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Higher Education Watch
Campus Chaos Makes Case Against Tenure

The New York Times has published a remarkable op-ed by NYU humanities professor and vice provost Ulrich Baer making the Orwellian argument that campus administrations and student mobs are justified in forcibly shutting down right-wing speakers because… this allows more viewpoints to be heard! A taste:

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

There’s no room here to rehash the case for an open marketplace of ideas and against centralized control of what viewpoints can and can’t be expressed. That case has been made before, and experience tells us it will need to be made in perpetuity if we want to preserve America’s unique free speech tradition.

But Baer’s piece raises another, more narrow issue: Why should academia offer tenure if it is not institutionally committed to protecting a diversity of opinion?

Tenure came into being in the late 19th-century as a way to protect professors from being fired for holding unpopular opinions. And it remains the case that the only principled justification for academic jobs-for-life is to protect the intellectual freedom of the professoriate. But this case for tenure looks a lot weaker if academia as a whole is not willing to defend the idea of free speech.

Logically, a university administration that no longer believes in free speech should proceed to abolish tenure. Professors, like Baer, who do not believe in free speech, have no legitimate argument for tenure—other than they want jobs from which they cannot be fired.

State legislatures could rationally vote to ban tenure at all institutions of higher education who do not commit to free speech principles. Because if a university is not committed to free speech, tenure is simply a civil service protection rather than a statement about how seriously a university takes the importance of the right of its professors to publish and say what they think.

Tenured academics who are arguing against liberal debate on their campuses should think twice. They may be surprised about where those arguments lead.

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  • Jim__L

    Bravo!

  • Beauceron

    “When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.”

    The problem I have with this is those “some people” whose humanity is apparently invalidated merely by a speech, are never whites or males. Universities spew out a steady stream of racial and gender based hatred and bigotry. Indeed, I think you could make an argument that, at least for the humanities, that is their primary, if not sole, output these days.

    If a university wants to restrict speech that impugns any race or gender, fine. Do so. But do it across the board. I don’t agree with it, but it’s at least a defensible position to say that, for whatever reason, you ban any speech that may be offensive to others or hurt someone’s sense of identity. But what they do is say things like “only the oppressed must be protected.” It’s a nicer way of saying we will protect the speech of non-whites and women. Say whatever you want about white men.

    What you get instead are people rioting at Murray’s speech, while, just to use two of many recent examples, a professor at Drexel feels free to publicly Tweet that we should “Abolish the White Race” or tweeting out Christmas wishes that “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” Or the other professor who Tweeted that all whites should “commit mass suicide” because they only exist to exploit other races. But that’s fine? Calling for the genocide of an entire race of people, or saying that an entire race of people should commit suicide is not invalidating their humanity?

    http://dailycaller.com/2016/12/25/drexel-professor-has-a-history-of-hating-white-people-and-wishing-for-their-genocide/

    • Makaden

      “…ban any speech that may be offensive to others or hurt someone’s sense of identity…”

      This isn’t even possible. Let’s not pretend otherwise, even for the sake of argument.

  • Fat_Man

    How do you “invalidate” the humanity of anyone without using some serious weaponry?

    • Fat_Man

      I suppose the little rhyme I was taught as a child: “sticks and stones can break my bone, but words will never harm me” was wrong.

      • Makaden

        In terms of how the social process functions, is the violation of the prophet’s image or name any different, in the end, than a violation of someone’s “humanity,” in the ridiculous sense proposed in our current cultural milieu?

        Either way, you get to burn stuff down, right? It has to be worse with the snowflakes, though. At least when you violate the prophet’s image or name, you know that you are doing it.

        • FriendlyGoat

          There is a little clarity lacking here in who you may regard as a prophet. But, as a practical matter, it is far worse to violate the image or humanity of living people than the images or names of dead ones. For future news stories, I’m anticipating the case where we hear this from someone arrested: “He called me a snowflake, so I blew him away.”
          It’s bound to be coming someday soon. You taunt, and you taunt and you taunt until you snap somebody.

          • Jim__L

            All the more reason to teach kids to have some perspective about names and labels.

          • Tom

            Should someone tell FG that his last sentence is applicable to his side of the aisle as well?

          • Jim__L

            It would be more fun to string him along and get him arguing in favor of reinstating the code duello.

          • Tom

            That’s on you, unfortunately, although if you can it’ll be hilarious. I’ve been blocked by the Goat.

          • Jim__L

            You’re not the only one with that badge of honor these days. He objected to my characterization of people who deliberately forgo children as freeloaders on society’s retirement benefits, and onto the blacklist I went.

            It’s actually pretty easy to get Progressives — any sort of freethinker, really — to agree to some really outlandish things that people with an actual moral foundation recognize from childhood as evil.

            It’s harder if they know you’re out to trip them up — they’ll catch themselves, and furiously backpedal — which is really amusing to watch too, although not as much fun.

          • Tom

            By what logic did he decide that that was block-worthy? I mean, I could sort of understand why he blocked me, I tend to the snarky end of things.
            But his TDS seems to be kicking in hard.

          • markbuehner

            You guys are approaching this the wrong way (which is to say, you’re approaching it the logical, just way, which is not the way the left is working). Its not about establishing objective thresholds of offense that cannot be crossed. That wouldnt work for the victimhood mafia at all. Its about the subjective feelings of the complainant, and their standing in the victim hierarchy.

            For instance, a white male might complain that a BLM speaker is literally calling for them to be wiped from the earth. Thats not a serious issue, as white males do not register on the victim hierarchy. On the other hand, a minority, transgender, immigrant might feel deeply emotionally attacked if someone questioned their belief in the tooth fairy. Now THAT is a serious attack on their personhood, and would be dealt with severely.

            If you get the impression this is about raw, naked power, you will be getting the correct impression. Trying to learn how to play by their rules so you can demonstrate that the rules are unfair, even ludicrous, is a losing game. The rules are fluid intentionally, and far from the point. In other words, its a trap. Its all a trap.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Tim McGraw is a country music artist who has successfully maintained a tough chiseled image over more than two decades WHILE performing a national service with certain songs he chose to record and make into hits. He has gotten away with saying some of the best messages ever put into modern American music. Here is one of my favorites of his—–from 1997. Please take time to listen.

            https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=tim+mcgraw+one+of+these+days&qpvt=tim+mcgraw+one+of+these+days&FORM=VDRE

          • Boritz

            That’s one.

          • Tonestaple

            Wrong. It’s until someone chooses to snap. Let’s not deny these precious children their agency: how we behave is a choice. If one is being taunted, you can either stick around for more taunts and take it like a (dare I say it?) a man, or you can leave. Either way, it’s a choice. And if you decide to stick around, best get a grip on your temper, which is another piece of old-fashioned advice that doesn’t seem to get handed out any more.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Please see my reply to markbuehner below.

      • FriendlyGoat

        OF COURSE it was wrong. If it was not wrong, the grown-ups would not have maintained libel and slander laws for their “big-people” lives even as they told kiddies a colossal fib in a little rhyme.

        • Fat_Man

          The odor of goat make me nauseous.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, this goat is a nice goat who has been agreeing with you on so many of your statements. How do you miss that?

          • Fat_Man

            No goat.

        • Jim__L

          It’s meant to encourage children — literally, give them courage — which is exactly what these snowflakes lack.

          They have aggression, yes. They have brutality, yes. But courage? Not so much,

        • Tonestaple

          Still have to disagree: If someone is speaking fighting words to your face, the best thing is to walk away. If said someone simply won’t leave you alone, it might be wise to call the police before nasty-someone pops you in the nose, but walking away and leaving the big mouth with only himself to talk to is best. The sticks-and-stones rhyme is almost always going to be the very best policy in individual disagreements.

          • FriendlyGoat

            We live in a world where the political right has enacted concealed carry or wider Constitutional carry of firearms in many states—-plus—–Stand Your Ground laws purported to permit people to NOT retreat from verbal confrontations and to use (firearm) force if they feel threatened by some escalation.

            While you are giving good general advice for minimizing potential catastrophes by walking away from nut cases when possible, I have this feeling that those on the political right are not, themselves, more intent these days on settling for a walk-away and a rhyme in any confrontations they encounter. Those on the left have to consider these developments.

            My comment on this had two parts. The first was that the concepts of libel and slander in law prove that “but words will never hurt me” was a tad insincere from whatever adult made up the rhyme for kids.

  • FriendlyGoat

    And what were those unpopular opinions which sparked the tenure movement in the late 19th century?

    • markbuehner

      I do recall university leftists were big promoters of eugenics around that era…

      • FriendlyGoat

        Okay. What else?

        • Jim__L

          Does it matter what else? Freedom of speech covers speech you like and speech you don’t like.

          At least, that’s what it means when anyone other than the Left pushes for it.

        • markbuehner

          What else what?

  • Joey Junger

    For people who constantly invoke Weimar Germany as a model, these guys need to bone up on their history. All of the initial momentum was with the Left in the street fights at first in Germany. The KPD would parade through the streets, let everyone know Berlin or Hamburg weren’t “brown towns” and they would beat and attack various people they deemed fascist (killing them sometimes). Eventually they started killing cops (sort of like Black Lives Matter), which caused the Kripo to swerve rightward from the precinct level on up. The left had gloated quite a bit about beating up Nazis (sort of like the Antifa and their memes about Richard Spencer). The left had only been winning the fight as long as they had, though, because the right had not yet started to fight. While communists were out parading in the streets, Goebbels was quietly putting in 19 hour days. Once the right fights, the left gets their butts kicked in pretty short order (at least in the Occident; in Latin America the story is different).

    My advice to this professor and to the snowflakes is to enjoy this time to gloat for as long as it lasts. Something a lot worse than Donald Trump may be on the horizon, and the boy who screamed “Fascist” may have a hard time getting anyone to come to his aid. I’m not endorsing the reaction, just pointing out that the left feeds the flames rather than trying to put them out (George Orwell knew as much).

    • PALADIN

      What is the Kripo ? What is Antifa ? Please answer and please elaborate. Yours is a much more interesting answer than I usually see.

      • Joey Junger

        Kripo is the Kriminalpolizei (German police). Antifa is slang for antifascist.

    • PALADIN

      What do you do for a living? You are knowledgeable.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Your last-sentence disclaimer of the “endorsement” didn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

      • Joey Junger

        That’s fine. I’m not running for office or in need of your approval.

        • FriendlyGoat

          It’s better not to mislead by vague disclaimer anyway, even if you’re not seeking votes.

          • Joey Junger

            Projection…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Interpretation. Your first post comes across as though Hitler was fighting “the good fight”, that he kicked everybody’s butt because the local Left was worse, that he wasn’t ultimately defeated by a somewhat lefty USA (Roosevelt, after all) united with a very lefty Soviet Union. Worst of all, despite your disclaimer, one gets the impression you are wishing for Trump and the “something worse than Donald Trump” coming next to rise up an absolutely smash liberal professors and snowflakes. I think you need a shrink,

          • Joey Junger

            Again, this is projection. (Not just the shrink stuff, but that too). Your initial comment was to the effect that I (meaning me) couldn’t convince you. I pointed out that I’m not advocating, merely stating something. Your response to my comment ignored that you had abandoned your own argument totally (that I couldn’t convince you of anything) to weird sort of suppositions about how I was trying to convince myself of anything.

            My initial post which got you so worked up was merely a comment on causality: that if one side attacks another, laughs and gloats about it, eventually this will come back to bite them on the behind. If you want to extrapolate from that that I’m the second coming of Hitler or something to that effect, go nuts (literally). But I think it’s worth remembering what Gavin McInnes said:
            “The demand for Nazis is much higher than the supply.”

          • FriendlyGoat

            I don’t think YOU are Hitler. I just think that you are spinning us with “don’t blame us for over-reacting very violently to whomever pesters us with that lefty, human-rights, SJW, progressive snowflake stuff”. And THEN saying, “But me, hey, I would never recommend such a thing. (I only brought it up to intimidate everyone not a Rightie)”.

      • Joey Junger

        I should add the caveat that I don’t view the extreme left as somehow less evil than the extreme right (this would make me evil in the eyes of my old professors, since they were Marxists). Until Lenin brokered a deal with Henry Ford for Fordson machines (needed for agriculture due to the death in war of so many draft animals, either for meat or killed as collateral damage) more than twelve million people died in the span of about six years (a lot of them slaving in asbestos mines or building railway lines). If you were in Germany in the 20s, your choice was between a movement that endorsed a nihilistic breeze wafting in from the East, or a counter-current that promised to keep the terror from engulfing the entire continent. The KPD and its leaders like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were enthusiastic fellow travelers whose love for the worker was all in the abstract. Had they not been killed they would have endorsed the mass extermination of “class enemies” when the tide turned their way. I don’t believe communists are less bad than Nazis, if only because my math and my history aren’t as bad as the average American’s.

      • Dale Fayda

        It did for me. Personally, I fully welcome the “endorsement”. It’s been a long time coming.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Of course.

  • PierrePendre

    Hayek said guaranteed job security for some meant less access to jobs for those who don’t have them which applies to the academy as much as it does to the union-dominated widget factory. The arguments against economic protectionism, so much in vogue now because of Trump, are equally valid in respect of employment protectionism. In fact, the academy where certain soft disciplines have been captured by liberals, prove the anti-protectionism case; conservatives don’t get in and nor does intellectual diversity. Liberal control of these disciplines is so complete that tenure is redundant anyway because nobody would ever be fired for his opinions in a monocultural environment where everybody agrees with everybody else.

    Ulrich Baer’s claim that platform X can legitimately be denied to speaker Y because he had already expressed his views at venue Z is no defence at all against the charge of censorship; it’s simply a weak endorsement of curbing free speech. An argument is a living thing as the accompanying TAI story on Universal Basic Income demonstrates. Support for the idea is catching on because it gets talked about more and more often in more and more places. The same thing happened with France’s 35-hour work week. It was rejected for years but never went away as a proposal and finished up being passed into law. Whether it was a good idea or not is irrelevant to the process.

    Baer merely thinks that some arguments are so subjectively repellent to him that he wants to prevent them being heard – i.e. he’s pro-censorship.

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