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  • Academic Freedom

    Posted by Shannon Love on October 12th, 2009 (All posts by )

    There is no more unaccountable group in America today than academics. This is true even when they work for public institutions. This is clearly on display in this story about the American Association of University Professors arrogantly claiming that anyone who seeks to bring academics’ work out into the sunshine threatens their “academic freedom”.

    Academics tell us all how important they are and how they need great gobs of funding. But when when the people ask for an accounting of the work and spending, academics declare with great moral outrage that “academic freedom” is under assault by the people wondering where their money went and what is being done and said in their name.

    Academics have forgotten that academic freedom isn’t a natural phenomenon, but rather a cultural artifact of the free West that people support because it provides benefits to the greater society.

    The ideal of academic freedom rests on an implied contract between the general society and academia. According to this contract academia will use that freedom to explore and question every possible subject from every possible perspective. It’s the same contract we have with scientists. We let scientists poke around into uncomfortable areas as long as they use scientific methodology to do so. We expect academics in non-scientific areas to do the same. We expect that any academic should understand all perspectives on their area of study and that they should be able to make cogent arguments from of those perspectives.

    Yet since the 1960s corrupt leftists have hijacked academia to serve their own political interest. They have abandoned their obligation to investigate every perspective and instead have used the power and status of academia to advance their own pet political causes. Indeed, many in academia seem to consider themselves political activists first and foremost and public intellectuals secondarily if at all. Even the very organizational structure of the modern liberal-arts department is built around the leftists’ obsession with race, sex, sexual orientation, imperialism, colonialism, etc. Modern academics actively suppress non-leftists’ perspectives.

    If this seems overwrought, just look at the comments to this article. Many posters cannot separate the idea of “unions are good” from the greater responsibilities of academics to the greater society. Clearly, many posters and apparently the AAUP appear to believe that because leftists think unions are good then, therefore, academics have not only the right but the duty to use pubic funds to advance union interests. The AAUP post goes to great lengths to point out that the Landmark organization that made the information request is a conservative organization. Why should that matter? It would only matter to people with a profound leftist political bias themselves.

    In short, academics have broken the implied contract. They have abused the freedoms and latitude granted to them by the broader society, for their own selfish and often self-aggrandizing interest. Why should the rest of us grant them any assumption of the privileges of “academic freedom” when they arrogantly refuse to live up to the responsibilities that come with those privileges?

    This is simply pure corruption in the public sphere, on the order of using public resources to support specific political campaigns. I think that it is far past the time when we call this behavior out for the corruption that it is and root it out of public universities. If professors want platforms to advance their pet political theories while suppressing dissenting voices, they can do it with private money at private universities. Professors who want public money must accept the responsibility, the expectations of integrity and the accountability that come with public money and public trust.

    It’s time for academics to grow up and learn to be accountable.

     

    20 Responses to “Academic Freedom”

    1. Mrs. Davis Says:

      The next bubble. And it’s going to be a big bust.

    2. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Yup. Drain the swamp.

    3. chuck Says:

      Fire them all and let the economy sort them out ;)

    4. TMLutas Says:

      Academics are deeply integrated into our intergenerational civilization transmission system. When they betray us systematically, we currently don’t have much of a cure beyond amputation.

      Too many academics have become parasites, not symbiotes. The ultimate cure from kindergarten to post-doc is to create alternate delivery systems for the product that they provide and then to remove the parasites out of the system. Anything else hurts our children, hurts our civilization, and threatens to swamp our way of life just as badly as the parasites do.

    5. Ginny Says:

      Came home from guest lecturer at our humble junior college to your post.

      He was energetic, charming, and clearly moved by ideas. But he assumed (as he could about more than half the faculty here and probably 98% across town at the research school) that we would find allusions to the evils of Bush, the similarity between Brittany Spears and Glen Beck, and repeated references to the unfairness of Fox news useful in trying to sell his current book on the founders and the biography of Adams he is now writing. Speaking of the religious beliefs of the founders, he never mentioned Novak’s book, etc. Most of these guys have spent the last generations of scholarship limiting themselves. Some have jumped the reservation. Those that have, of course, have their eyes on a broader area and a deeper time than the ivy walls of today. They sure as hell shouldn’t (and most don’t) have their eyes set on the distinguished professorships of this year.

      I’ve spent most of my life around and in academia. I love much about it. But it has been rotting before my eyes. The kind of greed and self-indulgence that led faculty to expect one-course loads, to diminish and if possible abolish teaching undergraduates (especially in any labor-intensive classes like freshman composition and lower level math) has diminished their usefulness but also diminished their sense that being useful is a good thing. That can destroy your soul as well as your scholarship.

    6. Ginny Says:

      I want to say I don’t know shit about freshman math – just that our teachers grade endless piles of papers. It’s the death of the humanities and social studies that I see on a regular basis.

    7. Ginny Says:

      Back again: Here’s another example of the problem. While the professoriat thinks of itself in league with the workers (who generally are committed to giving up larger sections of their lives to work others tell them what to do), exceptions in an economic downturn that are carved out for them is not especially attractive.

    8. chuck Says:

      He was energetic, charming, and clearly moved by ideas.

      And evidently incapable of an original thought. Those sorts don’t count as thinkers or scholars in my book.

    9. sol vason Says:

      What is the AAUP and how did it come to control college campuses?

    10. onparkstreet Says:

      Yeah, I grew up in a college town. My father is a math professor and I’ve only ever worked in academic teaching hospitals.

      Academia is weird. It’s wonderful, creative, stimulating, corrupt, overly bureaucratized, frustrating: it’s very, very strange. But, mostly, it’s corrupt, imo. I don’t know how to explain my feelings, except, well, my favorite book of all time is Lucky Jim. Which ought to tell you something.

      Anecdotes from friends, family, and myself:

      1. A senior math professor says that his students can’t pass the mathematics exams he gave in the late 60s – when he first came to the states.

      2. A group of young attending physicians, newly hired, look up the schedules of a group of senior physicians (and favored juniors). Each is scheduled to be on service the same number of weeks. The newbies realize that they have all been given the 3 day/week service, while all the seniors have been given the 2 day/week service. Looks like the same number of weeks on paper, but who does more work? It’s supposed to be equal # of days. Exactly equal because that’s the contract.

      3. A senior faculty member fills out a work log and puts in the same number of hours as a junior faculty member. The junior faculty member works twice, three times, as many hours, but the senior is a relative of the chair.

      4. A junior physician is told by the hospital ombudsman: “hey, a lot of people want to work at a prestigious place like this. Sometimes you have to put up with that stuff.” The ‘stuff’ being stuff like above.

      5. It’s corrupt, allright, but I bet you – dollars to donuts -, the schemes they come up with to make it look like they are working will shaft the shaftable and uplift the selfish.

      6. I like where I work, but I had to move around to find a good place, with a chair that is, actually, quite fair.

    11. david foster Says:

      I suspect that the vast expansion of academia in recent decades has led to a lot of people being sucked up into academic careers who did not really have a vocation for teaching or research.

    12. onparkstreet Says:

      David Foster: I agree, but it’s the bureaucrats, too! They’ve expanded, their mentality has expanded, every year a new building is put up on campus – because that’s progress! – it’s the same group that crowd out the private sector and end up in the government. Camille Paglia’s latest:

      “Yes, the snobbery about Palin’s five colleges is especially distasteful, given the Democratic party’s supposed allegiance to populism. Judging by the increasingly limited cultural and factual knowledge of graduates of elite schools whom one encounters working in the media, blue-chip sheepskins aren’t worth the parchment they’re printed on these days. Young people forced through the ruthlessly competitive college admissions rat race have the independence and creativity pinched right out of them. Proof? Where are the major young American artists, writers, critics or movie-makers of the past 20 years? The most adventurous and enterprising minds have gone into high tech. We’re in a horrendous cultural vacuum because our status-besotted education industry is geared toward producing not original thinkers but docile creatures of the system.”

      Brava Camille, brava!

      :)

    13. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I am now nearing the end of 25 years of educating my children. My youngest (and fifth) is a sophomore at the U of Arizona, an enormous and unfeeling, impersonal campus. Her English writing class last year had as its only textbook, a book on Whiteness Studies. Her last class day, scheduled as a review for the final, was spent in a rant by the instructor about Ronald Reagan and how he was an actor reciting lines written by others. Her final essay, counting 60% of her grade, was to be on an example of a white male abusing women or minorities. The rest was not much better. I wrote an e-mail to the VP of the university complaining about her experience and received a nice reply referring me to the Dean of the general studies college. She had not declared a major. This year, I wrote another e-mail to him about another issue I was unhappy about. I got a reply from him two weeks ago agreeing with me that the university had little interest in students’ education (I hadn’t made this point) and informing me he was no longer Dean !

      She will come back to California next year and think about her future. I am really wondering how much longer parents will pay for these useless programs. On-line colleges are growing like crazy and the experience of major universities is so poor that something will have to change. I would still be willing to pay for hard science degrees but the rest is a vast wasteland, in my opinion. Tuition for out-of-state students went up this year about 20% so the decision for a lot of parents will not be long in coming.

    14. david foster Says:

      Part of the responsibility must be assigned to business, where hiring managers too often put unnecessary educational requirements into job specifications, and allow themselves to be overly-impressed by “elite” college degrees, without really thinking about what they are doing and what, if anything, the degrees really mean.

      The situation is made much worse by the floods of resumes created by on-line submission (and it was bad enough with paper resumes), leading people to use robots to screen for keywords and then for HR to do additional screening, before the person who is actually doing the hiring and really understands the job ever sees the resume. In such an environment, cranking up the educational requirements is one way to minimize the volumes to be dealt with.

    15. Marty Says:

      Well, all the above is true and much even understates how bad the problems are, but get ready for Washington to start shoving huge piles of money to keep this corrupt system afloat.

      There was a trope after teh 1994 Republican landslide about defunding the left, which meant (I think) the NEA, Legal Assistance, maybe a few other trivial expenditures. The real problem is far deeper, much much MUCH bigger, and probably intractable.

      Frankly, I see no reason for ANY govt support of education past basic literacy, say 6th grade. The old argument about giving us a common culture has been renounced by the current Bill-Ayers-defined Ed Schools and the teachers and school administrators they produce, and just about the only argument one hears for getting an education is future earnings. If all it does is enable one to earn more, there’s no significant market failure and the person in question, or their parents, should damn well pay, the benefit to come from enhanced future earnings.

      Yeah, when pigs fly…

    16. david foster Says:

      “just about the only argument one hears for getting an education is future earnings”…it’s even worse than that. The argument typically made is not even a job-skills argument: it’s not “learn X so you can do Y.” Rather, it’s a *certification* argument: “a college *degree* is worth Z dollars.”

    17. Michael Kennedy Says:

      An interesting Camille Paglia comment:

      Thank you very much for your personal testimony. I too have been repulsed by the elitist insults flung at Sarah Palin in the massive, coordinated media effort to destroy her. Hence I have been thoroughly enjoying the way that Palin, despite all the dirt thrown at her by liberal journalists and bloggers, keeps bouncing back as if unscathed. No sooner did the gloating harpies of the Northeastern media think they had torn her to shreds than she exploded into number one on Amazon.com with a memoir that hadn’t even been printed yet! With each one of these amusing triumphs, Palin is solidifying her status as a bona fide American cultural heroine.

      Yes, the snobbery about Palin’s five colleges is especially distasteful, given the Democratic party’s supposed allegiance to populism. Judging by the increasingly limited cultural and factual knowledge of graduates of elite schools whom one encounters working in the media, blue-chip sheepskins aren’t worth the parchment they’re printed on these days. Young people forced through the ruthlessly competitive college admissions rat race have the independence and creativity pinched right out of them. Proof? Where are the major young American artists, writers, critics or movie-makers of the past 20 years? The most adventurous and enterprising minds have gone into high tech. We’re in a horrendous cultural vacuum because our status-besotted education industry is geared toward producing not original thinkers but docile creatures of the system.

    18. Bob Says:

      One of these days, someone will figure out how to earn a college degree through homeschooling. Then watch what happens….

    19. Shannon Love Says:

      Bob,

      Some online degrees come pretty close. When video conferencing gets to the point that you can easily and cheaply watch a lecture and ask questions, we’ll have replaced 90% of the college education experience.

    20. Campus Reform Says:

      Reposted this (with credit, of course) here: http://www.campusreform.org/articles/academic-freedom

      You all might want to check out CampusReform.org if you’re interested in academic freedom and leftist bias in higher education.