitive-effect stuff is the kind of thing the MSM tags Republicans with, so to see a Democrat engage in it is morbidly fascinating. Get on with your job, Rep. Edwards. Like the man says, you’ve got more important work.
Power Line has a post this morning quoting Dafydd ab Hugh on a recent story in the New York Times. The story is titled “The Mystery of the Insurgency” and tries to delve into the question of why al Zarqawi is doing what he’s doing. The Time can’t seem to figure out what Zarqawi is trying to accomplish with the tactics he’s displaying.
Certainly the question has crossed my mind on occasion, too. If the Coalition forces are the issue, why direct your attacks at mosques? Given the attitude of most muslims toward any perceived American slight against Islam, you’d think Zarqawi’s bunch wouldn’t want to make the Americans look like the good guys in any way. Yet they blow up civilians at prayer, at the store, even in the middle of an intersection with no tactical or strategic value at all. That’s not the mark of someone trying to advance a political agenda very far considering that he needs the support of the people he’s killing in scores. But what if that’s not the point?
|::::::::||The Times assumes that the killers in Iraq are, in fact, “insurgents.” But insurgents have a political plan; no matter how brutal they may be, they see their violence as leading to a political change — the government will be cast out to be replaced by a new government, typically themselves. Thus, they tend to create shadow directorates that mimic the functions of a government; they have spokespeople who explain their political goals; they try to seize territory to prove they can run it better than the current regime, solving for the people there whatever burning issue is driving the insurgency (land distribution, famine, whatever).
But this is to assume what the Times purportedly wants to discover. If you begin by assuming the killers are “insurgents,” then you have limited your conclusions to some Vietnam-style political revolution. Put another way, if you start by assuming that they are insurgents — then you must wind up concluding that they are insurgents.
But if you look with a more open mind, the closest-fit historical model is not that of the followers of Uncle Ho in Vietnam from the 50s through the mid-70s, or the Algerian insurgency against the French in the 1950s, or the attempts at independence by the Kosovars against the Serbs in the late 90s.
Rather, the best historical precedents are the Aztecs, who turned mere human sacrifice into an art form by killing more and more and more people until they literally may have slaughtered an end to their own empire. Their intent was not to achieve some political goal; they already ruled. Rather, they developed the theological notion that the more people they butchered, the more pleased their bloody gods would be.
With that gloss, the Iraq “insurgency” comes suddenly into crystal-clear focus, like the beginning of the TV show the Outer Limits: the killers in Iraq have no political goal. That is not the point.
The point is to kill. They have invented a whole new kind of murder… they are serial spree killers.
To be honest, I don’t know enough about Aztec history to know whether or not they “may have slaughtered an end to their own empire,” but I do know they engaged in sacrifice for killing’s sake. The point of the killing was the killing. The model of Islamofacists as neo-Aztecs holds up under the evidence available and it’s not good news for negotiating an end to violence. When the goal of the opposition is to simply kill you for the sake of killing you, what can you offer them by way of compromise?