Thursday, September 25, 2003

Suspicious? Me? You betcha 

Many fireworks are going off around campus over the civility code. The faculty senate meeting this week had several senators wishing to bring it up but running out of time because of a letter of support for our committee on diversity education and our committee on diversity, anti-semitism and social justice. (The mere fact that there are two committees should speak volumes to how far off the tracks this place has jumped.) Apparently, even they are not happy about the civility code.
Our Committees share a concern about the centrality of "civility" in the drafted Diversity Plan and a grave concern about the proposed "Civility and Academic Freedom Draft" [sic] currently being circulated by the administration. This concern emerges for us from a number of sources. Historically, social concepts like civility have been deployed against people of color, the poor and working classes, against women, GLBT peoples, people with disabilities, Jewish and other religious minorities to silence and punish dissent ... When civilty is used as a principle of etiquette, the righteous anger of those who are subject to racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism and all forms of sexual violence, ableism, and ageism is represented as being inappropriate and impolite.
Yes, they really do talk like that. I'll save the rest for another post to make a different point. It's noteworthy, however, that the concerns they express have parallels in our concerns that the academic freedom that defended these very groups forty years ago are now being eroded by them.

Also in the meeting we received an unofficial set of minutes of a meeting between the union and administration from Sept. 11, 2003, in which the civility code was discussed. The author of the code identifies the primary source of our code as the civility code at the bottom of this bulletin page from IUPUI. They claim it is "in compliance with the AAUP guideline on academic freedom and professional ethics", though I cannot see how this is true, assuming they mean the 1940 Statement. As I noted in my dissection earlier, AAUP's own counsel doesn't seem to support this type of speech restriction, either. There are two statements that need to be seen to be believed.

[union]The contract says that any disciplinary action must result only from just cause. It definse just cause as an action taken with a reason. Do you seek to put lack of civility under that list of reasons?

[administration]Yes. ... I think there are instances where people harass and I think some action should be taken. My understanding is that the administration in the past has been held accountable for not taking action.

If the goal is to prevent harassment, then by all means prevent harassment (though I again refer to Eugene Volokh's commentary on workplace harassment law). But the First Amendment doesn't end at the university parking lot. And it's worth noting that IUPUI's civility code only seeks to buttress existing harassment law -- our draft document goes further to create a class of speech which can be punished that does not necessarily violate harassment law.
[admin]When people threaten or intimidate or are intolerant -- those are things addressed by this proposed policy -- not disagreements or criticisms but the way they are voiced.
How does one judge this? It is far too vague. I am intolerant of people who distort facts. I am intolerant of falseness. If I speak forcefully when people post complete fabrications in order to support, for example, continued antipathy over Bush and Iraq, have I committed an actionable offense? Do the people who fabricate suffer consequences for lying? One might hope the union would see through this, but the best I get from them is this:
I understand the word 'civility.' To me it is non-threatening. Given that we are human beings, it can be misconstrued. Whose interpretation of 'civility' are we to follow? We are all professionals. I have heard the word 'professionalism' here today. Would that be a more benign or acceptable term? ... It is a question of mutual suspicion.
Indeed it is, but the wrong turn you take is "we are all professionals." A professional academic has different aims and a different conception of professionalism than a professional administrator, and both those conceptions differ from the professional activists who inhabit our two committees. You will never get agreement on these; AAUP understood this wisely and decided that the only curative to speech we don't like is more speech.