Wednesday, January 21, 2004

NAS supports Academic Bill of Rights 

The president of the National Association of Scholars has come out in favor of the Academic Bill of Rights. I've expressed reservations about this, but Steven Balch says I'm wrong:
Few scholars I've talked to disagree with this assessment, but several have expressed apprehensions about the propriety of the ABR as a statement of legislative policy. Their doubts revolve around fears of politicizing academic policy, encouraging legislative micromanagement, and provoking a "backlash". Although each qualm stands on reasonable ground, and serves as a caution against avoidable danger, none, I believe, comprises an objection to action. Quite the contrary, legislative support of the ABR offers a chance to effect overdue reforms in the best way possible -- by concentrating the academic mind on its need to retain public trust.
Again, if it's simply a warning shot to trustees, I suppose this isn't a problem, but Steve seems to be saying something more. And I think Eugene Volokh's warning bears close scrutiny:
I suspect that any attempt to implement this sort of "pluralism"-based preference system, especially under legislative pressure, would be corrosive and corrupting. Hiring debates focus more and more on candidates' political preferences. More accomplished candidates will find themselves set aside in favor of less accomplished ones that can be spun to higher-ups and legislators as providing more "pluralism." Candidates will have to spin themselves as filling some "pluralism"-based niche, and will have to rebut charges that they aren't "authentic conservatives" or "genuine Southern Baptists" (remember that religious belief cannot be the sole basis for a decision, which seems to call for allowing it as a partial basis for a decision).
I simply prefer the approach of Ward Connerly on race quotas -- don't ask about anyone's political preferences, nor their race, nor their religion. Just ask them who they are as individuals.