24.2.05

THE LIMITATIONS WHICH TRAMMEL INQUIRY. Jeff at Quid nomen illius? and Professor Blogger have weighed in with reactions to my question about the state of academic freedom.

I think Jeff is teasing, but there's an edge to it.

Professor Blogger suggests all academics have freedom, but some have more freedom than others. He gives three reasons for anonymity.
1. In order to be honest about some issues otherwise generally taboo (such as the lecherous minds of faculty).
OK, I'll keep reading his site with this in mind. Perhaps economists aren't that randy, or perhaps my own mind is sufficiently lecherous that the lecherous minds of others make no impression. This site tends to be G-rated anyway.
2. Out of a sense of loyalty to his school. If Prof. Blogger wishes to kvetch about a particular administrative decision, for example, he thinks he owes this institution enough that he should not bring public disgrace upon it (unless some wrongdoing of such magnitude occurs that he cannot maintain silence in good conscience).
Different styles. The Superintendent believes in naming names. The Superintendent also conjectures that the public disgrace will be greater, the longer the lag between the wrongdoing occurring and the wrongdoing coming to light.
3. Because some of his posts would be professionally suicidal. While the Professor has not made such an ass out of himself as Ward Churchill, he has certainly made more provocative statements than the mild Larry Summers.
The followup to this observation is telling.
In a side note, the Professor would like to write a book from a conservative perspective after he completes his current projects. When he mentioned the idea to his chair, the chair said, "Someone needs to write that book. Don't you start on it until after you get tenure." For those students who do not understand the Byzantine world of academic hiring, the (simplified) translation: "That is an excellent idea that would get you fired."
Put another way, academic freedom for the untenured is the freedom to hold the party line, or to leave. Now consider this mix: the prospect of lifetime employment is likely to attract disproportionately many time-servers, risk-avoiders, and conformists in the first place. Now reward those behaviors with tenure and promotion. Is that the proper foundation for engaging in continual and fearless sifting and winnowing once the congratulatory letter from the trustees arrives?

That's a point Academic Game made some time ago (in a series of exchanges with Professor Blogger.)
Academia, through academic feardom, prevents people from speaking the truth lest the speaker offend someone and turn that person into a powerful enemy. On the other hand, for those who have real power and abuse it on campus, practically nothing can stop them in the name of academic freedom.
This was before the Churchill and Summers stories broke.

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