Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Too Noxious For Tenure?

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  Too Noxious for Tenure?, by Musa al-Gharbi  (Columbia):

Academic freedom was invented to protect scholars with reprehensible views. ...

A few weeks ago, at a National Conservativism conference in Washington D.C., one of the speakers, the University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, argued that the United States would be "better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically, at least in fact if not formally, by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that had failed to advance." ... Her comments echoed previous remarks that have, in fact, led many to brand Wax herself as a racist. ...

Each of these statements was met with challenges to the accuracy of her claims, public condemnations from her dean and colleagues, and widespread calls for her dismissal.

Many have described Wax’s case as a difficult test of academic freedom and its limitations. It’s not. Tenure and academic freedom, as we currently understand them, were literally created in response to another prominent scholar’s getting canned for making inflammatory statements on race and immigration. ...

[F]aculty members should be able to follow the facts as they understand them, wherever they lead — and describe the world as they see it — even if it runs sharply against the ideological and political sensibilities of the people who run the universities, even if it cuts against trustees’ or donors’ material interests, even if the positions being advanced are unpopular with other academics or the public at large. Indeed, it is precisely in these instances where academic freedom matters most. ...

 At every stage, people have attempted to censor scholars they disagreed with by appealing to the arguments now being marshalled against Wax. For instance, it was (and is still) argued that challenging white supremacy amounted, in practice, to fomenting racial hatred and division.

When the Temple University media professor Marc Lamont Hill argued for a "free Palestine from the river to the sea" during a speech at the United Nations, he was accused of calling for the destruction of Israel. There were calls for his termination — a Temple trustee called these remarks "hate speech" and declared his intent to punish Hill. However, Hill was ultimately saved by the same tenure protections Wax is relying on today.

Many others are not so fortunate. In this sense, Wax’s critics have the issue precisely backward: The problem is not that Amy Wax is protected by tenure. The problem is that most other academics, especially women and scholars of color, don’t enjoy comparable protections.

Rather than trying to circumvent the protections afforded to Wax — which could make it easier to also terminate left-leaning scholars on political grounds — we should instead be working to shore up and expand tenure protections to cover a broader swath of the intellectual community. We should be working to complete Dewey’s project rather than dismantle it.

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People have the right to say what they want, but it doesn't make what they say convincing

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Aug 8, 2019 2:52:07 AM

They'd better prove Professor Wax wrong - or come clean on fixing the situation: like Justice Thomas said, corrupt, degree-poisoning soft bigotry does much more damage than a hundred mean loudmouths.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Aug 7, 2019 4:56:23 PM


Conversely all Amy Wax has to do is show how she got her assertions. Why doesn't she do this? Oh, that's right - she made them up.

Incidentally in a law review article last year she labelled Mexico and all parts south as not being part of western civilization, despite those nations being founded and ran for centuries by Catholics from western Europe.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 7, 2019 2:46:05 PM

I think they would have to exclude Asian students from the exercise you suggest.

Posted by: Thomas Sullivan | Aug 7, 2019 12:30:27 PM

All UPenn has to do to discredit Amy Wax is to publish the stats on where minorities graduate in their classes. Just give the GPA percentages by race. Why don't they do this? Maybe because it will prove Amy Wax right. Bar pass rates back up her statements.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 7, 2019 11:23:11 AM