No Taming This Shrew


Academic crankypanting

This morning's Post had two interesting editorials on academic freedom. The first discusses anti-Zionism* in British universities, and the second centers on my personal hobbyhorse, academic freedom of expression.

I was interested in the first one because of how chic it is to be anti-US in the UK right now, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of Iraq. The editorial is rather more sobering, as it ties this trend into an increase in anti-Israeli policies in academic circles. This was the exigence:

"A group of academics, many of them members of Galloway's year-old Respect Party, had gotten the Association of University Teachers (AUT) - Britain's main higher education union -- to adopt a boycott against the Israeli universities of Haifa and Bar-Ilan and to circulate a petition promoting a boycott of all Israeli universities for their alleged complicity in the mistreatment of Palestinians."

I personally think Israel has a lot to answer for in its treatment of Palestine, but to boycott academics (from publishing, conferences, funding, etc?) because they teach at an Israeli university is stunningly overt discrimination. The article also discusses a recent PhD applicant to Oxford who was rejected because the advisor wouldn't work with someone who served in Israel's army. Israel's mandatory army.

The next article, by a fellow from Georgetown, revisists the hoopla over Churchill, the fellow at Colorado who made some provocative comments about the 9/11 families, and our boy Larry Summers. Looking back, I wanted to be far more outraged at both of these guys, but I really couldn't pull it off. Churchill has freedom of speech no matter what, and the limits of his academic freedom are decided by his university. (Here's a bit from CSM about his case and new considerations about tenure.) This malarkey about other schools/academics trying to get him silenced or fired were misled and, I think, censorious. Good old Summers brought up the chestnut that men and women may be different and suggested further study. While I think his remarks were poorly chosen and showed a striking lack of considered thinking about women in academia or just in America, I don't think he deserved the no-confidence vote. It was a shrill response to what could have been a debate. You know, those things that are supposed to happen on academic campuses.

But I digress. Basically, the fellow from Georgetown argues that academic freedoms are more under attack than ever, only from within not without. It's the academics who seem to be silencing each other, much like the Brits trying to hamstring the faculty at Haifa. (The attempts at legislating students' "right to learn" seem to be springing from a similar font, although from a different side of the aisle.)

For what my opinion matters, I think there is a shocking lack of free speech on most campuses. What we used to term "political correctness" has become a much larger issue. Now it's not enough to not use derogatory language about other races and genders (jeez, how hard can that be?!), but we have created this self-serving congratulatory culture of liberal self-righteousness. Those who disagree (even foolish people, like Churchill) are pilloried rather than engaged.

As you can see, this discussion gets me all cranky. This career I really love is so tainted in the larger culture by these types of behaviors. This isn't education anymore, and that pisses me off. So, as a disturbed liberal, I call it a day. Love to hear other positions on this, so smoke 'em if you got 'em.

*I believe they're using this term to differentiate this stance from anti-Semitism. This isn't hating Jews, it's hating Israel. Just like others loathe the Bush administration but think Americans are peachy keen. I suspect the distinction is semantic.