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April 4, 2006 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Silence in class. "University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?" From today's Guardian.
posted by jokeefe (188 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
First, they came for the homosexuals. I did not speak out, because I was not gay.

Next, they came for the professors. I did not speak out, because I was not a teacher.

Next...
posted by mr.curmudgeon at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2006


Relatedly on Mefi re David Horowitz's book "The Professors".
posted by jokeefe at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2006


Welcome to the new political correctness.

It sucks a lot more when you really disagree with it.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2006


University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors

Are they sent to jail or prevented in every manner from speaking their minds by the government?

No?

Then this doesn't implicate the First Amendment or freedom of speech.

That leaves the following obvious and uncontroversial proposition: you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you do not have the right to be free from the social consequences of what you say.

Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

Want to be able to say whatever the hell you want? Then be prepared for people who disagree with you to react to it.

In my opinion, public discourse should be vibrant and include differing perspectives. But I am no Pollyanna, and one has to know that if one takes certain positions in public, there will be ramifications.
posted by dios at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2006


Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

So, in other words, "Sit down. Shut up."
posted by octothorpe at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2006


Are US campuses people in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives?

Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

But this doesn't implicate freedom of speech? Gotcha.
posted by aaronetc at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2006


Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

I see you're a big fan of American educational institutions.
posted by NationalKato at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2006


Then this doesn't implicate the First Amendment or freedom of speech.

I don't see anyone mentioning the 1st. "Freedom of speech" is a broader concept.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2006


So, in other words, "Sit down. Shut up."
posted by octothorpe at 1:08 PM CST on April 4


Yeah. Because that hasn't been the operating principle in civil society since the dawn of man, or anything.

Some of you are so unrealistic about things. You are caught up in your beloved political views that you think these incidents are beyond the pale.

If I say that the managing partner in my firm is a fat, overweight idiot, would anyone doubt that there may be ramifications for that? If I tell one of the female partners that I don't think women should be in the workplaces and should be at home cleaning the kitchen, don't you think there might be ramifications for that?

That is the way things have always worked. That the thing you say that is controversial happens to be some conspiracy theory doesn't transform that comment into something beyond consequence.
posted by dios at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2006


Want to be able to say whatever the hell you want? Then be prepared for people who disagree with you to react to it.

Disagreeing and being suspended for saying something liberal are two entirely different things.
posted by agregoli at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2006


Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

dios, do you seriously believe that holding views critical of the US administration should be a firing offence?
posted by jokeefe at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2006


"Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say."

And people complain about anonymous bloggers ... this is one reason I keep my personal info private.

Honestly, I hate the point of view that this is OK. What possible argument is there that it's a good thing that someone's livelihood should be at risk because of their personal beliefs? I could understand if it became an on-the-job issue, but why should *anything* said outside of work be an excusable reason for firing someone?

Seriously. I'm not talking about "the way things are", I want to know why some people apparently think this is the way things *should* be. I don't get it. Why should losing your job be an acceptable consequence for exercising your right to free speech outside of work?
posted by kyrademon at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2006


dios, both of your examples above are not in a university classroom.
posted by NationalKato at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2006


Dios, your examples don't make sense. I didn't see any example of someone in the article insulting anyone, least of all a fellow faculty member.
posted by agregoli at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2006


Trying to cast this as a noble free speech thing is silly. One can easily envision the counterexample to this one where the Professor publicly espouses views that are racist/sexist/whatever viewpoint you find most abhorrent. The defenses of free speech suddenly disappear.
posted by dios at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2006


The only thing absolute about freedom is that it cannot be absolute in a society composed of 2 or more individuals.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2006


dios equates racism and sexism with political opinion. nice to know.
posted by NationalKato at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2006


With any luck, all US university and college courses will become as intellectually stimulating as all my public highschool courses. Gosh, I still remember all the nap time wonderful debates I had! If we make sure they can't saying anything worth thinking about then hopefully they'll just read from the textbook like they're supposed to!
posted by RobertFrost at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2006


Dios, the thing is ... in my world, no they don't disappear. I don't think someone should be fired from their job for holding racist or sexist beliefs I abhor.

This really is a free speech issue for me.
posted by kyrademon at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2006


RobertFrost, I think that's they idea: when discourse on sexism, racism, politics, or any hotbutton topics ceases then it's quite easy to influence opinion through marketing, propaganda, and misinformation.
posted by NationalKato at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2006


dios, both of your examples above are not in a university classroom.
posted by NationalKato at 1:14 PM CST on April 4


True. But whereas I would be certainly fired for doing those things, Professor Gilroy was not. He was "denounced" publicly. Now, I don't know what conception you have of "freedom of speech" but apparently in encompasses the right to say whatever you want without having people excoriate you who disagree. He wasn't fired. He was disagreed with.
posted by dios at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2006


(And before you pull out the obvious counterarguments, as I made clear in my last post, I am specifically referring to beliefs espoused *outside* the context of the job, not within it.)
posted by kyrademon at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2006


That leaves the following obvious and uncontroversial proposition: you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you do not have the right to be free from the social consequences of what you say.

Truly ironic coming from the person who posted this little invitation to his pity-party.


Trying to cast this as a noble free speech thing is silly. One can easily envision the counterexample to this one where the Professor publicly espouses views that are racist/sexist/whatever viewpoint you find most abhorrent. The defenses of free speech suddenly disappear.


wrong. Butz is still employed by Northwestern, nicht wahr?
posted by Chrischris at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2006


So how is that gonna work with private institutions? Student initiated witch-hunts and law suits?
posted by RobertFrost at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2006


It's a tragedy that so many have lost their jobs because of this McCarthyesque... oh, wait, they were just put on some anonymous conservative shit lists, no one mentioned in the article actually lost their jobs except for one of the right wingers?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2006


The only thing absolute about freedom is that it cannot be absolute in a society composed of 2 or more individuals.

Well, of course. We should, however, aim for absolute freedom in the limit, like we aim for absolute precision in physics.

Where there is a limit to free speech, we should seek to widen the range of acceptable discourse to the greatest degree feasible.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2006


dios equates racism and sexism with political opinion. nice to know.

Racism and sexism are political opinions in any meaningful sense of the word. There's a lot more to "politics" than the specific personalities you dislike -- whether that's Dubya or Hillary.
posted by Slothrup at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2006


I wasn't referring to the article per se, but to Dios' statement "Don't want to lose your job? Then ... etc." Sigh. Welcome to derail-ville. Never mind. Please carry on with actual discussion of the issue at hand rather than Dios.
posted by kyrademon at 11:23 AM on April 4, 2006


Struggling . . . not . . . to agree with . . . Dios.

*head explodes*

The right of free speech involves the government's ability to prevent you from saying something using force or legal process. Unless you are protected by another law, your boss can fire you for anything you say. That's the nuts and bolts of the law, folks. And a campus can expel you for saying something they don't like, unless its a public university.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2006


Butz is still employed by Northwestern, nicht wahr?
posted by Chrischris at 1:21 PM CST on April 4


So is this guy Gilroy. Do you people even the fucking articles your bitch about? Butz was excoriated for his comments too. Just like Gilroy. Doh!
posted by dios at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2006


Some of you are so unrealistic about things. You are caught up in your beloved political views that you think these incidents are beyond the pale.

dios, the problem here is that someone can have a genuine opinion on a subject, and instead of disagreeing by following up with a dialogue of discussion, the author/speaker is accused of having symptoms of psycosis and labeled anti-american.

This happens from both the left and right. It seems people are much too afraid of exporing controversial ideas and instead resort to character defamation. At this point, anything useful that may have been discovered through discussion is destroyed.

All of this emotional, OMG your ideas are a cancer to society, paranoid reaction, in my opinion is unrealistic.
posted by Trakker at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2006


I haven't heard allegations that anyone was suspended for being liberal. I have, however, heard more than a few stories from friends attending Boston-area colleges who've had professors incessantly spouting exactly the same content-free "BUSH SUXORZ!!!" nonsense that you find on MetaFilter or DailyKos or MoveOn. They've been assigned to read Joseph Wilson or Paul Krugman or other liberal talking-points taken from Amazon's current Top 25. More than a few have even agreed that they learn quickly to "game" the professors by presenting heavily-biased left-wing views in their papers and homework assignments, and they watch their grades soar.

It's anecdotal. It's geographically specific to Boston, a traditionally liberal city. But I've heard a lot of it, and I've never heard a story going the other way, where a student felt pressured to represent Republican views or to stifle liberal beliefs in classwork.
posted by cribcage at 11:26 AM on April 4, 2006


That leaves the following obvious and uncontroversial proposition: you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you do not have the right to be free from the social consequences of what you say.
This, kids, is where the laughable hypocrisy of conservative opposition to 'Political Correctness' in the 90s rears its ugly head. Dios is in no way unique when he says that.

Conservatives, curiously enough, have made their greatest strides of late by adopting the ethics-of-entitlement and victim posturing they claim to despise.
posted by verb at 11:26 AM on April 4, 2006


"Gilroy found himself posted on Discoverthenetworks.org, a website dedicated to exposing radical professors. The principle accusation was that he "believes the US fabricated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein". . . .

Turth-telling went out of style long ago.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:27 AM on April 4, 2006


Yeah. Because that hasn't been the operating principle in civil society since the dawn of man, or anything.

A high ideal we see you're shooting for.

If I say that the managing partner in my firm is a fat, overweight idiot, would anyone doubt that there may be ramifications for that? If I tell one of the female partners that I don't think women should be in the workplaces and should be at home cleaning the kitchen, don't you think there might be ramifications for that?

Contrast that with the story from the article about cherry-picked quotes leading to suspension. Do you really find that non-problematic?

I agree there's some problems with indoctrination and politics in higher-education. I agree that students should not feel their academic careers are threatened because of their political ideals, and to the extent that's a problem, it should be addressed. But threatening the staff's academic career for their politics is not the answer, it's simply perpetrating the same wrong on another partyt. And while I can't address the legal issue of whether or not it treads on the first ammendment, from a philosophical standpoint, it's clearly at odds general concept of freedom of speech as well as the ideals of academia.
posted by weston at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2006


(If we are going to continue down this line, can we quickly dispense with the idea that anyone thinks you *can't* be fired for expressing your beliefs? Of course you can. Duh. The question at hand is whether or not you *should* be.)
posted by kyrademon at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2006


Butz was excoriated for his comments too. Just like Gilroy. Doh!

so Holocaust denial is the same as being a progressive

awesome

nice to see you're defending Team Facha as always, dios
posted by matteo at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2006


the problem here is that someone can have a genuine opinion on a subject, and...the author/speaker is...labeled anti-american.

No. That might be the problem elsewhere. The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades and use bad grades to punish conservative views — and that if a professor is assigned to teach Poli Sci (as opposed to Liberalism 101), students should reasonably expect that professor to teach the class without proselytizing.
posted by cribcage at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2006


The question isn't if it's a "free speech issue" no one is making that argument that I know of, Dios. Maybe you should try paying attention to what other people are saying rather then just assuming we are saying something and then arguing against it.

The question is whether or not it's bad that these people are getting into trouble for having political beliefs and sharing them in the classroom.

How would you feel if you got fired for having a bush bumper sticker on your car, Dios? There are lots of people who would love to do it. A collage classroom isn't the place for political discretion; it's a place for debate and discussion. Not discussion of which teachers are fat, but about politics and ideas.
posted by delmoi at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2006


Will someone please link to the 'acceptable speech' manual so I can adjust my speech accordingly?
posted by badger_flammable at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2006


The question isn't if it's a "free speech issue" no one is making that argument that I know of, Dios.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM CST on April 4


Tags:
American_adadem...
free_speech

posted by dios at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2006


Will someone please link to the non-anecdotal evidence that professors are rewarding liberalism and punishing conservatism?
posted by aaronetc at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2006


No. That might be the problem elsewhere. The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades

And how is recording lectures and posting them on the web a solution to this?

These professors are being vilified for their statements not their views. It's easy to imagine that bad students might blame their bad grades on their views, rather then the quality of their papers.
posted by delmoi at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2006


Now, I don't know what conception you have of "freedom of speech" but apparently in encompasses the right to say whatever you want without having people excoriate you who disagree.

dios, that cuts both ways. I don't think people should be unable to object to or disagree with political opinions expressed in the classroom. No one is advocating that. However, I feel completely justified in concluding that these people are narrow-minded whiners who, when faced with a differing opinion, automatically play the victim card and try to punish and demonize the professor, instead of debating with him/her.

Is it their right to do that? Sure. Is it my right to be disgusted by them? Absolutely.

on preview: what delmoi said.
posted by brundlefly at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2006


Dead link, dios.
posted by brundlefly at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2006


The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades and use bad grades to punish conservative views

I'm sorry. If the students have any balls at all, they will only use any critiques to further develop and solidfy their arguments, if they do in fact hold their views for good reasons.

You are not in school to get a good grade. You are not entitled to one. If there is a genuine bias against you because of your views, take it to the appropriate bodies.

If you have good reasons for believing what you do, then you will be able to defend yourself. If you are a kneejerk parrot, you'll get shown up as one.

If you instead make seekrit audiotapes to try and cast your Enemy of Choice as a rabid Commie, you are only hurting yourself, by being underhanded. You are taking a pussified, cowardly path.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2006


Tags:
American_adadem...
free_speech


Heh. Well, okay. What I meant was that this wasn't a "legal" free speech issue, but it's still a "free speech" issue in that it affects what people can say.

What I mean is, no one is arguing that people should be absolutely free from consequence for their statements. What people are saying is that these specific statements should be consequence free in an academic setting.

Do you disagree with that?
posted by delmoi at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2006


free_speech is dead. dios loses.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2006


A [collage] classroom isn't the place for political discretion; it's a place for debate and discussion.

Correct... as long as the professor allows for it.
posted by Witty at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2006


A collage classroom isn't the place for political discretion; it's a place for debate and discussion.

First, that depends on the class. Second, "debate" and "discussion" are nice words; but in a classroom, you're not on equal footing. Your professor's control over your academic standing inherently chills the free exchange of ideas.
posted by cribcage at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2006


Dead link, dios.
posted by brundlefly at 1:42 PM CST on April 4


It's the tag at the top of the page. Or if you want another one, try the one that is listed as the article in question wherein they have comments like this: "Freedom of speech, let him teach." "protection of free expression"
posted by dios at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2006


Er, I meant to say

"These professors are being vilified for their statements not their actions. It's easy to imagine that bad students might blame their bad grades on their views, rather then the quality of their papers."
posted by delmoi at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2006


"dios, do you seriously believe that holding views critical of the US administration should be a firing offence?"

No, but do YOU really think free speech is an absolute that applies anywhere? Cant yell "Fire!" in a movie theatre, for one. I think its a reasonable question about whether -- or at what point -- a classroom becomes an indoctrination center (for the left or the right). We can argue about where that line is, but we cant argue that its not there.
posted by jak68 at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2006


Dios meant to link to this
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2006


And according to the guidelines the tag should be freespeech
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2006


Your professor's control over your academic standing inherently chills the free exchange of ideas.

I do not see how this is different than how higher education has been done for centuries.

What is your proposed solution?
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2006


And how is recording lectures and posting them on the web a solution to this?

What's that quote? "Sunlight cures all wounds"?
posted by cribcage at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2006


Dios, you present a complicated issue in a grossly totalizing manner. Its a shame that it works so well for you as a rhetorical strategy. Louder and simpler is better, right? Anyway, while I'm sure to reap a real whirlwind of myopia here if you care to respond, I'd like to present a few "talking points" for you to consider.

First, this is not a first-amendment issue at all, and no tenure-track academic with a terminal degree that I've ever met would characterize it this way (or as simplistically as you just have, regardless of where they stand on the issue).

Second, it is the matter of the institutionalized freedom to "profess" a certain point of view on particular issues without fear of retribution by opposite-minded individuals. The intellectual academy has served a historical role as informed opposition to the wild-fire trends of public opinion (and manipulations of public opinion). In this role, the academy is an awfully conservative institution.

Third, the historical measure of the freedom of the intellectual academy is directly correlated to the trend towards an open or closed political state. In this manner, dissent has proven an effective gage of political repression.

Fourth, universities in the United States currently serve the dual role of providing a broad-based critical education and effective skills training. Students who are never exposed to strong opposing points of view, do not learn to effectively negotiate different perspectives or personalities.

Fifth, tenured professors are afforded contractual protection from retaliation for professing unpopular views. The fact that public pressure can push some universities to risk legal action on the part of faculty for fear of worse public-funding consequences, or that faculty members must fear for their own safety says as much about the public as it does about the individual.

Sixth, and this is worth really thinking about so I'm going to reiterate it from point two. Universities are not "L"iberal institutions. Most do, however, offer a "l"iberal arts education. Intellectual radicals of the suit painted by Free Speech? Or, Anti-American Plot! You decide. entertainment news programs really aren't all that common, but they draw a lot of attention. In fact, many of them, like Arthur Butz, are absolutely marginalized in their own departments.

Finally, as great a risk of a student being forced to consider a point of view that does not agree with their own is allowing students to decide what information they will accept, or not accept, in the classroom. What is being learned in that situation? Evolution? Don't believe in it, teach me something else. Intelligent design? Fuck that, I don't even need to know what it is. The exorcism of informed dissent from a university education is not going to help any more than talking about it like it's a Fox News by-line.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2006


No, but do YOU really think free speech is an absolute that applies anywhere? Cant yell "Fire!" in a movie theatre, for one. I think its a reasonable question about whether -- or at what point -- a classroom becomes an indoctrination center (for the left or the right). We can argue about where that line is, but we cant argue that its not there.

There are two issues in your statement: 1) should there be consequences to speech. Most people think yes, but that some statements should be mostly consequence free in an academic setting, such as common political views. I could see problems with views that are widely held to be reprehensible, such as the idea of black inferiority holocaust denial or something like that.

And 2) should classrooms be 'indoctrination centers'. Well, I don't see why teachers shouldn't be able to spout their views. If you don't like it ignore it, or argue back. If the teacher grades based on ideology, then that is a problem that needs to be addressed in other ways.
posted by delmoi at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2006


Some people here need to actually go and read up on McCarthyism and its impact.

"Chilling effect" is not just hyperbole or colorful language. The vast majority of the negative effect that that hero of the modern Right, Joe McCarthy, had on America was nothing more than a chilling effect.

And ignore dios and his histrionic derails.

If you don't respect the idea embodied in the 1st Amendment, you probably don't deserve its protection, regardless of wether or not the situation is legal. Calling someone un-American (as criticism of Republicans is considered by 40%-50% of today's America) is a violation of the spirit of the 1st Amendment, and the idea of "freedom of speech" that these supposed red-blooded American patriots believe in. You'll still get the protections of the US Bill of Rights, but you aren't living up to them and you don't deserve them.

It's more than a little bit ironic, and it's wrong. Fuck the bullshit derail.
posted by teece at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2006


Maybe they should just put Free Speech Zones in each classroom?
posted by NationalKato at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2006


The right of free speech involves the government's ability to prevent you from saying something using force or legal process. Unless you are protected by another law, your boss can fire you for anything you say. That's the nuts and bolts of the law, folks. And a campus can expel you for saying something they don't like, unless its a public university.


True, very true, but if you look at the spirit of the first amendment (as so often the courts are asked to do) the motivation behind it was to protect the individuals rights to speak their minds without fear of reprecussion. There were no big corporations at the time and a man could make a living off the land he was born on. The government was the big bad that could opress people at the time, hense the reason it was limited.

In today's world, the vast majorities HAVE to have jobs just to survive. That being the case, not extending freedom of speach laws to the work place is essentially destroying the entire spirit behind freedom of speech. Oh sure, you can argue that someone could find a new job if their current employer didn't like their political beliefs, but many americans can't even afford to go without jobs for a few days, and finding a new job is never as simple as that.

So while it is certainly and absolutely true that freedom of speech is only protection against the government, I would make a strong guess that isn't the way it was meant to be.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2006


If the teacher really grades on ideology, there are steps a student can take to rectify the situation.

Did any of these students exhaust their options with grade appeals and so forth?

I bet not.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2006


And how is recording lectures and posting them on the web a solution to [unfair grading]?

What's that quote? "Sunlight cures all wounds"?


That doesn't even make any sense. Do you understand that there may be professors who spout off in class, but grade fairly? Targeting them based on their statements unfairly victimizes this class of people, and does nothing to stop the behavior your complaining about.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2006


By the way, Gilroy isn't still employed by Yale. He's gone to the UK, in part because of this, but also because he likes it better over there.

This idea that professors quash opposing viewpoints pell-mell is a wonderful, but far overblown, chestnut of the anti-intellectual right wing. The problem, it seems, is that when challenged on things, professors demand their detractors pony up the evidence. Their detractors generally can't (or won't), so often it goes to denunciation on semi-anonymous fora where the story is written from one side only.

Are there left-wing nuts kicking around US universities? Hell yes--a few right-wingers, too. Are there some who will brook no opposing viewpoints? Again, a few. But what I find funny is that often it's simply a matter of ideas with no actual supporting data being supposed to have equal standing to accepted interpretations derided as "leftist" without the ideas, or their promoters, having earned that right through good, critical academic vetting.
posted by trigonometry at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2006


No. That might be the problem elsewhere. The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades and use bad grades to punish conservative views

cribcage, no this is one of the problems here as well. Yes there are those that may feel righteous and have blind faith that their opinion trumps all, but there many who have genuine opinions who want good debate.

Labeling people based on what they say creates a fear that prevents good free speech. Its emotional manipulation through intimidation. Its prejudice, discriminatory, devoid of good communication skills and is anti-social.

By accepting this type of reaction, we promote the equivalent behavior to a bunch of apes jumping around flinging poop! Instead of actually exploring and trying to discover a common ground of reasoning.
posted by Trakker at 11:58 AM on April 4, 2006


Second, it is the matter of the institutionalized freedom to "profess" a certain point of view on particular issues without fear of retribution by opposite-minded individuals.

I think you're right, in that a lot of people see this issue as being about the professors' freedom. Which reminds me of a conversation I once had with a waitress who objected to certain restaurant policies because she believed the operating principle should be, helping her to make money.
posted by cribcage at 11:58 AM on April 4, 2006


Sunlight cures all wounds

I conclude that cribcage must agree with me that a fully public and independent investigation into the NSA's spying must be immediately initiated.

Also, an investigation into vote fraud in 2004.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2006


Academic life at a majority of places of "higher" education *is* just too liberal. However, yet-another-attempt to create a "snitch corps" is not the way to combat it.

There's a sign out in front of one of our grocery stores which reminds us to keep an eye out for strange behaviour in our neighborhoods since it could be a sign of terrorists. I hate that too.

One of our vendors @ work has a bumper sticker which says something similar.

It's all the same thing. Get one group of people to think of "those other folks" as bad and report on them.

Can't we just get the whole "collapse of America" (ala Rome) thing over with so we can get on with the cool things in life?
posted by hrbrmstr at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2006


Targeting [professors] based on their statements unfairly victimizes this class of people...

I don't understand how exposing their statements victimizes them at all, let alone "unfairly."

Labeling people based on what they say creates a fear that prevents good free speech.

If you're arguing against labeling people, fine. But if you're going to label, using their statements certainly seems reasonable. You'd prefer, what — to use their associations?

If you're afraid of being characterized by what you said, perhaps you oughtn't have said it.
posted by cribcage at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2006


it is the matter of the institutionalized freedom to "profess" a certain point of view on particular issues without fear of retribution by opposite-minded individuals. The intellectual academy has served a historical role as informed opposition to the wild-fire trends of public opinion (and manipulations of public opinion).
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:51 PM CST on April 4


Your essential point is that professors should be insulated from criticism.

While I acknowledge the protection professors get---and that is tenure---is useful for a vibrant discussion (as I have said above), they can't be protected against "retribution" when in comes in the form of rebuke.

I am quite certain that you wouldn't take the position that a condemnable remark becomes un-condemnable merely because the person saying it happens to be a tenured prof at SW Bumblefuck St Univ.

Professors can say what they want. If they think they are talking to truth to power and are the lone savant in the wilderness, then they shouldn't fear rebuke. But to say to them "you can say whatever you want without any consequence whatsoever to your statements" is untenable.

Look, if you feel passionate enough that Bush is a Nazi, and feel the desire to tell other people that, then you have to accept the people who will excoriate you for saying that.

I know from threads on this website that people go apeshit over the idea that a professor might state a religious point of view in the context of public education. And there is a constitutional basis for that concern. But if we were really on the whole "academia must support all viewpoints" then we ought to have an exception for religious teaching. We don't (and I don't think there should be). However, it then becomes curious to rely so passionately on the idea that universities and professors must be free to say whatever they want.

The better way of looking at these things is that these professors are fulfilling their function by speaking out. They aren't losing their jobs. Are they getting criticized? Yeah. That is what happens in a society where people are given the right to speak.
posted by dios at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2006


When I was an undergrad, I certainly felt a strong leftist bias in the humanities. I resented it, and I was especially bitter when I found out I was one of the few people in my program who supported the war in Afghanistan.

On Sept. 11, I was one of only three people out of over 100 in a first year lecture who advocated overthrowing the Taliban and hunting down the al Qaeda leadership. We were essentially shouted down by all the other aspiring intellectuals in the room. The professors were quite professional about all this, and didn't take sides in the debate.

There were probably as many professors, on the other hand, who wore their ideology on their sleeve. But overall, I felt the leftist slant most strongly in the student body. I felt I was a rare realist in a sea of hoplessly idealistic youth. Along with some other friends with similar views, I tentatively supported the Iraq war and wished Canada had not tied its support to the UN. I was tired of the same tired rhetoric against the war that pervaded campus, tired of the tired marxist ideologues who contradicted everything said by Bush or Blair as war became imminent. Three years later I can look back on this and only acknowledge that I was a reactionary fool. I was wrong, and I got over it.

As for what I think now about a leftist bias in the humanities, I think it's there, but I frankly don't give a damn. When right wingers enamoured of their own ideology become too powerful, maybe radical marxists are a kind of check on ideological fanaticism. Seems like a contradiction, but it also seems to be true, at least in this limited circumstance.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:13 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage: "If you're afraid of being characterized by what you said, perhaps you oughtn't have said it."

Spoken like a true schoolmarm, cribcage. You one a them schoolmarms, then, are ya?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:13 PM on April 4, 2006


Will someone please link to the non-anecdotal evidence that professors are rewarding liberalism and punishing conservatism?
posted by aaronetc at 2:40 PM EST on April 4 [!]


I know that I'm not fulfilling your request, but I'd like to know just how many people who have been involved with American academia don't have an anecdote? How many do not know of someone who was alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2006


I have, however, heard more than a few stories from friends attending Boston-area colleges who've had professors incessantly spouting exactly the same content-free "BUSH SUXORZ!!!" nonsense that you find on MetaFilter or DailyKos or MoveOn.

I had a friend whose sister's cousin once got a frozen hot dog stuck up her snatch.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2006


My point not being to attack you, cribcage (hence the joking tone), but to point out that the problem with this position is that the characterization is being done by those with a motive for cherrypicked misrepresentation. Hence dissent becomes "Anti-Americanism," Communism, etc.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:19 PM on April 4, 2006


That might be the problem elsewhere. The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades and use bad grades to punish conservative views.
No, that is in fact a lie.

The problem here is that some students and observers dislike the political and ideological views of the professors in question. The fact that you can share anecdotes of grade-tilting in cases unrelated to the FPP is not very impressive.

If the professors in question are grading two equally qualified papers differently based on tideological critiera, then yes, I would say they should be tarred and feathered - metaphorically at least. As best as I can tell from these articles -- and from every other publicized instance of 'Professor Outing,' there is none of that involved. The conservatives involved simply record the professors saying things conservatives dislike and assume that of course that means they're unfair and will grade ideologically.

Projection, anyone?

Simply put, I remain unimpressed by the news that professors have views about the subjects they teach, and express them while teaching. Produce evidence of actions rather than ideas.
posted by verb at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2006


Look, if you feel passionate enough that Bush is a Nazi, and feel the desire to tell other people that, then you have to accept the people who will excoriate you for saying that.

So if you draw any parallel between a political figure's rhetoric and Hitler's rhetoric, while acknowledging there are real differences between the two, is that OK? Do you still have to accept excoriation? How about suspension from your job?

How do you feel about Bennish's case in particular, since it's the one that comes closest to matching your characterization of the issue?
posted by weston at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2006


How many do not know of someone who was alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion?

I went to Stanford undergraduate 90-94, and I never saw or knew of a student who was "alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion."

Anecdotal evidence against.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2006


Don't want to lose your job? Then learn discretion in what you say.

It's actually not the same. Academics are hired to say things. Telling a social scientist or humanist to watch what they say about the society they are suposed to be writing about is like telling an engineer not to mention that he thinks the bridge he is working on might be falling down. It's like telling a doctor that he shouldn't tell patients when they have cancer, because it might upset them.

It's their job to debate about society, and it's the students job to listen to them, evaluate the evidence (both presented to them, and what they go out and find on their own), and to make up their own minds. Any student who just takes what a professor says on faith has failed the course.

This whole debate is, of course, most insulting to the students - it implies that 18 year olds are children who must only hear what their parents want them to. Of course, the parents in question probably would think that is right, but it's still insulting to their children - it also implies their children are too dim to make up their own minds.
posted by jb at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2006


"The problem here is that students feel intimidated by professors who reward liberal views with good grades and use bad grades to punish conservative views — and that if a professor is assigned to teach Poli Sci (as opposed to Liberalism 101), students should reasonably expect that professor to teach the class without proselytizing."

As an atheist who went to a Catholic middle school, give me a fucking break... Whether some profressors 'reward' or 'punish' is one thing, liberalism or Catholicism is a mere accident of place, right? A prof with an axe to grind is a fact of life, like a shitty schedule or a dumb paper assignment. Grin and bear it. Or fan the flames of your outrage until you flunk out, then blame the system and develop a pathetic fixation on it.

It's true that it's not an even ground. That's because the professor is an educated professional picked by the university and you are just a student. If you set yourself on equal footing with your professor you are making a mistake about your own educational credentials. Maybe you're not really willing to learn. And maybe you picked the wrong fucking school/major/class. And maybe you're finding out that you're too politicized to learn.

In other words, the whole derail about "say what you like but be prepared to face the consequences of what you say" applies at least as equally to the students (and, given common university policies, much more so). Mouth off / go after the teacher and risk getting a bad grade. That's the way it works.

Don't be such whiny ass titty babies. Oh wait I forgot we're talking about right-wingers here. As you were.
posted by fleacircus at 12:22 PM on April 4, 2006


Look, if you feel passionate enough that Bush is a Nazi, and feel the desire to tell other people that, then you have to accept the people who will excoriate you for saying that.
Funny that the teacher in question specifically clarified that he WASN'T saying any such thing, and emphasized that similarities were being pointed out in rhetorical style.

One can argue that he was biased, or that he was trying to imply it despite what he said... but don't turn around and collapse this into 'a teacher called Bush a nazi.'
posted by verb at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2006


"Anti-Americanism," Communism, etc.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:19 PM CST on April 4


I don't understand the constant whining about being labeled Anti-American or communist, etc. I get called a Fascist here everyday (and by matteo 95% of the time). And "Apologist." And how often do you see the nefarious label "neo-conservative" or "fundy" popping up?

Labels are an incredibly lame, unproductive, anti-intellectual way of reacting to someone you disagree with. Would that people didn't rely on them so much.

But I can't help but to laugh at the idea a Professor who labels Bush a fascist would get his panties in a wad if he gets called anti-American in return.
posted by dios at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2006


The better way of looking at these things is that these professors are fulfilling their function by speaking out. They aren't losing their jobs. Are they getting criticized? Yeah. That is what happens in a society where people are given the right to speak.

Again, Jesus Christ, dios... No one is saying that professors are beyond criticism. But instead of debating their views with the professor, these students are running to the news media & conservative thinktanks to whine about it. Again, is it their right to do that? Yes. Again, is it my right to think they're pathetic and worthy of mocking and denouncing? Yes.
posted by brundlefly at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2006


the characterization is being done by those with a motive for cherrypicked misrepresentation.

True, but that's always the way. No one without a motive would spend the time doing it. That's certainly a reason to look with skepticism when they say, "Professor Jones should be fired"; but when they're simply reporting what Professor Jones told his class, publishing a recording of what the guy actually said, then using their motives to dismiss them is nothing more than hollow ad hominem.
posted by cribcage at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2006


If you're arguing against labeling people, fine. But if you're going to label, using their statements certainly seems reasonable. You'd prefer, what — to use their associations?

If you're afraid of being characterized by what you said, perhaps you oughtn't have said it.



Its the defaming characterizations which are made in reaction to the fact that you disagree with the opinion, as if your own opinion is absolute truth, which is what is happening and wrong.

"If you're afraid"... this is exactly the problem which is being created. Fear. Maybe a fix might be for everyone to start off with a disclaimer stating that they are interested in discussing their opinions and not to get all bent out of shape first. Maybe making this assumption is a bit premature in our evolving society.
posted by Trakker at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2006


First, this is not a first-amendment issue at all, and no tenure-track academic with a terminal degree that I've ever met would characterize it this way

I regret now that I used the free speech tag, because I think I was responding to the way "free speech" was being characterized as an issue in the article itself. I'm not an American, and I think the phrase carries a number of legal and constitutional implications of a hair-splitting kind that I'm less sensitive to than our cousins south of the border...
posted by jokeefe at 12:26 PM on April 4, 2006


Pollomacho - I have no such anecdote. I know plenty of conservatives with no particular beef, and a couple of complete morons who don't want to take responsibility for their own shitty work. That's the problem with these anecdotes -- they reflect both the tellers' own biases and the selection bias that make people tell them in the first place. If a dozen conservative students a year get screwed, across the country, and those dozen stories get thrown into the conservative echo chamber, does that mean anything? Are we to assume that there are no conservative profs who might be doing this too?
posted by aaronetc at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2006


Again, Jesus Christ, dios... No one is saying that professors are beyond criticism.
posted by brundlefly at 2:24 PM CST on April 4


Did you read this? You know, the thing I was respond to?

it is the matter of the institutionalized freedom to "profess" a certain point of view on particular issues without fear of retribution by opposite-minded individuals.


Please parse that for me if that is, in fact, not what that user was saying.
posted by dios at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2006


dios: criticism != retribution
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2006


dios: criticism != retribution
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:30 PM CST on April 4


But the "retribution" that was mentioned in the article was criticism.
posted by dios at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2006


No, it was suspension.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2006


No, it was suspension.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:32 PM CST on April 4


That was a public high school teacher. The University professor... that is, the kind of people mrmojo and I were talking about... suffered not employment loss or anything of the like. He was criticized and that was it. Care to keep going?
posted by dios at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2006


dios: I don't disagree with you on this point dios. I was simply clarifying that the danger in arguing for accepting "characterization" as the price of speaking one's mind is that "mischaracterization" is probably the more common result. For any position taken, as your examples show.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2006


No, I'm sorry, that was a high-school teacher who was suspended, not the professor.

on preview: yeah.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2006


But I can't help but to laugh at the idea a Professor who labels Bush a fascist would get his panties in a wad if he gets called anti-American in return.
Heh. This is like a one-man version of the telephone game. It started as a comparison of rhetorical styles with a disclaimer, morphed into 'comparing Bush to Hitler,' and now it's just 'calling Bush a Fascist.'

Hey, dios, iif we've left the realm of actual-story-being-discussed and are talking about pure speculation, can I make up my own stories, too? Like the conservative professor who calls his students fools if they read works by female writers, and refuses to give passing grades to anyone who doesn't like Hemmingway?
posted by verb at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2006


This whole "the liberal academy is suppressing conservative thought" is actually funny from where I sit.

Here in Colorado, by whatever dumb luck, we've had a couple of high profile leftists tarred-and-feathered for political speech (NOTE: there is absolutely no substantiated claim that any of these cases involved anything more than speech. The claim of grade-tilting is a bullshit canard without evidence).

The result is that we now have an official policy in CO colleges that teachers can't talk politics except in a poly sci class. And it has most definitely had a chilling effect. At public schools in CO, teachers are unwilling to present the liberal side of things fairly, for fear of retribution from the conservatives that control the purse strings. There is no sense that an abolition of political speech in class is applied equally to liberal AND conservative political speech.

It's fucking retarded, and about as anti-enlightenment as you can get. But that's modern Republican thinking, and it was their baby.

I was in more than one class where fruitful, respectful discussion was halted because it was becoming "political" and teachers were afraid of losing their job over it. The classes were not poly sci -- but politics was an integral part of the discussion. Scholarship suffered for it.

The idea that the right wing hysteria and witch hunts against academics is without consequence, or that it is necessary, is absolute bullshit.
posted by teece at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2006


Targeting [professors] based on their statements unfairly victimizes this class of people...
I don't understand how exposing their statements victimizes them at all, let alone "unfairly."


Ugh, you're totally taking my comment out of context. If you're point is to deal with unfair grading, then repeating their statements does nothing to help you accomplish that goal, and it certainly does "victimize" them, by repeating their statements to crazy people on freerepublic that would not otherwise hear what they had to say.

You could certainly make the argument that what they say deserves to be heard, but it does nothing to prevent unfair grading. The only purpose in repeating their statements is to punish them for expressing their views.

Dios writes:
Your essential point is that professors should be insulated from criticism.

Hah, now you're trying to shift the argument again. No one is saying they should be free from criticism, only that they should be free from death threats and rightwing pundits calling for their dismissal on foxnews. And not legally protected from those things, but simply the idea that those things are bad and the people who do them are also bad. If no one complains about the complainers, then there will certainly succeed in shutting up liberal collage professors, which we think is a bad thing.

In other words, you are stating that people who complain about liberal professors should be insulated from criticism, no?

You also never answered my question: do you think that it's acceptable for teachers to share their political viewpoints in class, unlike their opinions on the fatness of other professors?
posted by delmoi at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2006


Dios, if you characterize the sort of defamation that some of the uni. profs in the article went through as mere 'criticism' then, say, characterizing Bush as a fascist is also on the level of criticism - and shouldn't be any sort of problem.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:41 PM on April 4, 2006


Economic suppression of ideological opposition is still censorship.
There is never a good reason to limit the scope of thought, particularly within an institution of higher learning, and there is never an honest reason to accept retribution as a matter of course for speaking one’s mind.
Thoughtful communication and dissent are absolutely vital to discourse. Without new ideas and opposing viewpoints there is only stagnation.
Suspending a schoolteacher for his or her politics is downright UnAmerican.
As to the idea that you have to watch what you say as a practical matter...
Someone insults me I can 99/100 pound their head flat as a pancake.
(mmmm...pancakes).
Is it a practical danger? Yes.
Does that mean I’m justified? No.
Does that mean I do it often? Absolutely not.
That one has power be it economic, political or brute force, does not mean one can exert that power whenever one wants.

Don’t want to give your boss a blowjob? Guess what you’re fired.

This is why there are laws against that sort of thing. It is also a custom. Even without a law, we would recognize the injustice of such an act.
It is customary, in the United States, to respect the rights of others to speak freely, have a difference of opinion, without fear of some kind of retribution beyond a response in words.

/All matters of fighting words and shouting “theater” in a crowded firehouse and such nothwithstanding of course.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:41 PM on April 4, 2006



Another Dios-brand Derail.

Cribcage— The problem with your argument is that professors are being punished for things they didn't say. Further, I've taken quite a few PoliSci classes, and inevitably those conservatives who felt that they were being abused by the professor were the ones that had the retarded arguments.
As for the opposite side, while not perfectly congruent, my History of Print journalism teacher is open about being an Objectivist, and considers his views quite novel. I disagree on nearly every point (from the argument that blacks didn't have it as bad as poor whites under the slave economy to the idea that media conglomeration is good for America— because he gets a soccer channel now— and that the "death tax" is the number one enemy of independent journalism), but I kept my head down and I learned some valuable stuff from him (I would have never watched Limbaugh or Hannity otherwise, especially not with an eye to technique). Meanwhile, I have class after class with loud conservatives with persecution complexes who refuse to bother with the material and instead feel agrieved whenever discussion shifts away from their prefered bias. I also know quite a few quiet conservatives who keep their heads down and learn a lot. I remember talking to an econ major who had never read Marx and found him fascinating, though he disagreed with a lot of the philosophy.

In short, the harm of context-free inflamation from professional demogogues is far greater than the harm of the so-called liberal institutions (leaving aside that higher education tends to be liberal by its very goals and nature, in the enlightenment sense). And that's without addressing Dios's straw men and flapping bullshit even once.
posted by klangklangston at 12:52 PM on April 4, 2006


The right of free speech involves the government's ability to prevent you from saying something using force or legal process. Unless you are protected by another law, your boss can fire you for anything you say. That's the nuts and bolts of the law, folks. And a campus can expel you for saying something they don't like, unless its a public university.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:25 AM PST on April 4 [!]


This is why societies embrace academic freedom. Because we ask academics (and pay them) to study us, our society and other uncomfortable things, we have to give them the freedom to tell us what they find, not just what we want to hear. Otherwise, we would end up with a bunch of useless yes-men (aka think tanks).

I don't know what the US history is on this, but I do know that other countries respect academic freedom a great deal. Even in pre-War Japan, growing increasinging militarist and fascist, professors were accorded academic freedom.

Will someone please link to the non-anecdotal evidence that professors are rewarding liberalism and punishing conservatism?
posted by aaronetc at 2:40 PM EST on April 4 [!]

I know that I'm not fulfilling your request, but I'd like to know just how many people who have been involved with American academia don't have an anecdote? How many do not know of someone who was alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 PM PST on April 4 [!]


Well, I did have a professor who backed up his criticism of Britain's NHS with the mistaken assertion that Britain was more multicultural than Canada (claiming that national health care coudn't work in Britain because they had more immigrants to deal with, more diversity; whereas I now live here, and it seems that privatisation has done the most harm). I'm not saying he was lying, he probably thought he was right, but he was just very (as shown by the numbers on immigration at StatsCan and similar from Britain) wrong about the immigration issue (and thus his argument falls apart). The next class, I told him that I had looked up the precentages of foreign born people in each country, and that he had been mistaken. He was quite gracious about it, though I don't know how much he took in. This was just one of several issues we butt heads on, in a very small class. I did learn things from him, things I would never have learnt elsewhere, even though I still think he was often very wrong (the evidence just didn't support his interpretation of history or current affairs). But I made up my mind for myself.

The fact is, this is how everyone should react to something they think might not be true - go out, do some research, and come back and share it - and make up their own mind. It's called learning.

I also learned that day that Canada has a higher percentage of foreign-born people than the US, but similar to Australia - in fact, I think Australia now has more. Which is interesing.
posted by jb at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2006


Ok. Jump me if you will but I found this piece most annoying and hard to take. It is from a left of center paper that focuses upon all that is perceived Left of center to be under the gun, when in fact, the articler is not more than a mish mash of some incidents but hardly convincing as to the overall view.

I have not the time or inclination to go case by case, but clearly mixing what gets said by a teacher in public high school with what gets said by professors in universities is not the same thing. And what gets said in a class that is part of the subject matter and what might get said that has abolutely nothing to do with the subject of the course is also a different matter.

The tenure system in fact was put into place to guarantee that a prof. might hold a position that was contrary to the conventional view and he or she would not lose a job because of it. Are there instances at the college level cited herein where this is the case?
posted by Postroad at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2006


Well, Postroad - without getting into the merits of either - I did find myself wistfully thinking of the "War on Christmas" while reading this...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:01 PM on April 4, 2006


Your essential point is that professors should be insulated from criticism.

Not at all. My point is that a university's mission is to create knowledge and pass that knowledge on. A professor's job (contractually) is to create and disseminate knowledge to their peers, their students, and for the benefit of all (not just like-minded peers). Professors, then, are supposed to make things more complicated, and to teach students the ways of thinking associated with constructing knowledge.

What I am advocating for is a recognition of the complexity of the issue, and rhetorical responsibility in discussing it, rather than perpetuating a reduced understanding of the issues. That is unacademic. It's also unproductive and contrary to the very mission of higher education.

While I acknowledge the protection professors get---and that is tenure---is useful for a vibrant discussion (as I have said above), they can't be protected against "retribution" when in comes in the form of rebuke.

If you have ever worked in an institution of higher education, you would understand why I find this statement absurd. No academic goes without scathing criticism, in fact, it is this criticism that they too often pass onto their students and that is mistaken for "unfairness." So, while professors are rebuked rather often for their view, they are being rebuked by their students and peers, rather than those working off of second and third-hand information. That is unacademic.

I am quite certain that you wouldn't take the position that a condemnable remark becomes un-condemnable merely because the person saying it happens to be a tenured prof at SW Bumblefuck St Univ.

I am saying that "condemnable" remarks are part-and-parcel of the academic system and there is a complex system of grievance for those who feel the remark is indeed "condemnable." Of course, I do not think that the court of new entertainment public opinion should supercede this procedure.

Professors can say what they want. If they think they are talking to truth to power and are the lone savant in the wilderness, then they shouldn't fear rebuke. But to say to them "you can say whatever you want without any consequence whatsoever to your statements" is untenable.

Just ask Arthur Butz how he likes his office if you truly believe statements by academics carry no consequences.

Look, if you feel passionate enough that Bush is a Nazi, and feel the desire to tell other people that, then you have to accept the people who will excoriate you for saying that.

I do not feel this way. Bush is obviously not a Nazi, and the professor to whom that remark is attributed didn't say that. Being a rhetorician, I would gladly do a study of the rhetoric of Bush's political speeches and Hitler's. If that was my thing. I would also gladly excoriate the writer who did if I thought they got it all wrong. That's what academics do.

I know from threads on this website that people go apeshit over the idea that a professor might state a religious point of view in the context of public education. And there is a constitutional basis for that concern. But if we were really on the whole "academia must support all viewpoints" then we ought to have an exception for religious teaching. We don't (and I don't think there should be). However, it then becomes curious to rely so passionately on the idea that universities and professors must be free to say whatever they want.

Academia does not have to support any viewpoint. But, it should be able to contain all viewpoints. If it does not, it is no longer the academy.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2006


I think you're right, in that a lot of people see this issue as being about the professors' freedom. Which reminds me of a conversation I once had with a waitress who objected to certain restaurant policies because she believed the operating principle should be, helping her to make money.

There's a huge difference between a professor and a waitress, moron.

I know that I'm not fulfilling your request, but I'd like to know just how many people who have been involved with American academia don't have an anecdote? How many do not know of someone who was alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion?

I don't have an anecdote. So there that's two (along with mrgrimm).
posted by delmoi at 1:06 PM on April 4, 2006


The problem with your argument is that professors are being punished for things they didn't say.

Where that's true, it's a valid objection. When you're talking about recording a lecture or an Op-Ed the professor published, however, it's not. And reading assignments that include Marx are entirely different from those that lean on columnists from the New York Times. I trust readers to distinguish between the two blacklists.

In short, the harm of context-free inflamation from professional demogogues is far greater than the harm of the so-called liberal institutions...

I'm not sure there's much harm in either. If some professor is a left-wing nut, a blacklist will reveal it so that students can avoid his class. Again, I think too much of this debate hinges on the idea that universities exist for the benefit of professors. People keep clamoring about the right of professors to speak, and I keep hearing that waitress telling me her restaurant exists so that she can buy shoes.
posted by cribcage at 1:15 PM on April 4, 2006


Just popping in to say...

Why is this so difficult a concept to discuss?

On the one hand, we have professors making clear, straightforward and often personally biased statements in class -- and certainly, if their teaching skills are sub-par, disciplinary action is most likely appropriate. After all, I wouldn't want to go into a mathematics class, only to have the professor regularly waste class time discussing his political views, regardless of what they might be, and if I had an instructor in a politically-oriented class who only and often presented their single point of view as absolute fact...well, that's a lousy teacher, no two ways about it. Off with their heads.

On the other hand, we have partisan folks offering bribes to students to gather quotes from their instructors, then distributing those quotes to the media, with the specific intent of introducing chilling effects in order to suppress a type of speech that these partisan people do not agree with. Without context, nobody can tell if the words were from a thought exercise, a specific and relevant point of view being expressed during a politically-oriented class, or the ravings of a nutjob -- but all are being presented as coming from the last category. That's a witch hunt, folks, and there's no credibility in being part of it...or at least there shouldn't be.

Sigh.
posted by davejay at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2006


Ok. Jump me if you will but I found this piece most annoying and hard to take. It is from a left of center paper that focuses upon all that is perceived Left of center to be under the gun, when in fact, the articler is not more than a mish mash of some incidents but hardly convincing as to the overall view.

Yes, the Guardian is a left-of-centre paper. However, it is a British left-of-centre paper. It might have been interesting to see how this story would play out if it were in the New York Times, but I'm unsure of how the issue has been covered there (or elsewhere in the American media).
posted by jokeefe at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2006


in public schools in CO, teachers are unwilling to present the liberal side of things fairly, for fear of retribution from the conservatives that control the purse strings.

And make no mistake, that was the express intent of the law: not to make things "fair and balanced," but to intimidate.

That is the express purpose of this entire endeavor, from Horowitz on down - not to get more conservatives hired at [X] instutition, not to get professors to tone the anti-Bush statements down in Algebra class, but to send a message to professors who dare express a point of view out of step with the conservative ideologues, that you are being watched.
posted by kgasmart at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2006


There's a huge difference between a professor and a waitress, moron.

Your quick wit and astute rhetoric have disarmed my analogy, sir. Surely, no one can dispute that you are a respectful and valued contributor. Let none call you "troll."

PS — Stop spelling "college" with an A.
posted by cribcage at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2006


So you're saying your pro-witch, then, davejay?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2006


you're
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2006


"Pro-witch." Heh.

Seriously, though. "Witch hunt"? There were no witches.
posted by cribcage at 1:23 PM on April 4, 2006


Sure there were. They were in the cabal.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2006


Academia thrives on criticism. Criticism is not the issue here. It's opting out of criticism, out of any debate, in favor of publically demonizing those who say things you disagree with.

I took a journalism class from a professor who was very pro-Iraq War and voted for Bush both times. We debated constantly in that class, and I enjoyed every minute, as did, I suspect, he. It never crossed my mind to scream at the top of my lungs that he was indoctrinating me, because I had enough confidence in my own opinions to stand up for them. At the end of that semester, he took me aside and suggested I look into a gig at the University newspaper. Politics notwithstanding.

I have studied with many apparent conservatives who have voiced their opinions in articulate ways and and they have done very well with apparently liberal teachers.

The students who are making a public deal about their Pinko professors have no faith in their own intellect and are encouraged by think-tanks that have Republican political victory as a priority. Nothing else.

on preview: exactly, davejay.
posted by brundlefly at 1:39 PM on April 4, 2006


Gah! *publicly*
posted by brundlefly at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2006


I'm not sure there's much harm in either. If some professor is a left-wing nut, a blacklist will reveal it so that students can avoid his class. Again, I think too much of this debate hinges on the idea that universities exist for the benefit of professors. People keep clamoring about the right of professors to speak, and I keep hearing that waitress telling me her restaurant exists so that she can buy shoes.

Just who do you think the university is there to benefit? A university is not a McDonalds designed to hammer out degrees like so many happy meals.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2006


Your quick wit and astute rhetoric have disarmed my analogy, sir. Surely, no one can dispute that you are a respectful and valued contributor. Let none call you "troll."

I'm a troll for calling a moronic comment moronic? Universities are not resturants. The purpose of a university, unlike the purpose of a resturant, is not to make as much money as it can for itself.
posted by delmoi at 1:53 PM on April 4, 2006


I took a journalism class from a professor who was very pro-Iraq War and voted for Bush both times.

This is quite impossible, brundlefly. I have it on good authority that there is not a single conservative in the academy. And if there were, they would have to keep their opinions completely silent, or else they would be hung by the evil lynch mob of liberals that trolls the average college campus.
posted by teece at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2006


Just who do you think the university is there to benefit?

Students.

I'm a troll for calling a moronic comment moronic?

Another troll hallmark: Make a personal attack, then claim you didn't. Moronic ≠ Moron. But thanks for neatly illustrating the point underlying this discussion by objecting to a characterization based on a comment that you wrote.
posted by cribcage at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2006


thanks for neatly illustrating the point underlying this discussion

Please elaborate.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage, I think you're rushing so fast to brand him a troll that you're missing the point he made: waitresses are there to deliver food from kitchens to tables. Professors are there to teach students how to think and to share their own expertise.

Expressing opinions -- sometimes ones you dislike -- is in fact one of the core duties of a professor. Obviously, this can be taken to extremes, and it can interfere with other aspects of their work.
posted by verb at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2006


It's as if all this takes place in a universe where the add/drop period of the first week or two does not exist. I suppose this may be a problem with the scheduling nightmares of large public universities, I don't know. But I myself have switched out of classes a couple of times when it became apparent they'd be nothing more than rantfests. So really all this comes down to is publicity seeking and demagoguery. There are plenty of valves for students who don't wish to be exposed to politics, far more than for workers in the free market conservatives so vaunt. And the demagoguery has real costs, like what teece talks about upthread.

By the way, universities are not strictly there to benefit students.
posted by furiousthought at 2:12 PM on April 4, 2006


Just who do you think the university is there to benefit?

Students.


Well, I disagree with that. I think the university is there to benefit everyone involved. Duh.

Another troll hallmark: Make a personal attack, then claim you didn't. Moronic ≠ Moron.

Who makes moronic comments? Morons. That's who. You were being moronic when you made the analogy, which is why calling you a moron was appropriate at the time. I think it's rather ironic that someone claming that making death threats and calling professors 'psychotic' in national newspapers, cherry picking quotes to make them look bad on national TV would piss and moan about being called a 'moron' on a website.

Plus, my sentiments are shared by a majority of the commenter, so if I was a troll I'd be doing a pretty shitty job of it. You know what a troll is right, someone who posts inflammatory stuff to get people pissed off?

Anyway, now you've got me wondering if you're a troll, so I'll just ignore you.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2006


er commenters.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2006


Also, unlike the owner of a restaurant, the goal of a university is to gain prestige, to attract the best and brightest students, grad students, and faculty, which in turn enhances prestige and so on. If a prof's views bother a student, that's not a problem because the student isn't there to be not-bothered. A student who can't deal with differing opinions probably isn't exactly the best and brightest.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on April 4, 2006


Universities are not resturants. The purpose of a university, unlike the purpose of a resturant, is not to make as much money as it can for itself.

You obviously are not affiliated with a University. Things are a bit different on campus these days.

...how many people who have been involved with American academia don't have an anecdote? How many do not know of someone who was alienated or dressed down by a professor for disagreeing with the professor's opinion?

Funny, I can't think of any. I know plenty of people who were "dressed down" or received bad grades as the result of not doing work, or not doing enough work, or not coming to class enough, or just sort of sitting there.

In my experience the majority of college level instructors care much more that a student is involved and motivated in class. Unfortunately most students seem bored, apathetic and only concerned with "will this be on the test."

Which I can assure you translates into not the most joyful response from a teacher, ho usually gives a shit about what they're teaching.

My guess based on the anecdotal evidence I've collected, is that most of the kids who turn in their professors are really right-wing twats that don't care about the subjects these professors are teaching, which translated into a grade that wasn't an A (given grade inflation it was probably a B or C)... this in turn convinced the kids that it was 'cause the prof was a durn librul -- AND NOT ANYTHING THEY MAY HAVE DONE OR FAILED TO DO -- that caused them to not get an A.

So of course, they reported them.
posted by illovich at 2:28 PM on April 4, 2006


Anyway, now you've got me wondering if you're a troll, so I'll just ignore you.

Heh. The ever-popular "I know you are but what am I." Truly, your debating skills are a marvel to witness.

Since you're still replying to me, I'll assume that bit about ignoring me was bullshit posturing and I'll continue. And since you need the analogy drawn with crayon: Professor = Waitress = Employee. The primary function of a business is not to benefit its employees. It's to serve its customers, either by manufacturing or by selling or by serving or by teaching — and thereby to profit, to create jobs, to gain prestige, etc.

If a prof's views bother a student, that's not a problem because the student isn't there to be not-bothered. A student who can't deal with differing opinions probably isn't exactly the best and brightest.

Did someone up-thread remark about straw men? Similarly, you cracked about McDonald's. No one said that universities should award degrees for attendance and otherwise not rock anyone's boat. Challenging students to reconsider their ideals and to hold informed opinions that withstand criticism, that's good. Lecturing about how Bush = Hitler and using your post to vent your liberal frustration? Expect consequences.
posted by cribcage at 2:43 PM on April 4, 2006


And since you need the analogy drawn with crayon: Professor = Waitress = Employee. The primary function of a business is not to benefit its employees. It's to serve its customers, either by manufacturing or by selling or by serving or by teaching — and thereby to profit, to create jobs, to gain prestige, etc.

I apologize: That was Magic Marker, not crayon. I omitted the conclusion: "In other words, the primary function of a university is to teach."
posted by cribcage at 2:45 PM on April 4, 2006


Lecturing about how Bush = Hitler and using your post to vent your liberal frustration? Expect consequences.
Jesus, it's amazing how fast that morphs. The teacher in question (the HS teacher who was suspended) did not say that Bush = Hitler. He noted similar rhetorical styles and also made clear that obviously they were very different leaders.

Cribcage, either you're too lazy to read the article, not literate enough to comprehend the words in it, or a liar who cares nothing for the truth, and simply uses passing anecdotes as rhetorical cudgels.

Pick one.

I spent my teenage years frothing at the mouth over the same 'liberal injustice' and anti-conservative bias that was OMG SO OBVIOUS EVERYWHERE. The kind of sniveling moral and intellectual hypocrisy that infects what passes for 'conservatism' these is only eclipsed by the stupidity of those who defend it.
posted by verb at 2:58 PM on April 4, 2006


A scientist, be he/she a practitioner of "hard" or "soft" sciences, works by one fundamental principle: the cycle of gather data to test the theory, then refine the theory to fit the facts. Conservatism in politics, be it left- or right-wing conservatism, is the application of pre-existing prejudices ("articles of faith") to policy formation, without regard to consequences or facts. These two approaches to philosophy, to life, are incompatible.

On occasion articles of faith get thoroughly destroyed by the harsh light of reality. Do the conservatives change their opinions? Ha! No. What happens instead is that new generations of conservatives grow up with new prejudices that fit the existing situation, and force the older bunch to shut up. This is why conservatism within a culture cycles politically between individual freedom and social conformity, for example.

Many tests of Bush administration policies are currently ongoing. Reality is the means by which policies are tested. The simple and honest fact is, Bush policies have made most situations worse. Poverty. Education. Public morale. International attitudes to the United States. The United States economy. Transparent operation of government.

I could go on for pages with examples of why the Bush approach to governance and actions taken as government are, in summary, extremely bad for the great majority of residents of the United States, and the overwhelming majority of human beings worldwide. That's been done in thousands of threads over the last six years. The unavoidable tragedy of debating with humans is that willingness to alter opinion when faced with facts is optional. The other choice is conservatism.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2006


The teacher in question (the HS teacher who was suspended) did not say that Bush = Hitler.

In which case it's probably reasonable to conclude that I wasn't referring to him. That might also have been evident from the fact that I was writing about universities and he's a public high-school teacher, but hey. You're slow. It's OK.
posted by cribcage at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2006


Who are you referring to?

Anyone not made of straw?
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:12 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage = troll.

At least he's obviously not intrested in honest debate. That should be obvious at this point.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 PM on April 4, 2006


“Academia does not have to support any viewpoint. But, it should be able to contain all viewpoints. If it does not, it is no longer the academy.” -posted by mrmojoflying

Worth repeating...
+ brundlefly

...lots of good comments really.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:20 PM on April 4, 2006


Y'know, if we're going to devolve into personal attacks, that's cool with me. I've been dying to point out this one guy who sticks his head into every legal AskMe with comments that are almost 100% consistently wrong — not "unwise," not "bad advice," but just plain wrong. Know anyone like that?
posted by cribcage at 3:25 PM on April 4, 2006


dios: please correct me if I am wrong, but your argument is

a) you are free to say whatever the fuck you want, the Congress can't interfere with that by law (freedom of speech as some intend it from First Amendment of U.S. Constitution)
b) there is no such as right as a "right to remain immune from consequences caused by interpretation of speech by entities other then government" aka you speak , I'm not the Congress so I can "kick your ass" !

I can agree with that , there's nothing in the First Amendment ordering government to guarantee immunity. This freedom comes with its own responsability, which is itself a limit to unrestricted exercise of the freedom if somebody helds the people responsible for the
use.

But, reading from the article I quote

It is not their work as professors Horowitz does not like; it is the ideologies they espouse, whether in or outside the classroom

referring to some professors that indirectly expose the existence of certain ideologies by vehemently expressing their dissenting
opinions.

I think they should be held responsible for what they say, but not because they said. I think they should also have courage
of their own statements and take responsability of them, as that would show they put their "money" were their "mouth" is.

Yet there is a very practical problem we should address : while the Congress can't directly shut up dissenting opinion with the incisive immediate force of law, nothing prevents any executive from abusing the political power of its members , in a way that enormous pressure is exercised by friends of friends on "dissenting opinionist". In a way, refusing to grant FCC licences to broadcasters is a way of buying silence, another way is to enlarge FCC activity on previously unregulated media ; another is to have fake grass-root movements attack the dissenting opinion from the outside.

I think it is troubling to find out that dissenting opinion is being repressed, expecially when it's related to Congress/executive action or lack thereof ; it expecially troubling when 1) such action is covertly sponsored by people who happen to be the government 2) corporate forces seem to back this strategy, not necessarily for reasons other then profit.
posted by elpapacito at 3:26 PM on April 4, 2006


And now, in Colorado, it is not only what you say but what you wear
posted by Postroad at 3:26 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage: "I've been dying to point out this one guy who sticks his head into every legal AskMe with comments that are almost 100% consistently wrong — not "unwise," not "bad advice," but just plain wrong. Know anyone like that?"

You're going to have to narrow that down quite a bit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:28 PM on April 4, 2006


Ha. OK. It's someone who can't spell "college" and can't define "ignore."
posted by cribcage at 3:35 PM on April 4, 2006


“Y'know, if we're going to devolve into personal attacks, that's cool with me.”

Woo Hoo! Hey, that Smedleyman has his head up his ass! And screw him, man! Bastard!

...gah, I’m bad at this.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2006


The United States economy grows and has been the largest economy in the world because we have democratic values such as freedom of speech. This freedom of speech fosters innovation which is the catalyst for substantial economic growth. I would suggest that a great intellectual exodus is in the works to Canada and Europe which in turn will furthur damage the country. The American automakers are just one example; however, I would speculate that more failings are in the works.
posted by j-urb at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2006


I would like to correct myself, the American automates are more of an example of poor corporate structure; however, it is clear that Japan is leading in innovation within the auto industry. If America drives away good professors it will lose a great competitive advantage. America has already lost many great students through post 9-11 policies coupled with European universities increasing their ability to recruit talented students from around the globe. My point is that this country is in very deep trouble, not only for today, but for many tomorrows.
posted by j-urb at 4:13 PM on April 4, 2006


automakers* errr...
posted by j-urb at 4:14 PM on April 4, 2006


j-urb: I don't think freedom of speech is really responsible for the economic boom in this country. China's economy has been growing at 20% a while.

I would argue that a 'protestant work ethic' and western scientific knowledge lead to our great success.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on April 4, 2006


You guys really need to start persecuting conservatives. I'm half serious, actually.
posted by Decani at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2006


I mean outside of MetaFilter too, obviously.
posted by Decani at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2006


“I don't think freedom of speech is really responsible for the economic boom in this country.”

I’d disagree. But then I’m a conservative.

“We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success -- only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free. Trust the people. This is the one irrefutable lesson of the entire postwar period contradicting the notion that rigid government controls are essential to economic development.” -
Ronald Reagan -September 29, 1981
posted by Smedleyman at 4:34 PM on April 4, 2006


"Again, I think too much of this debate hinges on the idea that universities exist for the benefit of professors. People keep clamoring about the right of professors to speak, and I keep hearing that waitress telling me her restaurant exists so that she can buy shoes."

Despite your impassioned defense, your analogy is flawed. The fundamental difference, something which you seem to ignore, is the difference in form of employment. Further, the purpose of academic employment is not to teach, but to research and publish. The service that students buy is an education rendered through teaching, but that's very different from the goals of the university as an institution.
And to point out another hole, free debate aids teaching even more than wearing shoes aids waitresses. Were I a lesser man, I'd make a dig about the failure of critical reasoning that you're presenting, but I suppose you're getting enough bullshit already in this thread.
posted by klangklangston at 5:01 PM on April 4, 2006


“We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down.
Yeah, that part's always confused me. I mean, by that logic we should always be working to reduce the taxes paid by the people at the BOTTOM of the economic pile, as they're the real engines of prosperity in our economy. Right?

Right?
posted by verb at 5:04 PM on April 4, 2006


I don't think a quote by reagan is really proof of anything.

In truth, wealth is created in both directions, and from the middle (medium sized organizations).

Entrepreneurship does not require freedom of speech, unless you're getting into the media industry, in which case regulations could make business difficult.

Why do you need freedom of speech to sell PCs, for example? Or to get an engineering degree?

I'm not saying it's good, just that it's not necessary for economic awesomeness.
posted by delmoi at 5:15 PM on April 4, 2006


I’m of two minds on that verb. On the one hand we should try to give folks at the bottom a break. On the other - people with money don’t necessarily have to invest it widely, give people jobs, etc. etc. You need to work on both sides. It’s the ‘how’ question where stuff gets bogged down.

I think going into that is a bit too far afield though.

That quote was to point up the concept that freedom of speech is good for the economy and generally conservatives have espoused that.
/Matters of execution or other issues notwithstanding.
By extension then - free speech and the innovation it spurs - is good for the economy. So having open discourse in universities is vital to the economy.

Not sure how you’re defining ‘engine of prosperity’ - but I don’t want to debate Reagan’s use of rhetoric, I just wanted to point out that it’s not antithetical to conservative values - and again distancing that from the current climate of opportunism - to support free speech and academic freedom in and of themselves as well as a catalyst for economic growth - as j-urb pointed out above.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:21 PM on April 4, 2006


Ah, okay. I'm just saying that the argument that we need freedom of speech for economic reasons is a bit silly, and honestly devalues freedom of speech for its own sake a little bit.
posted by delmoi at 5:24 PM on April 4, 2006


I'm coming to this late in the thread, but if anyone's still interested in the questions about academic freedom & political speech in the classroom, there's the American Association of University Professors statement on Horowitz &alia's Academic Bill of Rights

And yes, there are channels at every college and university for students to appeal grades they consider unfair, and for professors (even those with tenure) to be reviewed by other faculty and administrative bodies and sanctioned if they are behaving inappropriately.

But expressing controversial ideas (even views some would consider "anti-American" or, conversely, "fascist" ideas, ) is not in itself inappropriate in the academy.
posted by girandole at 5:47 PM on April 4, 2006


“Why do you need freedom of speech to sell PCs, for example? Or to get an engineering degree?”

Bioengineering for example?
One need only look at the forced teaching of intelligent design to question that.

Teaching ID is a very political decision and seems very much to stifle dissent.

There is little question that ID as a subject is the result of the assertion of power, not the result of free discourse.
Scientific methods can only exist in a free environment.
The Soviets had all kinds of BS with their grain crops because political considerations took precedence over reality. I vaguely recall one guy experimenting with grain to make it grow in accordance with communist doctrine. But certainly collectivisation screwed lots of people out of food (40 million give or take a bunch).

I use Reagan, in part because of the quote itself, but also because of the contrast with the Soviets. In Soviet engineering 2+2 = 4 only when the government tells you it does.

Old joke:
There are three students in a lecture in a Soviet University. Five of them get up and leave. The professor thinks “If 2 more students come in, then nobody will be listening.”

“...honestly devalues freedom of speech for its own sake a little bit.”

Fair enough delmoi. And I’d agree. Just want to point out that I think you’re looking at this concept from only a western perspective.
To be fair, I’m fairly zealous about free speech. And extremism in anything can be unproductive or self-defeating.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:50 PM on April 4, 2006


Smedlyman: your quote has nothing to do with freedom of speech but is in fact about business being free from "rigid government controls" -- much as it is in China, a place where there is no freedom of speech.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2006


“Why do you need freedom of speech to sell PCs, for example? Or to get an engineering degree?”

Bioengineering for example?
One need only look at the forced teaching of intelligent design to question that.

Teaching ID is a very political decision and seems very much to stifle dissent.


Sure, but a government that desired biotech could just as easily ban the teaching of ID and creationism, which would be better for science.

I use Reagan, in part because of the quote itself, but also because of the contrast with the Soviets. In Soviet engineering 2+2 = 4 only when the government tells you it does.

Is that why they were ahead of us in the Space Race for so long? Or why they kept up with us in aerospace engineering to the very end despite having a weak-ass economy?

None of your examples are a problem if the government never says 2+2 != 4, or disagrees with any other obvious natural truth (like evolution).

On the other hand, it's easy to come up with examples where free speech is harmful to the economy. Look at Mad Cow disease. The economic impact of a few thousand people getting mad cow disease, a disease that doesn't start to affect you until you're very old anyway, is negligible. But to the individual consumer, it might not be a risk worth taking (especially since it can be hard for people to gauge risks)

The net result is hard times for the cattle industry. Without free speech, the government could just cover it up, likkity split and no economic problems as a result.

If the government could censor anti Genetically modified food sentiments, then more farmers could grow GM crops, and increase agricultural yields

The government could ban immigrant bashing and open the borders with Mexico, flooding the streets with cheap labor.

And so on.

I'm not saying I'm for it, but if you're just looking to grow the economy selective censorship could be helpful, if used in a smart way.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage, several people (not just delmoi) have asked you for specific instances of professors penalizing conservative students via unjustly poor grades. I may have missed it, in which case I apologize, but you don't seem to have come up anything beyond your original anecdote and your (apparently apocryphal) Bush=Hitler professor. This is what makes you seem trollish -- you just keep repeating the very same unsupported opinions and talking points, adding only bluster with each iteration.

Which is not to say that there are no examples to produce, that no Young Republican has ever received a course grade lower than deserved due entirely (or even mostly) to his or her proudly espoused political beliefs. But I don't know of any such instance, despite the efforts of Horowitz, et al., to discover and promote this as a national epidemic. Each and every one of their touted outrages has proved to be... exaggerated, at best.

A more basic point -- in all the glib references here to "academic freedom," no one has pointed out that this privilege extends only to tenured professors. TAs and adjunct professors enjoy no such protection. These people teach many (if not most) undergraduate classes at most (if not all) colleges and universities, and they fear for their jobs. They know, down to the molecular level, that the fellowship or the contract is at risk with every disgruntled student. And the students themselves are quite well aware of this fact.

Michael Bérubé, one of the Horowitz 100 (+/-), has blogged about this issue -- and it's funny! Really, I swear. Stop by for the academic-freedom discussion, stay for the Replacements fist-fight.
posted by vetiver at 7:01 PM on April 4, 2006


Meanwhile, back in DC - do you know Sec. 112 of the bill to “Amend and Extend the Higher Education Act of 1965” - the so-called Bill of Rights? If not, you should.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:03 PM on April 4, 2006


Further, the purpose of academic employment is not to teach, but to research and publish. The service that students buy is an education rendered through teaching, but that's very different from the goals of the university as an institution.

I disagree, but that's a valid point. If we're talking about publication versus classroom antics, it's another conversation. And I'd submit that those professors who are more concerned with research and publication than with students probably aren't the ones throwing bombs inside the classroom.

I don't know where the phrase "academic freedom" came from, but I think Dios was exactly right: People seem to think being a professor entitles you to speak without consequence, as if some pedestal sets your views above challenge or reproach. It's like "academic freedom" has become equivalent to "freedom of the press." There's no Academic Shield Law. Freedom is great, but freedom and impunity are different.
posted by cribcage at 7:49 PM on April 4, 2006


Vetiver: Aaronetc asked for non-anecdotal evidence of professors punishing students via grades. "Non-anecdotal specific instances"? If I failed to offer any, it's because I can't even figure out what that would look like.

TAs and adjunct professors enjoy no such protection. ... They know, down to the molecular level, that the fellowship or the contract is at risk with every disgruntled student.

You're right, that's a serious problem. And its primary impact is far worse than stifling any classroom speech; it's the effect that fact has on grading, tending to transform colleges from places of learning into mills where four years' attendance earns you a stamped diploma. But expanding and insulating "academic freedom" doesn't cure that problem. It's like trying to eliminate voter fraud by increasing turnout.
posted by cribcage at 8:05 PM on April 4, 2006


dios: That leaves the following obvious and uncontroversial proposition: you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you do not have the right to be free from the social consequences of what you say.

I skipped the rest of the thread for now after the first 20 or 30 'dios is the devil' comments, so apologies. But he's absolutely correct in saying that, as far as it goes.

But I would argue a corollary that the social consquences of some speech which is very arguably not destructive to the social framework, and in fact may be constructive to maintaining it, is in these times of ours being censured if not outright censored, and this cannot be seen as a good thing.

There is and has always been a disconnect between the absolute concept of 'free speech' and the realities of what speech is appropriate in various social milieu. That's elementary stuff. An appropriate balance must be struck, and I would argue that in some of the strictures placed on speech in some universities, the balance has tipped to far in a restrictive direction.

Offense is a reaction taken, not given. It is nowhere enshrined in law, nor should or could it be, that people must be protected from taking offense at speech.

Or, as dios notes, it is freedom to that must concern us, not freedom from in this matter. In my humble.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:05 PM on April 4, 2006


In a country where professors Ward Churchill and Joseph Massad can speak their, for lack of a better word, minds, the Guardian informs me that "liberal" professors are being unfairly victimized. Amazing.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:08 PM on April 4, 2006


Remove '...the social consquences of...' from the above for it to make anything approaching sense. Sorry.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:09 PM on April 4, 2006


Krrrlson: Ward Churrchill is, essentialy, a Republican creation.

I have yet to meet someone who approves of Churchill's shit. That said, if you are in a class of his, what will you do? Will you debate him? Call him for the heartless ass that he is, or will you go and make a big stink about it, safely out of his class, and make him an utterly unrepresentative "representative" of those who disagree with current foreign policy?

Those are your choices. Unfortunately, somebody chose wrong, and Churchill was pulled out of obscurity and made into a massive red herring. Meanwhile, anyone who strays from the Bush party line is a "liberal," who "hates America," and must be exposed and (hopefully) expelled.

College students are adults. If they don't have the maturity to debate morons like Churchill, they should drop out, pure and simple.
posted by brundlefly at 9:23 PM on April 4, 2006


I've never really gotten why Horowitz is so exercised about noisy radical professors. They're really nothing more than useful idiots for we conservatives.

They hobble the left with all kinds of ideological nonsense which keeps them from being a real threat to freedom and order outside of the academy. Their silliness is one of the best tools around for causing smart liberals to start the questioning process that turns them into smart conservatives. And, best of all, they lure many of the smart liberals who won't reconsider into pursuing careers in academia -- what better reward for blind leftist than six years of poverty and degredation in graduate school!

And no conservative worth his salt gives a radical professor the satisfaction of giving him a bad grade. You play that game like any other game in life, to win. And that has practical value, as well: you can't defeat someone's position unless you understand the position well enough to argue for it when required to do so.
posted by MattD at 9:29 PM on April 4, 2006


In a country where professors Ward Churchill and Joseph Massad can speak their, for lack of a better word, minds, the Guardian informs me that "liberal" professors are being unfairly victimized. Amazing.

It is amazing, the power of the propaganda machine that feeds your mind.
posted by teece at 9:31 PM on April 4, 2006


If I failed to offer any, it's because I can't even figure out what that would look like.

Then what's your point? That some professors have and express opinions? That some students may be offended by those opinions? That some professors are obnoxious bullies, or terrible teachers, or unfair graders? I agree, as would anyone who's ever set foot in any classroom at all.

Your comments here indicate that you believe there's some sort of widespread anti-conservative bias in academia. If such a bias exists, its only meaningful expression would be in terms of grades, or academic recommendations, or some other quantifiable metric. I can't figure out why you can't figure this out.

it's the effect that fact has on grading, tending to transform colleges from places of learning into mills where four years' attendance earns you a stamped diploma. But expanding and insulating "academic freedom" doesn't cure that problem.

I agree; higher education shouldn't be an assembly-line product. But it is, and you seem to think that the DLC crafts the dies and templates for the assembly line. If so, you've missed my point and demonstrated your own myopia. Yeah, Boston is a college town, which doesn't mean all colleges are like the ones in Boston. Do you honestly think that conservatives are an embattled minority in any class at Texas A&M? Or Perdue? Or Florida State? Or any community college?

Many TAs and adjuncts meticulously avoid any statement or action that could possibly be construed as offensive to the class in general. Others engage in debate with their students. If the students don't feel that they've "won" the debate, that doesn't mean they've suffered some actionable tort.

And so we come back to the original point. Vague generalities about bias are meaningless, in terms of legal or social policy. I can't imagine why you think they're persuasive.
posted by vetiver at 9:37 PM on April 4, 2006


cribcage: "Non-anecdotal specific instances"?

I don't know why you're using quotes, since no one before you has used that phrase. Wouldn't all specific instances be anecdotal by definition? I think so, which is why I didn't use anything like that wording.

What I want to see is evidence that this is a pattern of occurances and that there is no such opposing pattern. Do "liberal" professors give "conservative" students lower grades specifically because of those students' political beliefs? Or is this all just based on a handful of students who get bad grades, who then whine about those grades without regard to whether or not their work was crap?

I have plenty of anecdotal "evidence." As a TA, I've taught five semesters and only indirectly encountered one student who had an ideological complaint. His complaint had nothing to do with grading -- it was that the professor for the class I taught was "biased" when he talked about Edward R. Murrow and Joltin' Joe McCarthy. I find this evidence, and all other such evidence, useless, for the reason I pointed out above. Show me patterns that take into account the whole universe of professors and students; otherwise, I couldn't care less.
posted by aaronetc at 9:41 PM on April 4, 2006


They hobble the left with all kinds of ideological nonsense which keeps them from being a real threat to freedom and order

Interesting combination of ideals.
posted by brundlefly at 9:42 PM on April 4, 2006


That said, if you are in a class of his, what will you do? Will you debate him? Call him for the heartless ass that he is, or will you go and make a big stink about it, safely out of his class, and make him an utterly unrepresentative "representative" of those who disagree with current foreign policy?

That's very nice and idealistic, but I'm sure you realize that the power balance between a student and a professor is not exactly nice and level. As a student, declaring a solitary open war on an opinionated fuck can be extremely hazardous to one's academic career, which is generally not something the average student would risk -- especially considering that the university most often tried to hush things up to preserve its reputation, as evidenced by the Massad affair at Columbia.

"College student are adults" is a cheap way out of the argument. Placing students in a hostile environment and giving them the choice of keeping quiet or facing an extremely unequal struggle worked great in the USSR, you know.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:44 PM on April 4, 2006


It is amazing, the power of the propaganda machine that feeds your mind.

And I can say the same thing about you -- which one of us is right?
posted by Krrrlson at 9:45 PM on April 4, 2006


which one of us is right?

Given your sophistic reasoning and an apparent complete lack of understanding of what the words "chilling effect" actually mean in practice, I'm laying money on me.
posted by teece at 9:50 PM on April 4, 2006


I'm sure you realize that the power balance between a student and a professor is not exactly nice and level.

Again, for my own benefit really since this was rarely the case where I went to school: how often are college students forced to take a particular class by a particular professor? Of those classes, how many are not intro surveys or non-liberal-arts classes where the lecturer possibly has the time and space to interject a lot of ranting, let alone insert his political opinions in the curriculum? This is easy to avoid!
posted by furiousthought at 10:00 PM on April 4, 2006


Placing students in a hostile environment and giving them the choice of keeping quiet or facing an extremely unequal struggle worked great in the USSR, you know.

Yeah? Speaking of easy ways out of arguments, do you know who else did that? Hitler! Give me a break. Comparing American universities to Soviet Russia is just fucking pathetic.

...which is generally not something the average student would risk...

Well, I guess I'm not an average student. I spoke up whenever I disagreed with my professors, and they generally respected me for it. I'm neither "liberal" nor "conservative," so I got into debates constantly, but I spoke up in class, and I presented my case. Sometimes I won, sometimes (most of the time) I lost. It never affected my standing in the university. If anything, it enhanced it.

Again, do you stand up for what you believe in, or do you go and bitch about it on TV? Maybe it can be on the same DVD with the War On Christmas?
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 PM on April 4, 2006


Professor = Waitress = Employee

Traditionally, no. In fact, at some universities around the world, professors are actually the owners of the university, and at most I believe that they control its policy. At my husband's college in Cambridge, the college is owned by the Masters and Fellows (the professors and the person they elect to be Master). My undergrad Canadian university was controlled by a Board of Governors with elected representation from the faculty and the students, and a Senate of elected representatives from faculty and students. But that was a very unusual place - most universities are controlled by Boards and Senates that only have faculty representation. I'm less clear on exactly how my current university (in the US) works, but I know that in order to make major changes to the curriculum it has to be voted on by all of the tenured faculty.

So the employee analogy is not accurate. Universities were originally formed by groups of scholars receiving a charter from the king to be independent, which meant they could rule themselves and their students (and some other stuff - any medievalists around to be more accurate?)

So, if you are a student (to take analogies perhaps too far) the professor is not your waitress, they are your boss.

Sure you pay a lot of money to be there - so do the members of exclusive clubs. That doesn't mean they get to tell the older and more senior members how to do things.
posted by jb at 12:36 AM on April 5, 2006


I don't think freedom of speech is really responsible for the economic boom in this country. China's economy has been growing at 20% a while.

I would argue that a 'protestant work ethic' and western scientific knowledge lead to our great success.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM PST on April 4 [!]


Your own comment would imply not - China may be embracing Western science (and contributing much of their own), but it is by no means a Protestant country.

China has what the US had - an abundance of natural resources and cheap labour. Actually, there may be many economic similarities between contemporary China and gilded Age United States - I just hope they, too, discover labour laws.
posted by jb at 12:53 AM on April 5, 2006


which one of us is right?

Perhaps you meant "which one of us is correct?"

Look people, Horowitz sucks and so do his agitations. He's an attention seeker the same as Annthrax Coulter, or some of our fellow travelers on Mefi.

How to tell if you're ont eh wrong side of an issue? You agree with Horowitz, Coulter, etc.
posted by nofundy at 7:55 AM on April 5, 2006


"That's very nice and idealistic, but I'm sure you realize that the power balance between a student and a professor is not exactly nice and level."

So... You'd argue it should be? Isn't the general power imbalance because the instructor is assumed to know more than the student about a particular field?

And again, I've heard these complaints over and over from STUPID conservatives in my classes, and rarely from intelligent conservatives. In the rare cases where I've had a teacher go overboard with their agenda, both the liberals and the conservatives in the class agree on it. Usually, that happens when teachers deviate from their field of expertise (like my Anthro teacher who assigned a big project on how the Palestineans were being oppressed by the Israelis), but that can also be correlated with poor teaching in general (she couldn't seem to use any of the current names for African countries, as when she'd done her field work Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia). However, having had a class on 20th Century Political Theory, where the Bush:Hitler analogies came up, quite a few conservative students complained even though the example was based on the use of totalizing ideology in rhetoric, with examples like Bush's use of "good" and "evil" as absolutes. The problem that the conservatives had with that was that they had no clear retort whilst they felt their fearless leader was being attacked, so they'd sit around and complain about bias (except, as I've mentioned, a couple of conservatives that could see the connection while still believing that Bush and conservative policies were best for America).
Basically, conservatives in this country have adopted the culture of victimhood and are the loudest complainers whenever anything they encounter doesn't hew to their biases. And in that, Krrlson, I include you.
posted by klangklangston at 8:37 AM on April 5, 2006


“...quote has nothing to do with freedom of speech but is in fact about business being free from "rigid government controls" “

I think of it in the same vein. General concept is similar. I’ll try to meet more exacting standards.

“On the other hand, it's easy to come up with examples where free speech is harmful to the economy.” - posted by delmoi

Then we’re defining free speech differently.


“Is that why they were ahead of us in the Space Race for so long?”

And this is on topic - how?
But yes, it’s exactly why they were ahead of us. The U.S. did other things like feeding people. The difference is - as klangklangston pointed out - in priorizing politics over free discourse. The overall detriments greatly outweigh the overall benefits, no matter what particular section of the economy or particular endeavor might do well.
(Obviously in taking that position I cede your specific instance.)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2006


Given your sophistic reasoning and an apparent complete lack of understanding...

Given your lack of an argument beyond "you're wrong," I won't pursue this line of discussion further.

Again, for my own benefit really since this was rarely the case where I went to school: how often are college students forced to take a particular class by a particular professor?

Oh, no doubt. However, I think that having to avoid a class (perhaps one you'd like to take) tends to go against the purpose of a university.

Comparing American universities to Soviet Russia is just fucking pathetic.

Comparing suppression of thought in two environments is fucking pathetic? I didn't see you take issue with the sensationalist and hysterical article in the FPP that claims America is "in the grip of a witch hunt" and draws frequent paralles to McCarthyism. I suspect you don't cry foul when "Bushitler" gets trotted out, either.

So... You'd argue it should be? Isn't the general power imbalance because the instructor is assumed to know more than the student about a particular field?

No, I am arguing that expecting a student to enter into an open and perhaps hostile confrontation with someone more powerful is unfair. But you would have known that if you had actually read what I wrote.

Basically, conservatives in this country have adopted the culture of victimhood and are the loudest complainers whenever anything they encounter doesn't hew to their biases. And in that, Krrlson, I include you.

I am neither a conservative, nor in your country.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:04 PM on April 5, 2006


"Comparing suppression of thought in two environments is fucking pathetic? I didn't see you take issue with the sensationalist and hysterical article in the FPP that claims America is "in the grip of a witch hunt" and draws frequent paralles to McCarthyism. I suspect you don't cry foul when "Bushitler" gets trotted out, either."

Do you have anything that's not a straw man here? A failure to speak against Bu$hilter (if you're going to do it, do it right) does not equal an affirmation of that view. Further, there are more direct parallels to McCarthyism and its specific effects regarding academia than some vague Soviet Godwinism. That you got called on your bullshit is not an argument for your bullshit.

"Given your lack of an argument beyond "you're wrong," I won't pursue this line of discussion further."

OH NOES! HE TAKES HIS BALL AND GOES HOME!

"No, I am arguing that expecting a student to enter into an open and perhaps hostile confrontation with someone more powerful is unfair. But you would have known that if you had actually read what I wrote."

And you weep for the little guy. Since the power relationship is inherently unfair, the remedy would be? See, the problem wasn't that I didn't read what you wrote, the problem was that what you wrote was pointless sophistry. No one expects the student to enter into open hostile confrontation. But you would have known that if you had actually read what was written.

"I am neither a conservative, nor in your country."

Then why do you care? (Leaving aside that your commenting record does mark you as conservative).
posted by klangklangston at 6:26 PM on April 5, 2006


Further, there are more direct parallels to McCarthyism and its specific effects regarding academia than some vague Soviet Godwinism.

You don't know the first thing about Soviet history, do you?

No one expects the student to enter into open hostile confrontation.

Will you debate him? Call him for the heartless ass that he is, or will you go and make a big stink about it, safely out of his class, and make him an utterly unrepresentative "representative" of those who disagree with current foreign policy?

I don't know which thread you're reading.

OH NOES! HE TAKES HIS BALL AND GOES HOME!

I can tell you're really interested in an ingenuous debate.

Then why do you care? (Leaving aside that your commenting record does mark you as conservative).

Because unlike many shortsighted Canadians, I take an active interest in what goes on to the south because I know just how much it will affect me. (Leaving aside that it's easy to throw out labels without proof. Do I tend to get contrarian when I hear idiotic "neocon fascists!!!11" ravings, such as we tend to love and approve around here? Certainly. Does that make me a conservative? I'll let you figure that out, you great logician.)
posted by Krrrlson at 7:50 PM on April 5, 2006


"You don't know the first thing about Soviet history, do you?"

You don't know the first thing about American history, do you?

"I can tell you're really interested in an ingenuous debate."

I can tell that you place more emphasis on attempts at cleverness than good-faith debate. Which, perhaps, is why you'd be inclined to favor these poor defensless students. (PS— I'm not really interested in a naive debate, no.)

"Because unlike many shortsighted Canadians, I take an active interest in what goes on to the south because I know just how much it will affect me."

How, exactly, does a chilling of American academic speech affect you? (I'll leave aside that if you continue to walk like a duck and quack like a duck that protestations of anti-avian existence are likely to fall on deaf ears. Or, to put it another way, welcome to the consequences of your free speech, you great rhetorician).
posted by klangklangston at 8:34 PM on April 5, 2006


some quotes from this thread were featured in the Guardian today. I'll scan a copy when I can.
posted by bonaldi at 10:30 AM on April 8, 2006


“On the other hand, it's easy to come up with examples where free speech is harmful to the economy.” - posted by delmoi

Then we’re defining free speech differently.


Just out of curiosity, how do you define free speech? How would my above examples not be considered suppression of free speech? I don't think you can define free speech as being good for the economy? What about free speech that sparks a communist revolution? Surely you don't think that would be good for the economy, would you?
posted by delmoi at 1:01 PM on April 10, 2006


"I don't think you can define free speech as being good for the economy?"

What's that, up in the air? It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Rousseau and J.S. Mill!
(Rousseau argued that while you couldn't necessarily predict the economy based on freedom, the state of the economy was a good indicator of how well balanced the needs of society and the needs of the individual were. J.S. Mill argued that the more able to discuss ideas and disagree openly, the more innovation would come. Further, it's worth noting that the countries that have had communist revolutions are not the ones who had the freedom to talk about communist revolutions, though the sample size is incredibly small and the prediction most certainly does ot flow the opposite direction).
posted by klangklangston at 1:29 PM on April 10, 2006


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