Sunday, July 8, 2018

On The Wisconsin Case Vindicating Campus Free Speech



Good short piece on court vindicating professor’s right to free expression and ordering University to reinstate him with full pay.

Professor strong in refusing to apologize for what he’d said as the university’s condition for him coming back to teach.

Even though university private, Marquette, it breached its own contract with professor in using his agreed upon right of (not egregious) free speech as cause for suspending him.

A prof:

I find this a difficult one.  I don't think McAdams should have been subject to disciplinary proceedings, but his action was one (a) taken by a professor with tenure against a graduate student instructor, (b) involved the unnecessary naming of the instructor in his blog post, and (c) seemed to be, at least implicitly, aimed at Abbate's rights as an instructor in *her* class (whether or not anyone agrees with her approach, or not).  Generally,(a) is the one that bothers me the most.


A few thoughts:

You acknowledge the central argument of the piece.

Now whether what he did was ok can I think be argued both ways: 

Normally, I wouldn’t think it appropriate for any academic to slag another (different from a scholarly disagreement). 

But what about something that’s so important that, it’s reasonably felt, it requires public comment?

Here the TA, if French has the account right, displayed a kind of close mindedness in and out of class in the face of a student who wanted to make a point, discuss the matter. It’s a close mindedness that cuts against what the university is about.

The student felt aggrieved and wanted to do something about it and found an ear in a prof who, I surmise, was known as a conservative.

The prof taking it forward perhaps reasoned that what the TA’s foreclosure did is a microcosm of a terribly pernicious larger trend plaguing humanities departments everywhere, that of an official party line on a range of issues and a party that brooks no heresy and lashes out where it occurs.

The prof may have reasoned, reasonably enough, that speaking privately to the TA or the department head would be pissing into a pc wind and that sunlight would be the best medicine.

Hence go public.

This account doesn’t seem implausible to me.

A few points that could be made against are:

The student was disreputable in secretly taping the conversation.

Is there any sense in which the TA was right to foreclose discussion on the analogy of a student in a relevant class wanting to dispute evolution or deny the Holocaust or argue that blacks are genetically inferior and so on? I can see at least certain claims about homosexuality being an utter waste of class time, beyond discussion and hurtful in their ignorance to others in the class. On this point, I’d need to remind myself of what I don’t have at hand—what the student wanted to assert. 

It may have been better, if he hadn’t indeed done it, for the prof first to have gone to the TA and talked it out with her, see if he could have talked her out of her foreclosure or see if she could have convinced him of her position and told her if she persisted in what he took to be an egregious position microcosmic of a serious threat to a proper liberal arts education, then he’d blog the issue naming names.

And the prof should have been concerned with the secret taping unless he could see his way to thinking in the circumstances, it was necessary. Think Lindsay Shepherd. 

I can imagine any number of nuanced rebuttals to all these points, but as my mother used to say with quite an edge to her voice, “Enough already!”

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