Friday, February 11, 2005
Some Thoughts on Academic Freedom
The University of Colorado is a government enterprise. What happens there is a legitimate matter of public policy. CU has an elected board of regents accountable, first and foremost, to the citizens who put them in office. The administrators and faculty are employees, not owners. The school belongs to the people of this state.
At the heart of the Churchill dispute is the question of accountability. In their supreme arrogance, the tenured-left professoriate wishes to be insulated from outside scrutiny, accountable to no one. They see themselves as philosopher kings, oracles dispensing their great thoughts to the unenlightened masses.
If Churchill is any example, lunacy, paranoia, hysteria and hate are now masquerading as wisdom. If they want autonomy, if they want to make their own rules and do their own thing, let them start their own university and acquire their own funding. As long as they suck at the public teat, the public is wholly within its rights to attach strings to such funding. The higher education establishment can't have it both ways. I have no interest in giving such people a blank check, either intellectually or financially. Owens is right to criticize. The inmates simply can't be trusted to run roughshod over the institution.
The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. The CU Regents are not Congress. They can and should exercise their authority. And CU's tenure provisions aren't a law; they're policy. Freedom of speech is not absolute and neither is academic freedom. The assertion that CU instructors, as government employees, are free to say whatever they want with impunity stretches the First Amendment out of all recognition. Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein cites Waters v. Churchill and Jeffries v. Harleston as case-law precedents dispelling this notion. In Jeffries, a federal court upheld the demotion of a radical, black studies professor at the City College of New York who repeatedly spewed anti-white and anti-Semitic rants.There are appropriate boundaries of reasoned discourse, propriety, professionalism and decency that justifiably restrict speech in a college environment. When people violate those boundaries, be they teachers or students, there are consequences. Students who have been sentenced to remedial courses of sensitivity or diversity training for politically incorrect speech know this only too well. For leftist administrators and faculty members who have encouraged or countenanced this kind of Maoist reprogramming, ironically, the chickens - in the immortal words of Ward Churchill - have come home to roost.