Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
It would be better if Stanley just stopped doing what he is doing and went into another period of his life, at this point.

His theories on reader response have been self-contradictory for a very long time, and this seems to be yet another attempt of his to have it both ways without saying anything.

I would appreciate it if anyone could parse for me this argument, because yet again, there's the inherent contradiction of saying, "It's a necessary part of the profession, but not a moral right," when in fact the so-called safeguards that would encourage new research and new subjects would, by their very instantiation, delimit the borders of the possible new from the exotic new.

That has been the problem all along. No law could codify the frontiers of research. And that's precisely why academic freedom has been elevated to a generalized concept rather than a site specific concept to be circumscribed legally by universities or others.

Fish says, "In short, academic freedom, rather than being a philosophical or moral imperative, is a piece of policy that makes practical sense in the context of the specific task academics are charged to perform. It follows that the scope of academic freedom is determined first by specifying what that task is and then by figuring out what degree of latitude those who are engaged in it require in order to do their jobs."

But then who takes responsibility for charging faculty with specific tasks? Who determines the degrees of latitude? The fact is, this is a regular part of the job for academics when we set curricula, hire new professors, etc. We always configure and reconfigure ourselves accordingly.

God forbid that Fish make these decisions for us, because he is dismissive of many forms of academic inquiry. And the sad history of, say, Literature Departments (of which Fish is a part) in the USA would bring us back to some rather embarrassing periods (philology, reinstitution of classical languages to thwart the effects of the GI Bill, etc.)

by Upstate NY on Mon Nov 24th, 2008 at 04:57:35 PM EST
There is also a more practical - dare I say pragmatic - aspect: Universities don't merely generate new knowledge - they also train various specialists that are mission-critical for the survival of fundamental democratic institutions (lawyers, economists and newsies come immediately to mind). So if you want to clear the way for a revolution, a political purge of the universities would be a very good place to start.

And it's not exactly a paranoid conspiracy theory either. Quite a lot of revolutionary groups (and even more wannabes) during the last century or so have made law schools and economics departments some of their priority targets.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 04:02:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The sentence you quote is self-contradictory or not depending on where you stand on the issue, I guess.

As I understood it, in academic freedom the accent should be placed on academic rather than freedom - not a freedom in the general sense, but within a given  framework; and rather than a kind of civil right, more like means to achieve a certain goal within a certain context.
It's a position of principle, and this phrase is also relevant of limits and safeguards:

necessary to the realization of that mission must include protection from the forces and influences that would subvert newness and independence by either anointing or demonizing avenues of inquiry in advance.
Those forces and influences would include trustees, parents, donors, legislatures and the general run of “public opinion,” and the device that provides the necessary protection is called academic freedom. (It would be better if it had a name less resonant with large significances, but I can’t think of one.)

And saying that ...

It does not, however, protect faculty members from the censure or discipline that might follow upon the judgment of their peers that professional standards have either been ignored or violated

is a matter of common sense, in that academic freedom  should not be invokable as an excuse of or protection in case of professional failings, as exemplified further:

Holding faculty accountable to public opinion undermines academic freedom because it restricts teaching and research to what is already known or generally accepted.


Holding faculty accountable to professional norms exemplifies academic freedom because it highlights the narrow scope of that freedom, which does not include the right of faculty “to research and publish in any manner they personally see fit.”

Whereas freedom is a right and one stars with the assumption of it, academic freedom should rather be seen as a state, a way to avoid artificial blockages, a condition for exercising one's profession in the best way possible.

Philosophically too, one could argue that there should be only one kind of rights and liberties, the "human" ones, their declinations, and then conditions to exercise an activity to the fullest, but within a precise framework. I chose to see this as a bit of a plea against the over-use and abuse of the word "right" and "freedom".

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot franša) on Sun Nov 30th, 2008 at 09:29:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm really confused about what you wrote.

You quoted an article by Stanley Fish in which he prescribes certain guidelines which would delimit faculty research and writing. What does this have to do with professional failings? What professional failings are you talking about? Let's be specific here.

Stanley Fish is widely known as someone who is not big on cultural considerations when it comes to reading literary texts. The fact that he is keen on setting up some prohibitions is no surprise. That anyone would take him seriously is.

by Upstate NY on Mon Dec 1st, 2008 at 08:41:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series