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« My Tivo is going to overflow | Main | Sidney Hook on Academic Freedom »

February 08, 2005


A. Rickey

Professor Heller:

Is it your view that, in non-academic contexts, individuals cannot be fired from their employers for the expression of views considered unbecoming by those employers? I can think of a number of examples--again, sportscasters and coaches spring to mind most easily, but I'd hazard a guess and say a first-year associate at a major law firm who published Churchill's document online would be in considerable danger. Are these people protected by "only the most dessicated understanding of free speech"? My proposition is that academics deserve no greater protection, not that they receive any less than the rest of us.

But perhaps you are right: any concept of free speech that does not give a special status to tenured professors may be "dessicated." Of course, the insistence upon professional perogatives was one of the subjects of my post, so perhaps you'd like to explain why this is dessicated?

As for a straw man--it's notable that none of the academics I linked to is calling for such a motion of condemnation. My supposition is that they do not do so because they include his work within a concept of academic freedom, as the quotation from Hook in your very next post would suggest.

Now, I've done you the courtesy of actually answering and addressing your questions--indeed, in considerable detail. You have not, however, paid me any similar courtesy. Therefore, if you have a moment, might you address:

a) Why it was "intellectually dishonest" for me not to directly mention a point that is irrelevant both to every counterargument that I linked, and to your eventual counterargument. I'll grant you that someone might argue that Churchill should be dismissed if the comments were made in class but not otherwise, but I certainly wasn't addressing anyone who made that argument, and you haven't either. And of course, I have a comment section, so that anyone wishing to make that distinction is free to do so. Is it your proposition that in order to be "intellectually honest" I must address every possible permutation of a counterargument, and raise all facts necessary to do so, even in the absence of such? And do you feel that you normally live up to this standard?

b) Again, what is an armchair moralist? Given that the last time you accused me of throwing "ad hominems," we came to the thrilling conclusion that I'd committed grave sin by accusing you of being "happy" to post your blog entries, I'm wondering exactly how you qualify 'armchair moralist' as anything else.

c) You keep referring to "people like me" deciding that Churchill's statement went beyond a standard of decency. I have been fairly broadly inclusive in stating who should collectively decide what goes beyond a standard of decency, and multiple times said that it should be very broad, but not exhaustive. "People like you" would seem to have a pejorative connotation, but leaving that aside, "people like me" in my preferred paradigm includes yourself, Professor Heller.

So: do you really believe that all standards of decency in our society are fundamentally indeterminate such that a reasonable line cannot be drawn for appropriate behavior? Could you please state, for the record, your opinion on whether Churchill's comments are not merely stupid, but beyond what you think befits a scholar not in the content of his statements, but in his conduct?


I won't get between Tony Rickey and Professor Heller in this debate. However, Tung, I will respond to your original post with this somewhat related thought: What the hell was Ward Churchill thinking?

Assume you were a professor without a Ph.D. who had attended a mediocre (at best) university that no one's ever heard of; whose proudest scholarly achievements, apparently, were published were published by non-academic (thus non-peer-reviewed) presses; and who somehow had managed to build yourself a comfortable academic career, including tenure, at a major public research university. Further assume that you had, by appearances, committed academic fraud on more than one occasion* -- grounds for dismissal of even a tenured professor.** Given all that, how smart would it be to publicly make incendiary statements virtually guaranteed to cause a bunch of people to look for ways to get you fired?

Of course Churchill may value fame (even the bad kind) more than his job, or he may believe he can weather the storm, or that he he can make a better living as a notorious former CU professor, or something of that nature. But, prima facie, his behavior strikes me as bizarre.

*Contra Brown's conclusion, it seems unlikely to me that Churchill committed perjury, since the seemingly dishonest statement occured in the context of a brief. Pleadings are sometimes verified, but I don't think I've ever heard of a verified brief. Churchill might be subject to the Colorado equivalent of Rule 11 sanctions, but I'd be surprised if he committed perjury.

**Prof. Heller may object that the charges of academic fraud are merely allegations. Fair enough. But based on Brown's and LaVelle's papers they strike me as well-founded allegations.

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