The details about this disgraceful attack on the academy and tenure are here. Professor Yoo holds morally reprehensible views and his legal work on the so-called "torture memos" was obviously shoddy. Neither consideration constitutes grounds for terminating the employment of a tenured law professor. Tenure, and academic freedom, would mean nothing if every professor with views deemed morally reprehensible or every professor who produced a shoddy piece of work--while inside or outside the academy--could be fired. I find it almost unbelievable that a group calling itself "American Freedom Campaign" does not understand this. (Have they already forgotten the case of Professor Churchill?) I had previously thought well of the work of the American Freedom Campaign, but this latest stunt is a disgrace and I am removing myself from its e-mail lists. Readers might e-mail them to protest this blatant attack on tenure and academic freedom.
UPDATE: Berkeley Dean Edley has issued a solid statement in defense of tenure and academic freedom. Marty Lederman, who has been a persistent and incisive legal critic of Yoo's work and the Administration's policies in the fake "war on terror," writes in reply to my comments above:
You write that "Tenure, and academic freedom, would mean nothing if every professor with views deemed morally reprehensible or every professor who produced a shoddy piece of work--while inside or outside the academy--could be fired." That's right, of course. But no one thinks a professor should be fired for having views deemed morally reprehensible or for producing a shoddy piece of work. The claim here is that the morally reprehensible views, and the shoddy work, in this case were put to use in official state conduct that facilitated and immunized horrific crimes. And that makes the question at least a bit more complicated, no?
No. First, we have certainly seen cases in which people think tenured faculty should be fired for having morally reprehensible views. Indeed, when I challenged the American Freedom Campaign about their stance on this matter, I got the following reply:
[T]his has nothing to do with John Yoo espousing unpopular or controversial views; this is about John Yoo twisting the law in order to encourage the use of torture by the Bush administration. As an organization founded to restore the Constitution and respect for the rule of law, we do not believe that a person with such a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law should be mentoring law students.
If Professor Yoo's arguments to "encourage the use of torture" and his "fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law" are the reasons he should be terminated, then he is to be terminated precisely for his "views", views which he has expressed in law reviews, as well as to Bush. Are we really to believe--fifty years after the McCarthyist witch hunts!--that academics should be punished because their bad ideas are then used by bad people to do bad things? Dean Edley's remarks on this score are pertinent:
As critical as I am of his analyses, no argument about what he did or didn't facilitate, or about his special obligations as an attorney, makes his conduct morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank and place. Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders.
As longtime readers of the blog know, I certainly think that Bush and his gang of war criminals deserve to have their status confirmed by a court of law. If Professor Yoo is convicted of a crime, then this would be a different case. But it is not even clear (for the reasons noted by Dean Edley) that he is guilty of any crime, and he has, quite plainly, not been convicted of any. Anyone calling for him to be fired is calling for him to be punished for his ideas, and nothing else. Attempts to claim it is more "complicated" are just attempts to rehabilitate the idea that having bad ideas, even bad ideas others act on, is a crime. (I am sure that is not Lederman's intent, but I am rather more confident that this is the endpoint of this dialectical trajectory.) That is not the law in the United States (except in rare circumstances involving a kind of immediacy and danger that have no bearing here), nor should it be for reasons that are familiar to anyone who has ever read John Stuart Mill.
UPDATE: A more systematic explanation why it is inappropriate for Berkeley to do anything in the case of Professor Yoo.