WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. Hamilton College in New York cancels a presentation by controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who has abdicated his chairmanship of the Ethnic Studies department. Gerald at Left2Right assesses the situation accurately.
Being a free speech fanatic I will hold my nose and defend Churchill right to speak at Hamilton (if there are threats of violence then protect the speaker), and against any attempts to dismiss him from his academic position.
How things change. The Regnery series of academy-bashing polemics recite anecdote after anecdote about conservative speakers who had to cancel their talks or move them to off-campus locations as the host university expressed inability to guarantee the speaker's safety. (For that matter, Chief Justice Rehnquist once had to postpone, briefly, a speech at Northern Illinois University in order to allow the local Perpetually Aggrieved, in those days known as the John Lennon Society, to make their objections known.)

To what extent the academy has been complicit in fostering conditions in which "verbal terrorism" becomes acceptable behavior as well as grounds for denying facilities to controversial speakers remains to be assessed. Perhaps college resources are insufficient to provide speakers with a safe environment, whether they be controversialists of the left or of the right.

The story gives defenders of academic tenure an opportunity to present their case. University Diaries sums it up:
Churchill enjoys freedom of speech. He has been granted tenure. While his colleagues are wrong to claim that Churchill's ideas invigorate intellectual debate at their university -- Churchill's ideas are horseshit -- they are right to defend his employment. You can't have governors running around hounding tenured professors out of their jobs.
Who will rid me of this troublesome priest, indeed? Protein Wisdom concurs, with additional linkage.
Colorado granted this lanky-haired mudflap tenure. And a public university threatening to fire a professor because it disapproves of his thoughts—and because it is being pressured by outraged conservatives and grandstanding politicos like Colorado congressman Bob Beauprez—is precisely the reason why tenure remains important, at least in theory.
At one remove, what happens if the legislature, or the trustees, perform an audit of the area studies departments and courses? Does that qualify as getting rid of the troublesome priest by closing the abbey?

The Churchill imbroglio has touched off the equivalent of a flame war over whether Professor Churchill has counterparts in the academy elsewhere along the political spectrum. King at SCSU Scholars has been watching the debate (done hiring already?) and suggests that perhaps the academy set up the abbey where the troublesome priest discovered his vocation.

The syllogism Conquest is arguing runs like this: Many Western university professors hold anti-American sympathies; some students of these professors adopt these sympathies; some act on them, occasionally in ways that lead to violence and tragedy (Rachel Corrie says hello*); some of the 9/11 attackers went to western universities where such faculty were. Yes, that's circumstantial, and I would not have been comfortable making the statement, but asking me to back away from Conquest as the left should back away from Churchill is hyperventilation.

And an attempt to obscure the tracks that lead from Churchill to the comfortable, tenured Left.

Henry at Crooked Timber (whose post preceded King's) raises this point.
Conquest’s language and claims are less inflammatory and offensive than Churchill’s. On the other, Conquest is one of the right’s most senior and respected figures, a fellow of the Hoover Institute, and a key player in the Anglo-American right’s intellectual network. Churchill, in comparison, is a relative nobody who represents no-one except himself. I’ve always had a fondness for Conquest; he was dead right on Stalinism, and he comes across as a very human figure (and a first rate composer of limericks and light verse) in his letters to Kingsley Amis. But if he’s seriously trying to claim, on the basis of no apparent evidence, that leftwing professors in Western universities shoulder some of the blame for September 11, he should be deeply ashamed of himself. It’s a vicious, disgraceful slur, and it’s every bit as unacceptable as the claim that the West and the US had September 11 coming to them.
The flamewar erupts as reaction to the release of Conquest's new Dragons of Expectation. As if I don't have enough books, but I'm not obligated to stop at fifty reviews.

No comments: