Tag Archives: free speech

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.