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Published on Sunday, September 16, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

Erwin Chemerinsky and the Post-9/11 Attack on Academic Freedom

by Marjorie Cohn

One week after renowned legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky was offered the position of dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine, Chancellor Michael Drake withdrew the offer, informing Duke Law Professor Chemerinsky he had proved to be "too politically controversial." Chemerinsky is one of the most eminent law teachers and constitutional law scholars in the country. Author of a leading treatise on constitutional law, he has written four books and more than 100 law review articles. In 2005, he was named by Legal Affairs as one of "the top 20 legal thinkers in America."

This is the latest chapter in the post September 11 attack on academic freedom under the guise of protecting security. Two weeks after 9/11, former White House spokeman Ari Fleischer cautioned Americans "they need to watch what they say, watch what they do." The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group founded by Lynne Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman, accused universities of being the weak link in the war on terror; it included the names of 117 "un-American" professors, students and staff members. A few months later, a blacklisting Internet cite called Campus Watch was launched. It publishes dossiers on scholars who criticize U.S. Middle East policy and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Earlier this year, the Bruin Alumni Association at UCLA offered students $100 to tape left-wing professors.

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/09/16/3877

Since September 11, 2001--again, for obvious reasons--many forms of mainstream liberalism have been denounced as anti-American. A cottage industry of popular right-wing books has equated liberalism with treason (Ann Coulter), with mental disorders (Michael Savage), and with fascism ( Jonah Goldberg). Coulter's book also mounts a vigorous defense of Joe McCarthy, and columnist Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In such a climate, it is not surprising to see attacks on one of the few remaining institutions [universities] in American life that is often -- though not completely -- dominated by liberals.

http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2006/ND/Feat/beru.htm

There are many other things wrong with Horowitz's [a right-winger] Academic Bill of Rights but time doesn't permit a full explication. Among the more obvious: If our colleges and universities are the breeding ground for leftist ideologues, where did the conservatives who are ruling our country come from? How about Harvard, Yale and Princeton, to name the more obvious suspects.

And what about the proliferation of right-wing think tanks such as the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute, and so on almost ad infinitum? The preponderance of scholars at these institutions were trained at American colleges and universities. How did they all manage to escape the clutches of all their radical left-wing professors?

Hey, wasn't Newt Gingrich a history professor before writing the Contract with America?

Forget the catchy title. The Academic Bill of Rights is nothing more than a quota system for political extremists so they can deliver their right-wing political sermons in the classroom. In case you think this version of McCarthyism has no place in the United States, think again. Several state legislatures are actually considering a bill to implement it. Closer to home, right here in New York State, SUNY trustee Candace de Russy recently asked SUNY's board of trustees to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights.

But this is just the start. Legislative enactment of the Academic Bill of Rights is beside the point.  Horowitz's real goal is to scare college administrators and faculty so they are less likely to raise tough questions or discuss controversial issues in the classroom.  And that's exactly what's happening.

http://www.aft.org/topics/academic-freedom/billofrights.htm



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 11:33:08 AM EST
There is the fact that law, history and politics faculties have always been the most delicate part of the system, and there is no way to stop an ideologue from passing his message, just as free speech cannot be regulated, no matter how many laws are made, but either allowed, or forbidden outright.
This is also why these faculties have often served as political tools.

On the other hand, cases of abuse of regulation of the academic freedom should not lead to the idea that it must be absolute. Academic freedom is not in the same category as free speech. If regulations are abused (by neocons or whoever) then they should be improved, and the community should act against these abuses. A more practical solution than conferring absolute academic freedom on grounds that otherwise it might be abused.

(let alone that absolute freedom, just like absolute constraint, is in itself abusive)

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 09:39:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The necessary tools already exist to contain abuses of academic freedom, in that exercise of it must be relevant to the topic at hand. If a professor teaching a class on geology spends an hour ranting about how global warming is a hoax or about how the war in Iraq is based on lies, he gets in trouble because he's not teaching the topic that the course description says he would.

If someone tries to publish an ideological screed in an academic journal, it gets rejected on the grounds that it doesn't contain new information and/or isn't topical to the journal.

These discussions of academic freedom in the popular press are not about such restrictions - because those restrictions already exist. They are about allowing non-faculty and non-students (i.e. politicians, pundits, belief tanks, etc.) to judge when the restrictions are violated and impose sanctions over the head of the appropriate academic authorities.

Peer review isn't perfect and doesn't always work as advertised, but that's hardly a reason to let the chattering classes (which I note tend to contain far more ideologues than most university departments) do an end-run around it.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 30th, 2008 at 10:56:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand this. If your field is political or legal, I should certainly hope that you are passing on your message. Otherwise what would be the point?
by Upstate NY on Mon Dec 1st, 2008 at 08:44:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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