Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rauchway in back at Crooked Timber. Here he is in 2008  [repeats of repeats etc.]
If Kramer’s report is accurate, you can see why the Columbia faculty got frustrated. They wanted Bollinger to offer a traditional defense of academic freedom, which goes something like this: Academic freedom predates free speech. Although Prussia gave constitutional protection to Lehrfreiheit in 1850 (“science and its teaching shall be free”), academic freedom generally does not enjoy legal protection outside of contractual guarantees; rather, it rests on the authority and ability of a community of competent scholars to police their own discourse and on the willingness of universities to affirm this authority and ability.

In other words, the Columbia faculty seem to have wanted the Columbia president to say to Daniel Pipes—who describes himself here as “someone who has left the academy, meets a payroll, lives pretty much in the here and now”—buzz off: this does not concern you, you have no standing to speak. We want to hear what the community of competent scholars say.

Instead of saying something along these lines, Bollinger appears to have said, well, academic freedom = free speech + time. Give it enough time, and the Daniel Pipes critique will fall short in the marketplace of ideas.

I can think of three reasons Bollinger might have said this, instead of offering the traditional defense of academic freedom.

(1) He doesn’t know the history and sources of academic freedom. This seems unlikely, though that phrase “surprised and bewildered” is worrying.

(2) He knows the history and sources of academic freedom, but he thinks it uncongenial to assert them in this anti-elitist day and age. This is an old concern, going back at least half a century in AAUP bulletin dispatches that fret over the question of whether “the people at large … will resent granting special liberties to the teachers of their children,” to quote Fritz Machlup writing in 1955. Maybe they will, and maybe Bollinger has this in mind. This is understandable, if unfortunate: as noted above, the preservation of academic freedom requires institutional affirmation.

(3) He knows the history and sources of academic freedom, but believes them superseded in the U.S. by First Amendment jurisprudence. Which suggests that all manner of opinions will be heard—including Pipes’s, apparently—but he has confidence that the faculty of the relevant discipline will win out in the opinion marketplace. This seems incredible, but that’s what the formula implies: anyone can play this game.
Corey Robin: Age of Counterrevolution.
The last of my comments
I’ll add another example of reactionary academicism, from Eric Rauchway. His reappearance at CT reminded me. Here he is in 2008 writing about academic freedom “in this anti-elitist day and age”.

“Academic freedom predates free speech.” It should apparently therefore not be defended in terms of the free speech of the public, in language rising from below, but in language descending from above, in terms granted in the Kingdom of Prussia, in 1850.

Henry Farrell’s response is to question academic freedom as such.
Rauchway refers to powers of self-regulation; Farrell counters with the need for scholars to justify themselves to the public. From elitism to vulgarianism, from decadence to barbarism, without the intervening period of civilization.
If these are your “revolutionaries” we need something better.
If freedom of inquiry predates freedom of speech then it is foundational to it and thus foundational to the rights of the people. I was about 16 when I figured that out. My parents were products both of academic culture and the culture of legal activism (products and participants) but at this point it shouldn't be that hard for college professors to understand.

I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.
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