Student Protest and Academic Freedom

Instapundit points to an account of an interesting panel discussion on academic freedom at the Association of America Law Schools’ annual meeting:

[The case study] involved the University of Minnesota, where students had protested the hiring of a part-time Constitutional law instructor on the grounds that he was co-author of the controversial Department of Justice torture memo. …

Stanley Fish, a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, took particular issue with [HLS dean Elena Kagan’s] comments about “institutions’ core values” and with her admission that, in the Minnesota case, she would instruct staff members to select faculty candidates who wouldn’t provoke student protests. [emphasis added]

What’s taken for granted here is the moral authority and tactical superiority of students over university administrators. I was reminded of a passage in Allan Bloom:

The professors, the repositories of our best traditions and highest intellectual aspirations, were fawning over what was nothing better than a rabble; publicly confessing their guilt and apologizing for not having understood the most important issues, the proper response to which they were learning from the mob; expressing their willingness to change the university’s goals and the content of what they taught. As I surveyed this spectacle, Marx’s overused dictum kept coming to my mind against my will: History always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. The American universities in the sixties were experiencing the same dismantling of the structure of rational inquiry as had the German universities in the thirties. No longer believing in their higher vocation, both gave way to a highly ideologized student populace. And the content of the ideology was the same – value commitment. The university had abandoned all claim to study or to inform about value – undermining the sense of the value of what it taught, while turning over the decision about values to the folk, the Zeitgeist, the relevant. (The Closing of the American Mind, 131.)

A generation later, those students have grown up and occupied the campus buildings in a more comfortable and permanent fashion. The thought that a university should discriminate among values and form students into citizens by promoting some values and suppressing others (also a core argument of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale) got vocal support from the audience, but what kind of guide are “an institution’s core values” if the key indicator of violation is mere student protest?

RELATED: 2006 and the Culture of Offense, from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “In all of these cases, offended students looked to the administration to silence speech of others.” (via Joe’s Dartblog)

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