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A Feeble Statement from the AAUP

A few years ago, in the midst of the controversy over inappropriate faculty behavior in Columbia’s Middle East Studies department, more than 100 professors, led by former provost Jonathan Cole, signed a document demanding that the Columbia administration defend the faculty from outside criticism—without even determining the merits of that criticism. This approach essentially redefined academic freedom as the freedom from outside criticism of academics who represent the majority view on campus. The draft document on academic freedom just released by the AAUP essentially seeks to codify the redefinition of academic freedom urged by the Columbia faculty. It condemns the activities of, among other people, “bloggers,” while also seeming to fault students for “report[ing] and publiciz[ing] offending classroom statements” by faculty members. In short, the Brandeis philosophy—sunlight is the best disinfectant—must not be allowed to apply to higher education. The AAUP document pays lip service to the idea that faculty members themselves might behave inappropriately: “For example, the denial of promotion or tenure by liberal academics to a conservative academic, or the reverse [presumably at a religious institution?], if based on disagreement with the applicant’s views rather than on a scholarly evaluation of the applicant’s professional competence and performance, constitutes political intrusion regardless of whether persons outside the academic community were involved.” But the organization is most concerned to stop in their tracks those who have deigned to criticize the actions of the current academic majority. This approach is problematic for three reasons. First, it presumes that outside criticism can be perceived as ispo facto bad faith, given the existence of mechanisms for dealing with threats to academic freedom from inside the academy. But even the document’s authors concede that internal threats to academic freedom exist (even as they go out of their way to minimize the problem), and thereby at the very least imply that the mechanisms for dealing with internal threats to academic freedom have broken down. Continue reading A Feeble Statement from the AAUP