Tag Archives: free speech

Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

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Professors Make Fools Of Themselves

Jay Bergman has a fine new piece up at the NAS Forum, puncturing the sanctimony that surrounds the ever-expanding sphere of “academic freedom” in the minds of many professors (see “Ward Churchill, sober research scholar, victim”)

In response to the increasing contention that “academic freedom protects professorial speech in any circumstance Bergman cites the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles, and its statement that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

At Central Connecticut State University where I am a professor, this distinction is sometimes ignored. Last fall, a professor sent the students in one of her courses more than 100 e-mails containing articles advocating the professor’s opinions on matters entirely extraneous to the course — for example, that Israel committed war crimes while fighting Hamas in Gaza last summer, and that comparisons between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany are reasonable. She also invited students to join her in attending seminars, such as Workshops on Peace, that were designed to advance the professor’s political agenda.

What is even worse, during one class, as a way of demonstrating how the American colonists stole Indian land, the same professor took a student’s backpack without permission and in front of all the students emptied its contents onto the floor, naming each item one by one. It is hard to imagine a more egregious violation of a student’s privacy, or a more flagrant abuse of the power professors have over students by virtue of their grading them and writing recommendations for them for jobs after they graduate.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. In my 17 years at CCSU, about half of my students have told me, on their own initiative or in response to my asking them, that one or more of their professors not only interjected their political opinions in class on a regular basis, but did so in an effort to convert their students to their point of view.

Read on.

The “Fairness Doctrine” And Academia

In 1949, the United States Federal Communications Commission adopted a general policy which sought to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. This policy was based on the theory that station licensees were “public trustees” and, as such, had an obligation to give those with differing points of view an opportunity to be heard. The “Fairness Doctrine” was interpreted by many as requiring that those with contrasting views be given equal time whenever such controversial issues were being discussed. The “doctrine” was abandoned during the Reagan Administration when many government activities were deregulated.
When the bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies, specifically those relating to illegal immigration, was recently being discussed, several Democrat members of the United States Senate called for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” out of a sense of frustration that the public was not receiving a fair and balanced discussion of the legislation on talk radio shows, which the Senate Democrats regard as universally conservative and which they thought was having an inordinate influence on the deliberations concerning the legislation.
Personally, I oppose the “Fairness Doctrine” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it presumes the ignorance of the public and our inability to discern facts from horse manure. But, most significantly, broadcast stations are not owned by the government and should not be considered as government activity. With so many different sources of information – newspapers, major television networks, cable television and talk radio, for example – it is difficult for any one source to give us a “snow job.” But, there is one area of American life where I believe something equivalent to a “Fairness Doctrine” ought to be applied: the college classroom.

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Gettysburg On FIRE

FIRE recently added another institution to its Red Alert List – Gettysburg College joined Johns Hopkins and Tufts in that seemly line-up. The superb success rate of FIRE tempts the viewer to tune out the cases that they follow, but a glance at this list provides a pointed reminder of the continued relevance, and difficulty, of their work. Now, in an environment where over eighty schools receive a yellow rating, with “some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech” and only nine schools hold a “green” rating – free of restrictions, a school must possess really flagrantly bad policies in order to merit a red light. There’s an element of conditional threat at the yellow schools – “could ban or excessively regulate”, but the challenges to free speech are unambiguous at the Red Alert schools.
Consider the latest addition: Gettysburg College:

Despite over a year of pressure from FIRE and significant media attention, Gettysburg has not revised its Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is so broad in scope that it draws no distinction between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape. Under the policy, students must “consent” to sexual interaction by “willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating ‘yes’) to engage in specific sexual conduct.” Further, students must “give continuing and active consent” or else “all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier.” The policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction includes not only sex acts but also “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing.” This dangerous policy criminalizes so much everyday student interaction that it cannot possibly be enforced across the board, therefore vesting the university administration with the power to arbitrarily punish innocent student conduct.

Antioch College might have died, but we can rest pleased that Gettysburg College is keeping its worst traditions alive.

Two Cheers For Ward Churchill’s Dismissal

The welcome news that Ward Churchill has been removed from the University of Colorado faculty is blighted by the fact that the means used has allowed the university to avoid the much larger problem that Churchill’s conduct pointed to. It was in early 2005 that the public learned of, and was appalled by, excerpts from an essay that had been posted on the web by Churchill, a full Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, on the subject of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, over two years later, Churchill has been fired after due process within the university for plagiarism and falsification of research. But what the public heard and responded to was not fabrication and plagiarism. Though these are certainly legitimate grounds for a dismissal, they could never have attracted the attention of the public, still less caused a widespread sense that something must be horribly wrong with a university that employed such a man as a professor.

The ACLU, basing itself on this undeniable discrepancy between the furor of the public’s response and the narrow grounds of the decision, has charged that the firing is illegitimate because the real motive is nothing to do with the ostensible reason that has been given for the university’s action. But that charge makes no sense. Al Capone may have been jailed for tax evasion when his far more serious offense was racketeering, but he was certainly guilty as charged, and so is Ward Churchill. Yet in both cases the limited grounds had the effect of removing one man from the scene while leaving a larger systemic problem untouched.

The manner of Churchill’s dismissal clearly sidestepped the issues that the public was so disturbed by. The ACLU maintains that the public furor was caused only by Churchill’s unpopular political opinions. Again, it is wrong. Far left political expression by professors is nothing new to the American public – Noam Chomsky’s views are just as extreme and unpopular, but they do not lead to calls for his dismissal. What the public reacted to was something much more than this. All of their own experience of what their teachers and professors had sounded like told them that the man they heard should never under any circumstances have been a professor at a major university.

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Ward Churchill And The Diversity Agenda

This week, as expected, the University of Colorado regents dismissed Professor Ward Churchill from his tenured position in the Ethnic Studies Department. (A university committee had found that Churchill committed plagiarism and misused sources.) And, as expected, Churchill has filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations.

The move against Churchill – who first attracted attention after describing those who perished (except for the terrorists) in the World Trade Center attack as “Little Eichmanns” – came over the opposition of the ACLU, which charged that the “poisoned atmosphere” of the inquiry into Churchill’s scholarship rendered meaningless the committee’s findings. ACTA president Anne Neal, on the other hand, welcomed the dismissal as “a very positive message that higher education is cleaning up its own.”

The viewpoints of both organizations raise additional questions. The ACLU’s position, if established as a precedent, would invite academics who (like Churchill) had engaged in research misconduct to issue inflammatory public statements, in the hopes that a public outcry (preferably from “right-wingers”) could then provide a First Amendment shield for their academic misdeeds.

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Ward Churchill And The ACLU

The Regents of the University of Colorado are meeting to determine Ward Churchill’s fate tomorrow, July 24th. The ACLU has written the University of Colorado arguing against Ward Churchill’s firing. This isn’t surprising – its letter repeats a central canard in the case – that the Churchill investigation was merely a pretext for larger, sinister pressures:

It is undisputed, however, that Professor Churchill’s views are protected by the First Amendment, and cannot serve as a legal basis for any adverse employment action. Nevertheless the University soon launched the investigation of Professor Churchill’s scholarship in an effort to find more defensible grounds for sanctioning him.

Churchill defenders willfully conflate all elements of the proceedings against Churchill – “the University” you notice, is here presented as judge, jury, and (perhaps) executioner. No difference is admitted in agency or person between the submission of a complaint as to Churchill’s work, and the creation of a University panel looking into the question; the processes are looked upon as one and the same. The timing of the complaint about Churchill’s research is viewed as an ineradicable taint, no matter what they unearth or how often they address the question directly of the reason for inquiry. Consider the Standing Committee on Research and Misconduct’s statement here:

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Only A Conservative Idiot Would Think I’m Biased

Peter Wood provides a much-needed rejoinder to critcisms of the Zogby poll on perceptions of professor bias. The poll, predictably, revealed that respondents were widely concerned about left-wing bias in the classroom. Nothing much new there – the true worth of the poll might have been in the sneering comments it provoked from those inclined to dismiss this as a sham. These criticisms ran something to the effect that simple-minded proles have been deluded by years of conservative rantings into thinking that professors are biased, when professors are, in fact, fairer than Jimmy Stewart, James Baker, or Solomon. Peter elaborates, with some piquant quotes from Inside Higher Education feedback:

Why do Americans think college classrooms are biased? The simplest explanation is that many college professors do indeed bring their biases to the classroom and many Americans have begun to notice. But some professors, having read the IHE summary, have reached for more elaborate explanations – along the lines that (a) the poll was poorly designed, (b) Americans are ill-informed and pretty stupid, or (c) Americans are gullible victims of conservative propaganda that has mis-portrayed the situation.

Zogby reported that 58.2 percent of 9,464 respondents believe bias is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in college classrooms. No poll is perfect, but whatever the flaws in this one, the results closely match another poll, based on a completely different methodology, commissioned last year by the AAUP. The accusation that Zogby flubbed the research doesn’t hold up. What about the theory that Americans are ill-informed and stupid? Offering such a theory about one’s critics doesn’t seem an especially good way to shake an accusation of bias.

The sneer about the intelligence of the people who answered the questions, of course, blends into the accusation that conservatives have tricked people. Asks one respondent (who signs himself Skeptical) “How many of those who were polled had actually gone to college?” Blind Man adds “Hats off to the Coulters and their ilk for successfully alienating the public from academia.” Unapologetically Tenured writes, “We have confirmation that talk radio’s core demographic (older, white, male, conservative, and ignorant) has bought into the right-wing meme that dirty-hippie-commie professors are corrupting the minds of our impressionable young Eagle Scouts.”

Read on for more fine examples.

DePaul Flubs Up On Finkelstein

It’s difficult to be anything but pleased by the failure of Norman Finkelstein’s DePaul tenure bid. He’s a figure of repulsive opinions, given to frequent invective and doubtful scholarship. Yet all should look more carefully at DePaul University’s explanation of the step before celebrating. The logical foregrounding for their tenure decision would have been problems with his published scholarship; instead, DePaul justified their decision chiefly with talk of “respect for colleagues.” There’s little doubt that Finkelstein is a jerk, but DePaul’s grounding of its refusal in that fact – instead of holes in his academic work – leaves it open to justified criticism. “Collegiality” is a potentially insidious concept – just ask Walter Kehowski, a professor at Glendale Community College, who was just released from a forced administrative leave for the crime of emailing George Washington’s Thanksgiving address to fellow professors. The crime? Creating a “hostile environment.” Finkelstein’s faults are clearly of a higher order than this, but all should be wary of arguments premised upon a professor’s sociability, instead of his scholarship.

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The Lessons of Antioch

Cary Nelson’s belle lettre to Antioch in this week’s Chronicle is enough to make anyone want to nail another board over the school’s windows. What did Antioch teach? Spunky ideas, like the following:

I used some of Lyndon Johnson’s antipoverty money to hire buses to take the program participants [inner-city children] to an antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, that experience was new to them as well. Bureaucracy being what it is, my little expenditure was never noticed.

The piece ends:

I always tell people, though they never believe me, that I could never have made it through any other college. There was no place like Antioch, with its mix of intellectual freedom, commitment to justice, and innovative program of courses and work experience. And if Antioch does indeed close, there may be no such place at all.

Yes. And?

The Unchastened Radicals

Among the many lovely qualities that define today’s student radicals – their smugness, their historical ignorance, their blithe contempt for the rights of others – perhaps the most galling of all is their sense of total invincibility. They know full well they can go about the business of mayhem and general anti-intellectual thuggery with the utter certainty that they will never face any serious consequences. It may have been Columbia that got a little unwelcome publicity when its president, “free speech expert” Lee Bollinger, let off students who assaulted a Minuteman spokesman with a tap on the wrist, but more or less the same thing likely would have happened on countless campuses across America. Indeed, it is by no means even an American phenomenon; the Parisian students who recently celebrated the election of their new president are equally assured as their brethren across the sea of getting off scot-free.

How did such indulgence become the norm? How did our most prestigious institutions of higher learning become so astonishingly weak-willed and craven?

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Praising Discomfort at Middlebury

Stop the presses. The president of a well-known college has actually come out for diversity of ideas, rather than just the narrow form of diversity prized on campus (skin color, gender, sexual orientation). In a baccalaureate address at Middlebury College’s graduation, President Ronald D. Liebowitz talked about the “value of discomfort” in listening to and grappling with new ideas. Liebowitz said, “If the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow, no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.” If the pursuit of diversity is to be intellectually defensible, he said, Middlebury can’t just exchange one orthodoxy for another.

At colleges, “discomfort” is a familiar buzzword justifying censorship or punishment for offending the sensibilities of students designated as “underrepresented.” That’s why coming out in favor of discomfort is a near-heresy in the campus monoculture.

Some students objected to Bill Clinton as this year’s commencement speaker, while a larger and more irritated group objected to Middlebury’s endowed professorship in American history and culture honoring William Rehnquist. Liebowitz noted that some members of minority groups on campus felt “invisible and disrespected” by the decision to honor Rehnquist and considered it an offense against diversity. Indignant objections to conservative supreme court judges are an old story on campus, including attempts to boycott Antonin Scalia at Amherst and Clarence Thomas at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Some objectors to the Rehnquist professorship claimed that the goal of a liberal education should be to advance social change, and since Rehnquist failed this test, he should not be honored. “I do not share in that narrow definition of a liberal education,” Liebowitz said. “Rather, liberal education must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinion in the classrooms and across campus…” Good idea. Will it apply to the hiring of professors as well?

Freedom from Fear, Want, and.. Harassment in Print?

The Boston Globe reports:

A judicial panel at Tufts University on Thursday ruled that a conservative campus journal “harassed” blacks by publishing a Christmas carol parody called “O Come All Ye Black Folk” that many found racist.

The Primary Source, which published the carol, removed the lyrics from their site months ago, and replaced them with a rather sincere apology. The note makes clear that the carol was intended as an affirmative action parody. Does that make sense? Not to this panel. They issued a requirement that an editor sign all pieces, and “recommended that Tufts’ student government ‘consider the behavior’ of the magazine when allocating money.”

Bruce Reitman, the dean of students, found this financial threat, well.. rather elegant.

I’m proud of the committee,” he said. “I was pleased to see them balance both values of freedom of speech and freedom from harassment, without letting one dominate the other.

Aren’t we glad there’s someone like Bruce Reitman fighting against the domination of free speech? Thank heavens.