You would think this came from a Sinclair Lewis novel, but it's for real:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.
Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”
[N]otwithstanding the current spin from the Providence College administration, my event is not being rescheduled. It is being replaced with a different event.
In February I agreed that I would come to Providence to give a lecture, which would be followed by a Q&A period. Although Professor Arroyo and I had previously (last Fall) discussed the possibility of a debate, that idea was dropped for budgetary reasons. Then, just last week, I agreed to change the format so that I would have a lecture with an official respondent. Now, finally, I am being invited for a debate. These are three different kinds of academic events, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I have plenty of experience with all three, and (as I’ve long said) I’d be happy to do a debate at Providence College. What I’m not happy to do is to aid the administration in the pretense that “the September 26 event was merely being postponed, not cancelled, until we could be sure that it went forward in the format in which it was originally proposed,” as Provost Lena’s statement said yesterday....
The truth is that it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask. This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.
That’s where “damage control” should be focused right now: the personal harm to LGBT Providence College students, not to mention faculty, staff, and alumni. Pope Francis has called for a “new balance” in the Church’s pastoral ministry, and there is an opportunity—yet unrealized—to implement that balance here.
The Provost's disingenous statement here. Kudos to the Providence College faculty for "raising hell" about this. (I'm waiting for permission to post a strong statement by the President of the Faculty Senate there.) The newly appointed defender of bigotry against gay people is a familiar figure. It is always an occasion for sadness when irrational religious dogma leads intelligent people down the road of moral depravity--at least when they aren't effective (when they are effective, which won't happen here, a different emotion is appropriate).
UPDATE: The letter that no doubt helped the Provost to backtrack:
(Note: I'm putting this under the "academic freedom" category, but without knowing more about Professor Guth's areas of expertise, it's not clear to me this is an academic freedom issue, as distinct from a generic free speech issue.)
UPDATE: Actually, it turns out Kansas is now punishing him for his speech. Prof. Guth would do well to consult a lawyer, since he is pretty clearly being punished for offensive but constitutionally protected speech.
AND ANOTHER: Professor Guth concurs with being put on leave, given the threats he and others have received. The linked article also reports, unsurprisingly, that the local fascists in Kansas want him fired for exercising his free speech rights.
Frank Richter, a highly-regarded computational linguist at the University of Tuebingen, is at risk of losing his job. Why? Because, like large numbers of middle-rank (non-professorial) academics in Germany, his "time is up." Marion Zepf, a student at Tuebingen, writes:
Frank Richter, an outstanding, internationally renowned researcher in computational linguistics and an excellent lecturer, is about to lose his job at the University of Tuebingen, Germany. This is by no fault on his part, but by federal law - and Frank is by far not the only academic in Germany who has to leave the academic world despite his good work.
In Germany, 85% of middle-rank (i.e. non-professorial) academics are employed under fixed-term contracts. These contracts are usually extended and chained, up to a limit of twelve years, which is mandated by a federal law (called 'Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz'). After that time, the researcher may no longer sign a fixed-term contract at any German University. The only way to stay in academia is to be appointed to a chair - an option that covers only 10% of middle-rank academics, - or to obtain one of the very few other unlimited-term positions. The latter case is extremely rare, as there are not nearly enough such positions available to employ even just the best researchers. Thus, the law has the effect of an academic employment ban for Frank and many others who are not lucky enough to receive an unlimited-term contract.
There is a petition in support of Dr. Richter here. (If you do not read German, there is an English translation of the petition here.)
Professors Jeff Jordan and Alan Hajek write with the following information:
Abbas Khosravi Farsani was until this January, a graduate student in Philosophy, at the University of Isfahan, Iran. While nearing completion of his PhD dissertation regarding Mackie’s error theory of ethics, Mr. Farsani’s graduate studies were interrupted as he was arrested for political reasons. He was immediately expelled from his university, his educational scholarship was revoked, and he was forbidden from seeking a teaching position at all Iranian universities. Subsequently he had to flee Iran, and is now in Turkey, as a political asylum seeker in a difficult situation.
In 2006 Mr. Farsani’s completed an M.A. dissertation entitled “The Epistemological and Moral Value of ‘Pascal’s Wager’ in Islamic Resources and Christian Theology: A Critical Survey”.
Mr. Farsani is seeking a graduate position in which he may finish his PhD. His philosophical interests are ethics, philosophy of religion, epistemology, and political philosophy. His language competencies are Persian, English, and Arabic, with some knowledge of German, Latin and Greek.
More information about Mr. Farsani's case can be found at these links:
We have touched on the topic of Templeton's now extensive funding of philosophy-related projects before, but over the weekend, Jason Stanley (Rutgers, moving to Yale) started a lively discussion on Facebook with this comment, which he gave me permission to repost here:
Because of Templeton, we may expect a huge number of papers and books in our field taking a religious perspective at the very least extremely seriously. This is not why I entered philosophy, and it is incompatible with my conception of its role in the university. I will not take any money from Templeton or speak at any Templeton funded conferences. Reasonable people may disagree, but I hope there are others who join me in so doing.
In the discussion that followed, the neuroscientist John Krakauer (Johns Hopkins) made a striking comment in support of Jason's suggestion, which he also kindly gave permission to repost here:
In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience. Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?
Drug companies love to be associated with whom they call "thought leaders" - these physicians are never explicitly asked to shill for the companies but they also rarely criticize the companies from that position. It is always good to institutionalize ( or pay) your rebels. Physicians who receive any kind of gift from drug companies from lunches to pens and free samples always say (there are studies on this) that they are not influenced and feel no pressure. The studies reveal otherwise.
Thoughts from readers? Please do check out the earlier links and discussions. Comments must include a full name and a valid e-mail address, or they will not appear.
Brooklyn Law School is an independent law school in New York, a school of long-standing and good reputation, with no connection to either Brooklyn College or the City University of New York. Many of its faculty have national reputations for their scholarship, and its graduates have enjoyed successful careers in both private practice and in the public sector.
Several different sources have reported to me that the Law School's Board of Trustees has adopted the following definition of "Adequate Cause" for termination of tenured faculty:
The definition of “ Adequate Cause” will now include the term “ demonstrated incompetence".....
For purposes of the Law School’s regulations, “ Adequate Cause” shall be defined as follows:
“Demonstrated incompetence, including but not limited to, multiple unsatisfactory performance reviews or complaints from supervisors; multiple complaints from students or multiple unsatisfactory student evaluations; sub-standard academic performance; lack of collegiality.”
There is certainly an important need for American law schools to undertake a review of both their tenure standards and their standards for post-tenure review, given the dereliction of duties that are, alas, widespread (but not only in law schools, of course). But these standards are very alarming, and suggest the dangers associated with post-tenure review. The inclusion of "lack of collegiality" in the definition of "adequate cause" is unbelievable, given the AAUP's clear and wholly correct position on the issue. Any academic institution that wants to avoid sanction by the AAUP would be well-advised to scrap such a malleable criterion.
But at least as alarming is the fact that the definition equates "demonstrated incompetence" not with a peer review finding of pedagogical and scholarly incompetence, but with wholly unreliable and disreputable criteria like students evaluations, complaints from supervisors (which just smuggles "lack of collegiality" in the back door), and so on. Poor teaching evaluations can properly trigger a peer review of teaching, which could lead to a finding of incompetence. But poor teaching evaluations from students do not constitute demonstrated incompetence--for reasons the enormous empirical literature on teaching evaluations would make clear, quite apart from AAUP norms.
BLS has long benefitted from its location and its reputation in the recruitment of top-notch faculty. But unless the school quickly backtracks or clarifies these standards for termination, I am not optimistic for the school's academic future.
UPDATE: A constructive reply from BLS's Dean Allard to these concerns is here.
IHE has a story, but a much more illuminating account is here. The Geneseo students who started a petition calling for the Administration to denounce the main speaker, Prof. Everett, should apologize; it is never appropriate for a university to express an official criticism of faculty speech (an issue we have encountered before).
The people who run Edwin Mellen Press are pretty clearly nuts. (Calling these folks "nuts" isn't actionable in the United States, but, for the record, my lawyer is based in the same jurisdiction as Mellen Press, New York, though maybe my wife's law firm here in Chicago would enjoy assigning the case to a junior associate for practice.) This time they're pursuing the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog, for a blog post that is clearly not actionable, and for a comment on that post that is also probably not actionable. Here's the "offending" post by Mr. Anderson of the blog: nothing in it is libelous, even if Mellen Press and Mr. Richardson were private citizens, rather then public figures. The letter from the Press's lawyer says, obviously falsely, that the blog has a "legal obligation" to deal with possibly defamatory comments; the comment in question is probably not defamatory, but even if it were, the Scholarly Kitchen blog has no obligation to remove it. The law in the United States is as clear as can be on this point. As best I can tell, Ms. Amendola, the Press's lawyer, is a 2010 graduate of the law school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who worked briefly for a Buffalo law firm, and is now a solo practitioner. If state bar associations were more aggressive, she should be disbarred for sending nonsense threats like the one she sent to the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog.
I predict that the Edwin Mellen Press will be out of business within the next few years. Good riddance, given this disgraceful pattern of harassment. May I suggest that any authors of serious monographs with the Mellen Press contact them now and urge them to reform their "public relations" practices?
This message is being circulated from the Canadian Association of University Teachers:
We are pleased to advise you that McMaster University has made arrangements to ensure Associate University Librarian Dale Askey can cover his anticipated legal costs in defending himself against the defamation suits filed against him by the Mellen Press and its owner.
Kudos to McMaster for doing the right thing.
(Thanks to Stefan Sciaraffa for flagging this development.)
Here, with quotes from the head of Edwin Mellen Press, who seems to be in denial at what a catastrophe this has become. I imagine hundreds of academic librarians throughout the Anglophone world have already checked to see what, if anything, they are buying from Edwin Mellen Press and are rethinking their plans as this unfolds.
It includes an explanation from the librarian's lawyer of Canadian libel law, which explains why Mellen did not bother to sue Kansas State University, the libarian's employer at the time of the original blog posting at issue. Canadian libel law is a bit closer to the insane British model than I had realized, for example, in putting the onus on the defendant to establish the truth of the facts asserted and the reasonableness of his opinions.
ANOTHER: CHE also has a story, which points out that in October 2012, Mellen Press called on its authors to defend the publisher's reputation at various on-line fora. As opposed to suing critics, that seems like a quite sensible and constructive response! I'm still mystified, though, how the Press could think suing a librarian, and thus bringing the wrath of all the world's academic librarians down on you, was a smart strategy. I also think that a sensible public relations person would advise the Press to withdraw the suit and do a mea culpa, at the same time defending the quality of its catalogue against the criticisms. (There is apparently a separate libel suit by the individual who founded Mellen Press, Herbert Richardson, against the same librarian for a different set of comments about Mr. Ricahrdson's prior professional career. If, in fact, the statements in question are false, that separate suit might have merit.)
AND YET ANOTHER: This story has some bearing on Mr. Richardson's personal suit agains the librarian, and sugests the allegations there are also, alas, without merit.
You can see the actual allegations in the "notice of action" here. It is, as Professor Green noted, "threadbare." If they filed such an action in the United States, they would be lucky to escape only with sanctions imposed upon them by the court. I do not know enough about Canadian libel law to comment on how they will fare there, but I am told that Canada, while not as speech-protective as the U.S., is not as libel-friendly as Britain, and that the action will fail there as well. (Many libel judgments in Britain are not enforceable in the U.S., because of the free speech implications.) Because Mellen's aim is clearly to discourage critical comment about the press, I think it is imperative that other blogs call attention to this sordid affair. Whatever the merits of their scholarly catalogue, the press does itself no favors by responding to fair critical comment this way. Indeed, they would help heal their image if they promptly withdrew the lawsuit, and simply issued a press release explaining why they think the criticisms unfair.
In the earlier thread discussing the survey about philosophy publishers, Leslie Green (Oxford) posted the following startling comment, which deserves separate notice, so I'm reposting it here (with the links restored, they didn't come through in the comment apparently):
The Edwin Mellen Press may well, as this survey suggests, have the worst quality philosophy list but it tops the league in disgraceful conduct in defense of its dismal reputation.
A professional librarian at McMaster University’s library complained, in a 2010 blog-post, that Mellen was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices. Librarians are expert at making such judgments; that’s what universities pay them to do. And the post made a key point about the public interest: ‘in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures.’
No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen’s approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.
The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen’s list with which I am familiar, the librarian’s statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.
McMaster University’s response to this appalling tactic has been surprising. Public silence. No one at McMaster has spoken in defense of the librarian or the University; no University administrator has pushed back against the crude threat to academic freedom that this represents. (But then the President of McMaster’s list of the seven ‘McMaster Principles’ omits mention of academic freedom.) Are the McMaster faculty, administration, and faculty associations already so cowed by libel-chill that they are afraid to speak up? Or are they unaware of Mellen’s attack? Or—and this is just as worrying—is it that McMaster values its professional librarians so little that it is willing to let them bear the brunt of such harassment, so long as the University itself can avoid vicarious liability?
Let’s hope someone at McMaster forcefully says ‘enough’ to this sort of bullying. Universities have a negative duty not to abridge the academic freedom of their members; they also have a positive duty to see to it that others do not do it either.
I do hope some of the reporters who cover higher education who read this blog will investigate. The conduct by Mellen Press described here is just appalling and the apparent silence, so far, of McMaster University troubling.
UPDATE: Useful links here (scroll down) to earlier cases where Edwin Mellen Press sued or threatened to sue critics. In the case of Lingua Franca (now defunct, for unrelated reasons), the Press lost its libel action.
ANOTHER: More information here, including the "notice of action."
Some details here. Will the other miscreants from Dershowitz to City Councilman Fidler now recant? They've been whacked by both the Mayor and the New York Times, as well as the rest of the civilized world.
UPDATE: More on Mayor Bloomberg's remarks here, which are apt and funny.
The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.
A propos the attack on academic freedom at Brooklyn College, longtime reader Ruchira Paul passes on this letter sent to President Gould from Zujaja Tauqeer '11, and Ms. Tauqeer kindly gave her permission for me to post it on the blog. By way of background, Ms. Paul notes that, "Zujaja Tauqeer belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and came to the US from Pakistan with her parents. The state of Pakistan sanctions legal and social persecution of Ahmadis."
Here is Ms. Tauqeer's letter:
Dear President Gould,
I hope this letter finds you well. As a Brooklyn College alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, and the commencement speaker and class representative for the 2011 graduating class, I urge you to continue upholding the principles of academic freedom and to allow the Political Science Department to co-sponsor, as originally planned, the panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been scheduled to take place at BC.
As you and Provost Tramontano are aware, I know all too well how fragile freedom of speech can be. As a beneficiary of political asylum by the US, I am horrified to see the kinds of perverse tactics used to marginalize minority communities and viewpoints in less developed countries being introduced in an American public educational institution for the express purpose of stifling the freedom of speech, and therefore the freedom of conscience, of students and faculty. Elected officials and trustees who hold the public trust are now trying to force you to join them in betraying that very trust. They are seeking to deprive the Political Science Department of its right—and responsibility—to sponsor discussions that may conflict with the convictions of those in a position of power.
As a Rhodes Scholar selected from Brooklyn College, I have tried my utmost to represent my alma mater as a progressive institution whose commitment to freedom and toleration vindicate the sacrifices students and alumni like myself have made to pursue a liberal arts education here. Though in the past BC has stumbled in its effort to preserve civil liberties on campus, I am confident that as president you will capably show that academic freedom, so crucial to critical scholarship and democratic citizenship, is non-negotiable.
I recall at this time the motto of our school—nil sine magno labore. We cannot ensure for future students and faculty the freedoms promised to them as citizens of this country if we as an institution back down from the effort needed to uphold those very freedoms now when they are threatened by vested interests. If I can support you in any way in helping to make this case to my fellow alumni, our elected officials, and our donors, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11
As Greenwald reports, city officials are now explicitly threatening to withhold funding to the College if the event goes forward. As Greenwald also notes, this is rather obviously unconstitutional.
In sum, the ugly lynch mob now assembled against Brooklyn College and its academic event is all too familiar in the US when it comes to criticism of and activism against Israeli government policy. Indeed, in the US, there are few more efficient ways to have your reputation and career as a politician or academic destroyed than by saying something perceived as critical of Israel....
But this controversy has now significantly escalated in seriousness because numerous New York City elected officials have insinuated themselves into this debate by trying to dictate to the school's professors what type of events they are and are not permitted to hold. Led by Manhattan's fanatical pro-Israel "liberal" Congressman Jerrold Nadler and two leading New York mayoral candidates - Council speaker Christine Quinn and former city comptroller William Thompson - close to two dozen prominent City officials have signed onto a letter to college President Gould pronouncing themselves "concerned that an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue" and "calling for Brooklyn College's Political Science Department to withdraw their endorsement of this event." As a result, the "scandal" has now landed in The New York Times, and - for obvious reasons - the pressure on school administrators is immense.
Imagine being elected to public office and then deciding to use your time and influence to interfere in the decisions of academics about the types of campus events they want to sponsor. Does anyone have trouble seeing how inappropriate it is - how dangerous it is - to have politicians demanding that professors only sponsor events that are politically palatable to those officials? If you decide to pursue political power, you have no business trying to use your authority to pressure, cajole or manipulate college professors regarding what speakers they can invite to speak on campus.
These elected officials are cynically wrapping themselves in the banner of "academic freedom" as they wage war on that same concept. They thus argue in their letter: "by excluding alternative positions from an event they are sponsoring, the Political Science Department has actually stifled free speech by preventing honest, open debate." But if that term means anything, it means that academia is free of interference from the state when it comes to the ideas that are aired on campuses.
The danger posed by these politicians is manifest. Brooklyn College relies upon substantial grants and other forms of funding from the state. These politicians, by design, are making it mandatory for these college administrators to capitulate - to ensure that no campus events run afoul of the orthodoxies of state officials - because obtaining funding for Brooklyn College in the climate that has purposely been created is all but impossible....
That's the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment. That's what politicians do by their nature: they flatter and affirm convention. That's exactly the reason politicians have no legitimate role to play in influencing or dictating the content of academic events. It's because academia, at least in theory, has the exact opposite role: it is designed to challenge, question and subvert orthodoxies.
That value is utterly obliterated if school administrators live in fear of offending state officials. That is exactly what is happening here, by intent: making every college administrator petrified of alienating these same pro-Israel factions by making an example out of Brooklyn College. That's why anyone who values academic freedom and independence - regardless of one's views of the BDS movement - should be deeply offended and alarmed, as well as mobilized, by what is being done here.
The primary defense being offered by these would-be censors - we just want both sides of the issue to be included in this event - is patently disingenuous. In his lengthy email exchange with me yesterday - printed in full here - Dershowitz told me that his objections were not to the holding of the event itself, but to the sponsorship of it by the Political Science Department, especially given the lack of any BDS opponents. For those reasons, Dershowitz claims, "it is crystal clear that the political science department's co-sponsorship and endorsement of these extremist speakers does constitute an endorsement of BDS."
Despite how controversial he is, Dershowitz routinely appears on college campuses to speak without opposition. Indeed, as the Gawker writer who writes under the pen name Mobutu Sese Seko first documented, Dershowitz himself has spoken at Brooklyn College on several occasions without opposition. That includes - as the college's Political Science Professor Corey Robin noted - when he was chosen by the school's Political Science department to deliver the Konefsky lecture in which he spoke at length - and without opposition. He also delivered a 2008 speech at Brooklyn College, alone, in which he discussed a wide variety of controversial views, including torture. As Professor Robin noted, when Dershowitz agreed to speak at the school, "he didn't insist that we invite someone to rebut him or to represent the opposing view."
Nor did any of the New York City politicians objecting to this BDS event as "one-sided" object to Dershowitz's speech given without opposition. Why is that?
In fact, it is incredibly common for academic departments to sponsor controversial speakers without opposition. I speak frequently at colleges and universities, and always express opinions which many people find highly objectionable. As but one example, I spoke at the University of Missouri School of Law last September, in an event sponsored by the law school itself. As this news account from the school's newspaper notes, I spoke at length about the highly controversial ideas in my last book, and that speech was followed by a panel discussion of like-minded civil liberties and civil rights advocates.
The way that happens is exactly how it happened here: a student group decides it wants to invite speakers or host an event and then seeks organizing support from one of the school's departments. That does not remotely connote departmental agreement with all or any of the ideas to be aired; it simply reflects a willingness to help students organize events they think will be beneficial. As Professor Robin told me about the BDS event: "The student group explicitly asked us if we would like to 'endorse' or 'co-sponsor' the event; we explicitly opted for 'co-sponsor.'"
I hope readers will take a moment to e-mail Brooklyn College President Gould (firstname.lastname@example.org) urging her to continue to stand firm for academic freedom and the First Amendment. In situations like this, academic leaders need to know that if they cave into craven politicians that will cost them standing in the academic world, and that by standing firm, as President Gould has done so far, she has earned respect and recognition for her integrity from the academic community. I would also urge all departments at Brooklyn College to join as co-sponsors of this event, as a way to make clear that the integrity of the university is at stake. (Ordinarily, I would not encourage a Philosophy Department to co-sponsor an event featuring Judith Butler, but...she does have a PhD in philosophy! And, from what I've read, she's more articulate and interesting on this topic than on most topics she writes on.)
UPDATE: Here, as a sample which anyone is free to borrow, amend etc, is what I wrote to President Gould:
Dear President Gould,
I know I speak for many in the academic community in congratulating you on your strong and principled stand in defense of academic freedom at Brooklyn College. Yours is undoubtedly the morally and legally correct posture, and I hope you will feel free to call on me and others for support in light of the campaign of political intimidation now being waged against you and your institution. You should feel free to share this correspondence, as you deem appropriate, with others.
My father, now 80, graduated from Brooklyn College more than a half-century ago, where he studied philosophy. He is as appalled by this disgraceful campaign against the College as I am.
Please remain firm in your commitment to principles central to the integrity of the academy.
Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence
Director, Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values
University of Chicago
1111 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
ANOTHER: My father Maurice, Class of 1954 from Brooklyn College, writes: "Thank you for mentioning me. You are correct in describing me as appalled by what is taking place. Our public forums are infested with ignoramuses whose malicious conduct would make any fascist proud."
...are out in force because the Political Science Department and several other groups at Brooklyn College are sponsoring two speakers discussing the "BDS" (or boycott, divest, and sanction) movement in response to Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. John Protevi (LSU) has a good summary. And the President of Brooklyn College has made a good, public statement.
The petition is here, and I would urge all readers to sign given the unjust and politically motivated treatment to which he has been subjected. It was prepared by philosophers Alan Hajek (ANU) and Jeff Jordan (Delaware). When you sign, put your institutional affiliation in the comment section.
UPDATE: I hope other bloggers, including those in other academic fields, will publicize this petition.
I wanted to thank you for drawing attention to Abbas Farsani's situation. I hope some good will come of it. My impression of the Iranian philosophy scene is that Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger are huge, but that recent Anglo-American authors are being read more and more, even in the seminaries in Qom.
I sometimes receive emails from curious Iranian philosophy students asking how they might make their way to a good graduate program in philosophy. Once I was contacted by a seminary student who loved Steve Yablo's work and was eager to study with him. I suspect that they feel comfortable contacting me because of my Iranian-sounding name. These students often have a remarkably accurate picture of the professional philosophical landscape--which programs are good at which subfields. I can only attribute that to the Phil Gourmet.
For those looking for academic employment, there are two
main options: tenure track and non-tenure track. Check back for the latter in
my second post of the day, when I’ll be writing about the issues facing
non-tenure track faculty, especially adjuncts. But in this post, I’ll focus on
issues related to tenure.
Tenure is a hallmark of the academic profession. It has long
existed to provide safeguards for those entrusted to examine the hard issues
and research questions that may not be popular or even popularly understood. It
guarantees a right to due process before dismissal from employment. And our
society would be much worse off without such protections.
But tenure has gotten a bad rap. According to much of public
opinion, and unfortunately according to some in power in universities and our
nation’s legislatures, tenured professors are paid too much to work too little,
and can’t be removed from duty even if they’re doing a terrible job. Little
attention is paid to the ways that tenure advances our society, and the public
message instead focuses on the myths
about the tenure system. As a result, lawmakers and university leaders
have, at times, taken to undermining tenure, whether because they believe the
myths about it or as a shortsighted
financial “solution” in a bad economy.
The APA stands with other academic associations and
disciplinary societies in supporting tenure and working to preserve this
important practice. For philosophers who feel their tenure rights have been
violated, our Committee on the Defense of Professional Rights of Philosophers
can be an excellent resource and ally. The APA,
like the American
Association of University Professors (AAUP), censures institutions when “conditions
for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university”;
these institutions are also marked in Jobs
for Philosophers so that applicants considering employment with such
institutions can be aware of their censured status.
Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that attacks
on tenure will go away anytime soon, but so long as we are around to do so, the
APA will continue to fight for the institution of tenure and for our tenured
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...
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)