Monday, April 19, 2004

Colloquy on ABoR: Movement 

I've argued several times that the Academic Bill of Rights is an attempt to turn two wrongs into a right. I've been puzzled by the position of the National Association of Scholars, our parent organization, which has at times sounded like it's in favor. But in the Colloquy section of the The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, NAS President Steve Balch has moved his position.
Formally recognizing the value of intellectual pluralism in adversarial fields, and deliberately multiplying the institutional sites wherein it can flourish, may be the best remaining course. The most direct way of doing that would be to allow distinct schools of thought within adversarial fields to organize themselves in a state of partial independence from their rivals, with some significant control over hiring and tenure decisions affecting their members. Academics of a variety of factional persuasions would then be at greater liberty to develop their positions and advance their careers free of the heavy peer coercion they now often experience. Some schools of thought might be unified by a philosophic sensibility, while others would find agreement in a particular methodological or subject-related perspective. Some might span a number of disciplines, while others would be confined to one.

Means of self-organization could vary. In a large university system, departments at different campuses might be allowed to reflect competing viewpoints. Within a single large institution, departments could be subdivided into semiautonomous programs, each exemplifying a distinct outlook. Alternatively, special interdisciplinary programs could be set up outside regular departments for the purpose of harboring a significant perspective that is underrepresented across the institutional board. "Perspective sensitive" programming and "interdisciplinarity" have, of course, become common in academe, usually with the effect of further strengthening prevailing views. Here, they would be put to a new and fruitful use.
Sort of a Balkanization of the departments, which I think breeds some confusion. (We have at least three psychology programs here at SCSU, mostly because these folks couldn't get along with each other.) But it does have merit, not least of which because it's demand-driven rather than establishing quotas for various groups.

As David Horowitz will be visiting Minnesota later this week, I think now is a good time to discuss whether it's time to move the debate over ABoR to Balch's vision, or perhaps this view from the Ithaca College Republicans, which still deserves more attention than it's received.