The Department of Political Science at Ben-Gurion University, home to some fierce critics of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, now faces threat of closure. There is a petition against the move here, though it is unfortunately written: one needn't believe that the views of members of the Department are "brave" or even intelligent or commendable, to nonetheless recognize that to close a department as political retribution is a horrible precedent and a complete betrayal of the premises of a university. Joseph Raz, Hartry Field, and others from our part of the academic community have already signed. Please do the same.
(Thanks to Jim Pryor for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Not a bad letter of protest from Michael Walzer, whose political positions have been mostly reprehensible for quite some time now, but this time he gets it right.
Silber, who began his career as a Kant scholar (!), but was best-known as a serial violator of academic freedom as the tyrannical ruler of Boston University for more than a quarter-century, has passed away. It's curious how gullible journalists repeat the myth that he enhanced BU's academic stature, and cite as evidence a few Nobel Laureates in literature whom he hired in their dotage. Where is the evidence that he helped create and sustain top 20 PhD programs in any fields that didn't have them? I'm not aware of any--maybe economics? Older philosophers will recall the exodus from the Philosophy Department in the late 1970s and early 1980s (including Alasdair MacIntyre), as philosophers fled the autocracy. (The Department today is probably stronger than it was then, I should add, but much of that happened despite or after Silber over the last 15 years.) I imagine similar things happened in other departments. He may well have improved the school's finances (as the linked article claims), but it's not at all clear he improved the academics. That appears to be a self-serving myth he promoted, and which journalists simply repeat.
My colleague Michael Kremer calls my attention to this CHE story about a U.S. Court of Appeals decision (for the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky) affirming a lower court's decision (in a bench-trial, i.e., the judge was the trier of fact) against a tenured professor who had been fired by Thomas Cooley Law School, an independent law school in Michigan. The main takeaway from the opinion is that one should take a look at how your school defines tenure!
The court declined, quite unsurprisingly, to adopt the fired professor's view that "tenure" means "lifetime employment," holding instead that "tenure" meant what it meant in the faculty member's contract with the school. Cooley, perhaps unsurprisingly, set a very low bar for termination of tenured faculty, though it did include some procedural requirements (amazingly, Cooley failed to satisfy them initially, but, during the first iteration of this lawsuit, it went back and followed the rules, but reached the same outcome). Curious, I looked at the University of Chicago rules, and they define tenure as "indefinite tenure" (unlike Cooley) and specify "adequate cause" as the standard for termination, thus making clear that the employment relationship is not "at will" (the latter is the norm in the reactionary United States, though not in other Western nations, which is one reason there is so much resentment towards tenure). "At will" employees can be terminated for almost any reason whatsoever (though not ones that involve prohibited forms of discrimination, e.g., based on race or age or disability).
In the Cooley case, the professor had declined to teach the classes she was asked to teach. To be fired required only a vote of the faculty as well as certain advance notice of the proposed action. That procedure was, in fact, specified in the terms of employment. That procedure is extraordinariily weak, and should certainly give any prospective faculty member pause. But faculty might want to examine their faculty handbooks to see what "tenure" means at their institution. (Many institutions, though not all, explicitly incorporate the AAUP interpretation of tenure--their website is down, or I would have added a link.)
ADDENDUM: A medical school professor at a major research university writes with a striking anecdote about "tenure":
In regard to the meaning of tenure, as a Vice Dean whose portfolio included faculty affairs, I had the usual experience of being the interpreter of what “tenure” meant for my School in a larger University. The answer from the General Counsel’s office was very clear: we don’t definetenure. While it was not defined, I was instructed to apply that “’tenure’ means a promise of continued employment absent malfeasance.“ We had an interesting case where the expectations began to matter. A relatively junior faculty member in a basic science department (where salary comes through the university. In clinical departments the faculty comes through the university and the practice plan) achieved tenure, then immediately became a tenure slug. He/she did not apply for grants, taught so badly that no one in good conscience could allow him/her to lead a class, and came to the office sporadically. In order to provide some incentives, we froze the faculty person’s salary for several years. No effect. We threatened to reduce their salary by a few percent, but before we did we ran it by our faculty council. The council said they would rather fire a faculty person than reduce their salary. Regardless, the good news is that whatever the threat, my understanding is that the individual is now a model faculty member – back to being the person who earned tenure in the first place.
And for what it’s worth, in schools with a formal practice plan, despite tenure the presence of two committed pay points means that neither is obligated to provide the full salary unless there is an explicit contractual arrangement. So for practitioners, “salaries” go up and down with a flexible university base and an incentive plan for the practice elements.
CHE article here (subscriber-access only). Sign a petition in support of tenure at Wayne here. From the CHE article:
The conflict centers on an administration proposal, offered in the early round of contract negotiations, that would in effect scrap previously negotiated job protections for tenured or probationary faculty members, as well as seniority-based protections afforded many academic staff members, and replace them with new rules governing the suspension or termination of such employees.
The administration's proposed contract language would give the university's president, or an administrator working on the president's behalf, the power to terminate such employees for a variety of reasons, including a "failure to meet professional responsibilities," a "failure to perform academic assignments competently," and a "financially based reduction in force."
Union officials have denounced the proposed contract language as an attempt to do away with tenure and have accused the university's chief negotiator of explicitly characterizing it as such. Last week the AAUP's national office began circulating a petition protesting the proposed contract language, which it described as offering "extremely broad" justifications for termination and replacing faculty peer review with the judgment of administrators.
There's a real issue lurking here, namely, faculty who abuse tenure. But the burden is on universities to act where "good cause" for termination exists. Tenure does not mean lifetime employment; it means only that a faculty member can only be terminated for cause, to which various procedural protections apply. The Wayne State proposals are clearly meant to do an end-run around the "good cause" requirement
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JULY 16--SEE UPDATE (AND COMMENTS NOW OPEN FOR FURTHER PERSPECTIVES)
Shame on Yale for participating in this--surely they could have leveraged their reputation to get the authoritarian capitalists who run Singapore to lighten up on this--but I guess they didn't make a credible threat not to participate at all if political speech were not permitted on campus. Perhaps this says something about Yale's priorities. What an embarrassment.
(Thanks to Matt Shafer for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Axel Gelfert, a philosopher at the National University of Singapore, writes:
I noticed your link to the WSJ article on Yale-NUS's 'ban' on political speech, and just for balance I thought I'd point out that this does not reflect the experience of politically active Singaporean students here. See for example this interview with student activist Bernard Chen: http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=10461
It is true that foreigners are not allowed to participate in party-political activities -- which, to be sure, is a more extreme restriction than, say, the United States's ban on party-political campaign donations from foreigners. But there is a robust amount of political speech at NUS -- not least thanks to the NUS Political Association ( http://www.nuspa.org/ ), the NUS Democratic Socialist Club (another University-recognized society), and the various Departments and Colleges. I've attended events on such topics as immigration, abortion, the Middle East, and freedom of speech, during which the debate lacked none of the vigour found at European or American university campuses.
While I have my own misgivings about how certain things are run in Singapore, I am somewhat taken aback by the amount of vitriol coming from a small number of people at Yale; clearly, they are more upset about how the Yale Corporation did not consult with the Yale College when railroading through the decision to start a joint campus in Singapore -- but this is hardly the fault of NUS (or even the Singapore government). Much of the criticism was not well-informed at all (e.g., specific political books were said to be 'banned' that are freely available in NUS's University Library -- don't Yale staff know how to do an online search of a library catalogue?) and quite self-serving -- I'm pretty sure NUS has contributed more to liberalization and social mobility in the last 20 years than Yale during the same period...
That's the bottom line here, from a Richmond newspaper, and certainly seems to fit the evidence, including the opaque statement issued by the Board: a board full of "business" people, interested in gimmicks (like on-line education), could not cope with an academic administrator who cared about education. You can get a sense for the strong support President Sullivan enjoyed among faculty leaders from this open letter signed by several dozen department chairs. But perhaps that's the real story here: she was an academic leader, but UVA is now in the grips of non-academics with very different agendas.
They aren't crazy enough, of course, to attack philosophy, probably the best department at the university, but this broad-based attack on these humanities subjects is a bad sign, and certainly not in the interests of philosophy or students who want to study German or ancient philosophy. There's a petition in support of Classics here and one in support of German here.
One thing that cyberspace makes very clear is that there is no position that is too absurd or depraved to not find a defender. Even the loathsome Rush Limbaugh had to back-peddle a bit on his abuse of the Georgetown law student who had the temerity to testify about contraception, but last week an economics professor at the University of Rochester came to Rush's defense. You can read a transcript of Ms. Fluke's actual testimony here (to which Landsburg pretends to be responding) and there's some good commentary on the mess of what passes for Landsburg's "mind" here (and follow the links therein). Philosopher John Casey also comments. There isn't a lot to add: Landsburg has embarrassed his department (most Free Market Utopians aren't as tone-deaf and confused as Landsburg) and his university, and the childish level of his rationalization hardly warrants further discussion.
But there is another aspect of this case that deserves notice. The University of Rochester President issued a rather strongly worded statement about the matter. I actually think President Seligman failed in his duties here. It is simply not his job to criticize members of the faculty, even if they are fools like Landsburg. A serious university leader can certainly issue a statement noting that the views expressed by Professor Landsburg are his alone, and not those of the University or President Seligman. But when he became President of the University, he lost his right to speak freely, especially when speaking in his official capacity: his job is to defend the autonomy and freedom of the faculty to express their views, however misguided he or others may deem them to be, and however misguided they actually are. The University of Chicago's Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action from 1967, named after a distinguished First Amendment expert and longtime member of the law faculty here, put it well: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”
UPDATE: Reader Aaron Baker calls to my attention two other critiques of Landsburg: here and here.
A member of the Department of Philosophy and Religion there writes:
Just before Spring Break, the University of Northern Iowa administration “spared” the Department of Philosophy and World Religions (and a number of others) from the destruction of their majors, and instead scheduled them for “restructuring”. Since then, faculty have gotten a number of calls from people thinking that the department has been “saved”, along with our jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we got the details, we discovered that the “restructuring” was really just a PR move, the department is to be gutted and the majors destroyed.
The original plan called for the firing (excuse me, buyouts or layoffs) of four tenured faculty members and the elimination of the majors, while keeping services courses and the minors. The new plan—wait for it—now calls for the firing of only four tenured faculty members and the “restructuring” of the majors with the Humanities major. Either way, the result will be a department without enough faculty to support a viable major in either Philosophy or Religion, so the majors will be eliminated in favor of a slightly beefed up version of a general studies or humanities major, perhaps with tracks using the minors, and the primary mission of the department will be reduced to service courses. It’s essentially the same plan with a PR twist, ending in the slow death of the department and another step towards reducing UNI, whose long term mission had been to be Iowa's teaching and liberal arts university, to a four year community and professional college.
Given the sorts of issues you track and publicize in your blog, I want to send you some information about what is happening (at lightning speed, and without any real consultation) at my university. These include issues like post tenure review, forcing faculty who haven't met university wide publishing goals to teach extra classes (without any warning or input as to the new criteria), shutting down the Price Lab School (we are the major educational college for our state), and this last week, announcing that they will be cutting large numbers of programs (including central programs like physics, philosophy & religion, etc.) and laying off many tenured faculty with the programs. This last cut was announced to the faculty union and the faculty senate last Monday, apparently they were expecting to ram it through in a couple of days (the Price Lab school closure happened, from Presidential announcement to Board of Regents approval, in less than a week), but they met enough resistance and strong enough legal arguments from faculty groups to give them pause. Still, they expect to go through with the cuts next week. As these groups were sworn to secrecy and since they also weren't even given official lists of all the programs being cut (they were merely shown overheads), information is hard to come by. Basically, if these changes go through, it will gut the character of the university as a comprehensive liberal arts institution. The AAUP is also involved, but I doubt they will be heard. it's also worth noting, as the union has documented, the diversion of money from the core mission of teaching students to areas like Administration and Auxiliary services (mainly athletics). There has been a cut anounced for athletics (nothing like what is coming for faculty), and as far as we can tell, no significant cuts for Administration.
There are two local news items here and here. I've opened comments for readers to post more information and links that are relevant and might indicate how those elsewhere can help voice support.
Details of the new developments here. I expect this will go nationwide in one form or another. The difficulty, of course, is that the proponents of such measures do not generally have constructive intentions. On the other hand, tenure does mean only termination "for cause," and the failure of most universities to ever examine whether cause exists undermines the defensibility of tenure.
[W]e must press for changes to the REF, formerly the RAE. In my experience, this operation, though initially a stimulus, has in the longer run had appalling effects. It has generated a vast amount of premature publication and an even larger amount of unnecessary publication by those who have nothing new to say at that particular moment, but are forced to lay eggs, however addled. In the social sciences, it has discouraged the writing of books, as opposed to specialist articles, and by making peer review the ultimate arbiter it has very probably enshrined orthodoxies and acted as a curb on intellectual risk-taking and innovation. Everywhere, it has led to an unwelcome shift in academic priorities, for younger faculty have been encouraged to do all they can to secure outside research grants which will allow them to escape from teaching, which they now regard as a vastly inferior activity; and it has induced vice-chancellors to emulate football clubs by buying in outside ‘stars’ on special terms and conditions. The RAE has also been absurdly rigid in its requirements. A few years ago, a colleague in another university published a huge book, based on a vast amount of archival research, meticulously documented, beautifully written and offering a new and formidably argued reinterpretation of a major historical event. I remarked to a friend in that university that this great work would certainly help their prospects in the RAE. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We can’t enter him. He needs four items and that book is all he’s got.’ At a meeting of the editorial board of a multi-volume historical project, the question arose of what should be done if, by any chance, some of the chapters submitted proved to be unsatisfactory. The obvious answer was to delay publication until they had been properly revised. But it was at once pointed out that this would be very hard on the other contributors, who were relying on their work appearing in time to be included in the REF. So if the worst happens, we shall face an intolerable choice: should we meet the REF deadline at all costs? Or is our primary obligation to ensure the quality of the completed work? There must be hundreds of scholars who are currently confronting the same dilemma.
The video is here, and a letter to the Chancellor from a UC Davis faculty member is here. (The first paragraph of the letter is dispensable, but the rest is quite sound.) I only hope that the parents of some of the students terrorized needlessly by the police are lawyers or have access to lawyers.
(Thanks to the many different readers who sent me these links.)
UPDATE: UC Davis philosophers have sent the following apt letter to the Chancellor:
Dear Chancellor Katehi,
We are saddened and disappointed by the way that the University decided to handle the removal of the students' encampment on the Quad on Friday afternoon.
Until now we used to take pride in the way UC Davis was able to handle the students' protesting against the tuition hikes in what seemed to us an enlightened and non-confrontational manner, especially compared to other occurrences at Berkeley and elsewhere.
We do not question the University's right to remove the students' encampment (although there are reasons to question the wisdom of such a move). But we do object to the way UCPD decided to resort to what are unquestionably violent methods in order to deal with a peaceful, non-violent protest. Pepper-spraying students who were sitting on the ground and posed no direct or indirect threat to the police officers strikes us as a vastly overblown reaction.
Surely skilled and highly trained police officers could have come up with a better way to remove the students' encampment in the face of non-violent, passive student opposition?
It seems to us that the general principle the University should abide by is that violence is never an appropriate response to peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience. We hope you will agree with this assessment, and call on you as the highest officer of the University to see to it that such principle informs the actions of University officials at all times.
Aldo Antonelli, Lesley Byrns, David Copp, Gerald Dworkin, Joel Friedman, Cody Gilmore, James Griesemer, Elaine Landry, Robert May, Roberta Millstein, Bernard Molyneux, Marina Oshana, Adam Sennet, Jan Szaif, Paul Teller, Michael Wedin
I do hope philosophers concerned with academic integrity will not forget about the outrageous editorial misconduct at Synthese that we discussed at length last Spring, for which the editors have failed to apologize or make amends for, notwithstanding a petition signed by several hundred philosophers. I hope those committed to a boycott will continue to decline to submit to Synthese or referee for that journal, and will exert appropriate social pressure on colleagues who try to rationalize continued support of the journal. I hope junior scholars will recognize that the taint from this episode has now also given them, if nothing else, self-interested reasons to publish elsewhere. For those who missed this sad saga, these earlier posts will bring you up to speed: first, second, third.
UPDATE (9/28): Prior to this tempest in a teapot about a blurb (!!!) on a book no one seems to have read (other than Professor Mearsheimer!), I'd not heard of Gilad Atzmon, the author who is apparently so verboten in certain circles that one can't even recommend anything he has written. I found this interview with him illuminating and clarifying about his position, and it certainly confirms Mearsheimer's description of his outlook at the link, above. Of particular relevance is this part of the interview:
I think that when it comes to Israel and ‘Jewish power’ every humanist, including myself, has a conflict to handle. I would formulate it as such: ‘how can I tell the truth about Israel, the Lobby, and Zionism and still maintain my position as a humanist’. It took me very many years to learn to differentiate between the wheat and chaff. I learned to distinguish between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the ideology). This differentiation is not free of problems, because, as we know, most Jews themselves do not know where they stand on those three. Most Jews do not know where Judaism ends and Jewishness starts.
Likewise, most Jewish anti Zionists fail to admit that they actually operate in Jewish exclusive political cells. We are dealing with a very peculiar political identity indeed. It is racially oriented and deeply racist. It is supremacist, yet it is saturated with victimhood. This identity conveys a universal image – yet in truth, it is driven by tribal interests.
In my writing....I restrict myself to issues to do with Jewish ideology (Jewishness). I try to grasp that unique sense of chosen-ness and observe how it comes into play within politics, culture and practice....
When I discuss Jewish Power, I am strictly referring to the ability of Jewish interest groups to mount political pressure. And it is very important to realise here, and I must emphasise that Jewish power is not at all a conspiracy. It is explored — in the open —through organisations that are set to mount pressure and serve Jewish interests. Such groups are AIPAC, AJC, CFI, LFI, and so on. Zionists are open about, and proud of their lobbying powers....
There is no doubt in my mind that the maintenance of the Holocaust is there to sustain the primacy of Jewish suffering at the centre of every possible political discussion. With this heavy cloud over our head, we are not going to be able to respond properly (ethically) to the crimes committed by Israel in the name of the Jewish people. Hence, I do believe that the Holocaust must be stripped of its religious status or primacy in general. It must be discussed openly and treated as a historical chapter. I believe that this will happen soon and I am very proud to be amongst those who lead the discourse in that direction.
It's clear that given a choice between formulations of his position, Mr. Atzmon more often than not chooses the one that will provoke and invite the most offensive interpretations. But it's equally clear that there's nothing in the positions articulated above that marks him as an anti-semite, in the Sartrean or any other offensive sense of the term; his position is cosmopolitan, though, for reasons of autobiography I suppose, he errs on the side of polemic mainly against the anti-cosmopolitan tendencies embodied only in one ideology. He does not deny the Holocaust or the gas chambers or the mass murder of the Jews and others; he does deny that the Holocaust is unique in human history and he objects to the political uses to which the event has been put. I'm not sure how persuasive his position is (unlike him, I generally think laws against Holocaust denial are morally justified), but the hysterical reaction to it, and to Professor Mearsheimer's straightforward blurb of Atzmon's book (which I've also not read), does nothing to advance honest intellectual discourse. If there's a non-hysterical analysis and critique of the actual substance of Atzmon's position, please send it to me and I'll add a link.
ANOTHER: Chris Bertram (Bristol) directs me to an anti-Zionist blog, which does have a somewhat more sober critique of Atzmon (though it is a bit thin on supporting evidence, and I think misunderstands both 19th-century anti-semitism and Atzmon's position--but read it for yourself and compare it with the linked interview, above).
[T]he growth in the ranks of administrators (85 percent) and associated professional staff (240 percent) has far outstripped the increase in faculty (51 percent) between 1975 and 2005. "Generally speaking," he [Benjamin Ginsbrg, the author] writes, "a million-dollar president could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed.”
Ginsberg lays at administrators’ feet a host of perceived ills: the increased curricular focus on vocational education instead of one grounded in the liberal arts; an emphasis on learning outside the classroom in lieu of core academic disciplines; the transformation of research from an instrument of social good and contributor to human knowledge to an institutional revenue stream; and the limiting of tenure and academic freedom.
The larger result, he argues, is that universities have shifted their resources and attention away from teaching and research in order to feed a cadre of administrators who, he says, do little to advance the central mission of universities and serve chiefly to inflate their own sense of importance by increasing the number of people who report to them. "Armies of staffers pose a threat by their very existence," he wrote. "They may seem harmless enough at their tiresome meetings but if they fall into the wrong hands, deanlets can become instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction."
UPDATE: Philosopher David Auerbach (NC State) disagrees, in part, with my assessment: "Actually the Riley interview in IHE is great. She reveals what she's up to (and how dumb she is) almost completely; and many of the comments are superb in their dissection. I think it's (sometimes) useful to give fools an airing. (I would add that I think there's a real skill (and work) on the part of the interviewer.)" Fair points.
Eric Schliesser (Ghent) has the details and pertinent links. Her political views are a bit odd, but that hardly justifies the sanction. I'm less sure this is an academic freedom issue, though it is certainly a violation of any meaningful principle of freedom of speech.
Philosopher William Mark Goodwin (Rowan) flags the following ad from Jobs for Philosophers (I added the bolding):
27. UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ST. LOUIS, ST. LOUIS, MO. Visiting Associate Professor, two-year appointment (non-tenure track), Department of Philosophy. Begins Fall Semester (August 15) 2011. AOS: logic, philosophy of science, game theory. AOC: decision theory, philosophy of biology, ethics. Undergraduate and graduate teaching; two courses per semester; thesis advising; no service except professional. Research expectations in keeping with the highest level (“research intensive”) described in our departmental workload document (http://www.umsl.edu/~philo/PhilosophyDepartmentWorkloadDocument.pdf). Applicant must have a record of securing outside grants and be prepared to submit grants to fund research in Rational Preference aligned with the interests of our campus’s corporate partner, Express Scripts. Salary competitive. Send CV, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample to VAP Search, Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri-St. Louis, One University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121. The University of Missouri is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. Minorities and women are encouraged to apply. Application review will begin May 26, 2011. (190W), posted: 5/12/2011.
UPDATE: Stephanie Ross (Chair of Philosophy at UM St Louis) writes with a useful correction to the misimpression the ad creates:
The CEO of Express Scripts is an alumnus of UM-St. Louis. He recently built new corporate headquarters on the edge of our campus and generously made available research funding for which all our faculty can compete. We expect the first round of funds to be disbursed next year. There are no strings attached re: the focus, let alone the results, of the research that can be supported. And Express Scripts plays absolutely no role in our hiring. The specification of Rational Preference in our ad comes from our desire to establish an emphasis area in Reason and Rationality within our M.A. program. That area would embrace the research of a good number of our faculty and thus make for interesting synergies. I would like to assure readers of your blog that we have not sold out to the corporate world.
They still haven't budged or explained themselves. Thom Brooks (Newcastle) and Leslie Green (Oxford) have prepared this final petition:
"The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) puts public money behind research in English universities. Its new delivery plan for strategic priorities mentions in several places their potential to contribute to the 'Big Society' agenda. As everyone knows, the 'Big Society' is a political campaign slogan; it is not a field of inquiry in the Arts or Humanities. The term belongs in a political manifesto, not in a document that shape the direction of scholarly research.
More than 3,200 academics have already petitioned for the removal of the 'Big Society' from the AHRC plan. More than 30 professional associations in the arts and humanities societies oppose its inclusion. In response to such broad, reasoned and unprecedented opposition, Rick Rylance, the AHRC Chief Executive, has neither given a public justification for including this slogan, nor suggested any amendment that would bring the plan into conformity with the principles of higher education funding to which the AHRC is committed and which taxpayers are entitled to expect.
The signatories of this letter have grave doubts about Professor Rylance's capacity or willingness to defend these principles. When a campaign slogan finds its way into a spending plan, things go badly wrong. When those responsible for its presence refuse to listen to their stakeholders, things have gone from bad to worse. We again call on Professor Rylance to amend the plan or to explain to the public why he is unwilling or unable to do so.
We are members of AHRC Peer Review College, grant holders, grant reviewers and others with an interest in the integrity of the AHRC."
If you are a member of any of these groups--which basically means anyone who cares about the academic integrity of research in Britian!--please sign the petition.
Brett Stephens is apparently part of the editorial stable of right-wing know-nothings and smear merchants at the Wall Street Journal; I had never heard of him prior to reader Thomas Noah sending me this bizarre piece trashing Chomsky's comments on the assassination of bin Laden and comparing Chomsky and Heidegger. (Apart from one amusingly apt line about the relative scale of bin Laden's and Bush's crimes, Chomsky's comments strike me as not very interesting in this case: the killing of bin Laden was almost certainly consistent with international law [contrary to Chomsky's assertion, though why he even thinks it is relevant in this case isn't clear], and there is obviously more reason to credit bin Laden's proud claim of responsibility for 9/11 than Chomsky's assertion to have won the Boston Marathon--but the merits of Chomsky's remarks in this instance aren't really at issue.)
Here is Mr. Stephens, in relevant part:
In 1946, Martin Heidegger, incomparably the most significant philosopher of the 20th century, was banned from teaching for five years at the insistence of occupying French forces. The crime? He had been a Mitläufer—a "fellow-walker"—of the Nazi Party during its time in power....
Mr. Chomsky is no Martin Heidegger: His contributions to linguistics and cognitive psychology, considerable as they are, pale next to Heidegger's contributions to political philosophy....
Heidegger's "contributions to political philosophy"? What contributions to political philosophy? That's the first giveaway that this is just a smear piece, and that Mr. Stephens has no notion of anyone's intellectual contributions. Chomsky invented the modern discipline of linguistics, and his work has had profound ramifications across psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science. Even putting aside that Mr. Stephens obviously doesn't know what Heidegger's philosophical work is about, it's manifestly silly to say that Chomsky's contributions "pale" next to Heidegger's (indeed, plenty of philosophers of course think not that Heidegger is "the most significant philosopher of the 20th century" but that he is the most over-hyped philosopher relative to his actual substantive contributions and originality). A quick look at, say, Google Scholar for Chomsky and Heidegger paints a very different piciture of scholarly contributions and influence.
In any case, there is no need to settle the silly question of relative contributions, especially since Mr. Stephens is pretty clearly in the dark about either man's work. His real point is to argue (seriously) that, just as Heidegger was banned from teaching, so too should we entertain the idea of banning Chomsky for holding opinions of which Mr. Stephens disapproves (but which he mostly doesn't understand). Mr. Stephens writes:
MOVING TO FRONT FROM MAY 8: I realize readers may be suffering from petition overload at this point, but please take a moment to read and hopefully sign the petition in support of our colleagues in the CUNY system.
Here. (Our earlier coverage here and here.) The full list of questions the GC submitted to the Faculty Senate--at the request of the Faculty Senate--makes clear that the academic freedom of bioethicist Carl Elliott was not the central focus. The crucial bit of the new article:
[The General Counsel's] efforts have been intended to vindicate faculty members who conduct controversial research, not squelch discussion, he added. "The faculty, as a collective body, should take an interest in attacks on their members that serve to deter or chill controversial research,” Rotenberg told The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The clinical trial that resulted in the death of a patient was not simply "controversial" research, however; it was, on Professor Elliott's accounting, not real research at all, but instead part of the business activities of a pharmaceutical company in which the "researchers" had a financial stake. Presumably the clinical researchers in question deny that, and they too have a claim to academic freedom at the university.
In another response Rotenberg wrote: “Consistent with our University’s tradition of encouraging a wide diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, we support Dr. Elliott in raising some important issues.
“The protection of the rights of individuals who participate in clinical research is fundamental to the clinical research enterprise. …We take seriously the concerns raised by Prof. Elliott, and value an academic environment in which he and others of our colleagues can raise issues critically, and, we hope, constructively.”
Rotenberg argued that the issue before the senate was an exploration of how the academy deals with internal disputes. Punishing faculty was never part of the discussion. “That’s just not what the senate does,” he said.
In an e-mail to CorpCounsel.com, Engstrand said that Rotenberg’s question was not interpreted by either the executive committee of the faculty senate or the AF&T as raising any academic freedom question.
“The question did not suggest to faculty leaders that he or the administration was seeking to discipline or otherwise restrain professor Elliott from exercising his legal and academic rights to criticize other faculty research,” he wrote, “or that the senate should be involved in doing so.”
It's good that the GC and the Faculty Senate are now both on record on this score.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)