Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Taking care 

The discussion of the last few days has been whether untenured faculty should take care in their utterances against their employers. Critical Mass sees "a big red DOUBLE STANDARD sign blinking inside my head." Regarding Cumberland College:
{The fired professor} didn't libel anyone, or make any false accusations, or behave in a criminal or indecent manner. He spoke his mind, and he said things that clearly needed to be said. He spoke because no one else was willing to--not even his colleagues with tenure.
We don't know that. We know he spoke his mind, and if what he said is true these things did need saying. But we haven't enough facts here to be certain that the accusations are not false. Just because the accused hasn't denied a false allegation doesn't make an allegation true -- there are any number of harrassment cases where the accused is found guilty because she or he chooses not to respond.
Critics of academe comment endlessly on the institutionalized spinelessness of the tenure system. They point out that what the tenure system does is select out anyone who can think for himself and has the courage of his convictions, and that it selects for those without convictions, those who conform for a living, who readily bend, in unctuous, Uriah Heep-like manner, in whatever direction the fashionable wind is blowing.
Agreed, but that doesn't in and of itself justify that professor's behavior. Later, Erin writes,
The fact of the matter is that academic culture is, even on its good days, little better than a sandbox when it comes to interpersonal civility. If every academic who ever made an out-of-order comment about another academic were to be fired for creating a hostile environment, there would be no academe (this in itself might be a good thing--but that's another blog).
And you wouldn't want it that way. Critical inquiry means, in part, a hostility towards that which is false, a rejection of it. The reason Brandeis said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant", that motto which graces the top of this blog, is that when a bright light is shone on the false, reasonable people of integrity will recognize it as such and will remove it with prejudice. That some people find such behavior obstreperous when the light is shone on their own falsity is not an indictment of the light: It is a testament to its great power.