Friday, February 11, 2005

Target locked 

Sean at the American Mind indicates that Ward Churchill has been invited to Univ. of Wisconsin at Whitewater. The president there has engaged in some muddled thought about whether the invitation should be rescinded, to which Churchill has replied that a contract is a contract and that he expects to be paid regardless. (Who enforces these contracts in Churchill's utopia? See if you can figure it out in his essay which he says has his final statement on 9/11.)

I hope Sean and others of the Badger Blog Alliance will go to Whitewater to liveblog Churchill when he comes to talk, whether it be the speech he plans to give or the other event he intends to create if UW-W reneges on the contract. I hope other concerned citizens will show up and listen to Churchill and then challenge him for his views.

If we believe, as I do, that the only answer to hateful speech is more speech, Churchill provides you with your opportunity to practice your faith. I hope you'll take it. It's hard work, of course, because the group around you may be hostile, and your nerves may be shaky. And many faculty who find Churchill repugnant simply lack the nerve to speak out about him. But what are your alternatives?

One of my students who listens to NARN wrote me a couple of nights ago about Churchill, commenting on something on Michael Savage's show that came on after our appearance on Hewitt.
Michael made a reference to the idea that the tenure system protects faculty from the true demand [sic] of society. Just wondering what your ideas on this were, and more specifically what you think should happen and / or would like to see happen to Mr. Churchill.

Many people are locked onto the idea that if the tenure system protects Churchill that it must be a bad thing and it should be torn down. I will stand by Eugene Volokh, Steven Bainbridge and Glenn Reynolds in saying that's a bad idea. In part I am fearful that conservatives are coming to love The Ring without understanding that the power unleashed in breaking tenure promises for repugnant speech would be used far more often against themselves. When Volokh argues for a hard rule "we don't fire professors for their political views, period," that bright line prevents a slide down a slippery slope. I don't disagree with John Bruce that Churchill's academic freedom is absolutely protected by the First Amendment, nor do I think would Volokh et al. But I think it's a good principle for us to uphold nevertheless.

Why? Academic freedom is a good to itself for the reason that it provides the university with its basic function. Bill Sjostrom and Jim Lindgren have applauded the Kalven Report which includes the statement that universities are by their nature "upsetting". If there are supposed to be new ideas, that's to be a major source. What is troubling about the university isn't tenuring reprobates but that we lose resources that should be creating new ideas that help economies and societies grow. The progress of civilization is marked by the increased unfettering of human creativity, and in universities we have a place in which we pursue that ideal.

I thought of this last night listening to the Hewitt-Beinart debate, when Scott Johnson asked whether the Democrats had any new ideas. Beinart unfortunately copped a plea -- in what I thought was the weakest moment of an otherwise bravado performance -- by saying they weren't introducing new ideas because they had no control of the levers of power. This of course is rubbish. Where are the Washington thinktanks that will support the Democrats' time in the wilderness? Years ago, they were at places like Harvard and Yale. Now radicals make sympathizers like Larry Summers walk the plank and hand over precious tenurable lines for another chair of ethnic studies, people who could not create a sound policy paper if their lives depended on it because they've spent too much time reading Derrida and not enough time reading economics.

The problem is that original thinkers creating new ideas for the Democrats are being squeezed out of higher education in many places by the Ward Churchills, the departments of {fill-in ethnicity or area} studies. The Republicans were able to respond by creating Cato, Heritage, Ashbrook, AEI, and a host of other think tanks where people could think and write. The Republicans had to do this because they were not welcome on American campuses. Liberals are, but to be a liberal on American campuses today requires you to waste enormous amounts of time defending the likes of Ward Churchill, and sacrificing a few seats in traditional disciplines to the Next Great Hope of Deconstruction (if Hope has any real meaning). When the Badger blogs go to Whitewater and observe Churchill, I hope they will take time to describe the people around Churchill. They're other faculty engaged in Communist-style showpieces, a veritable May Day parade that distracts them from doing anything else -- assuming they're capable of doing anything else. They aren't listening to the Progressive Policy Institutes or Brookings or any decent center-left people (like Beinart!) because they are too busy proving they aren't themselves racist and collecting the tschotschkes of feel-good radicalism.

And to my mind, to answer my student, what I hope happens to Ward Churchill is a mega-dose of sunlight safe in his cage at Colorado. He is more than a shining example of what's wrong with the tenure system or academic freedom. He's more than a caricature we can use on talk radio or FrontPage or the blogs. He helps to keep the Left busy in their masturbatory tschotschkism, taking time away from developing new ideas and challenging the expanding center-right majority in America.

We've got him right where we want him.

UPDATE: James Taranto gets it, introducing a new feature called "Spot the Idiot". Fish in a barrel, James. Fish. In. A. Barrel.