September 23, 2007

Icons and beacons

Eric Rauchway has the best short commentary on two recent University of California idiocies:

In the Chemerinsky case, UC threatened Chemerinsky's academic freedom; in the Summers case, UC threatened mine--and that of everyone else who teaches here.

Nice bon mot, but I wish Rauchway had explained it more clearly: UCI Chancellor Michael Drake was violating Chemerinsky's individual rights as the primary consequence of his attempt to un-hire Chemerinsky as the new law school's founding dean. There were certainly other consequences (chilling speech and doing inestimable damage to the reputation of the new law school), but the primary academic-freedom consequence was individual.

When the UC regents uninvited Larry Summers, they damaged the environment of the UC system as a forum for all sorts of ideas. By pressuring the regents to withdraw the invitation through a petition protesting the speaking engagement, some UC Davis faculty were violating the principle that a university welcomes a broad variety of voices. While you could argue that the regents damaged Summers's reputation in some way by the disinvitation, and they certainly damaged their own reputation, the greater violation is to the university environment writ large.

I am guessing that some commentators will jump on the actions over the last week as evidence of an institutional double standard. They are seeing Summers as some icon of academic rectitude from his battles at Harvard. I'm not sure it says anything other than the weak-willed nature of the UC regents as a body, something made evident by their inability to oversee the extravagance of two UC presidents. While they're not as incompetent and corrupt as Auburn's trustees, they're not exactly watching the store, and the UC system suffers in the meantime

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Posted in Academic freedom on September 23, 2007 12:07 PM |