Academic Freedom-Michael Bérubé

Academic Freedom-Michael Bérubé [speech delivered on June 2006 to the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors].

A few points I liked:
THE PRINCIPLE OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM stipulates that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”; it insists that professors should have intellectual autonomy from legislatures, trustees, alumni, parents, and ecclesiastical authorities with regard to their teaching and research. In this respect it is one of the legacies of the Enlightenment, which sought—successfully, in those nations most influenced by the Enlightenment—to free scientists and humanists from the dictates of church and state.

I can’t imagine that Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa would be terribly impressed with Penn State’s Berlin Wall, or the bravery of those who built it. Nor can I imagine that they would think much of a putatively “conservative” movement whose goal it is to place educational institutions directly under the control of the state.

BUT WHERE ARE MY MANNERS? I’ve spent all this time on David Horowitz and the National Association of Scholars, and I haven’t even mentioned the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, even though its president, Anne D. Neal, has come all this way to be with us today. Last month, ACTA published a report titled “How Many Ward Churchills?", which consists largely of course descriptions adduced by ACTA as evidence that American universities are in fact infested by Ward Churchills.

I was asked by a member of the Penn State College Republicans whether I taught “both sides” in my graduate seminar on disability studies. In response, I mentioned the debate over what’s called the ethics of selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities, and briefly sketched out four or five positions on the question. My point, of course, was that just as it is a mistake to think that there are two sides to every question, it is also a mistake—and a pernicious one, encouraged by Horowitz, Balch, and company—to think that there are only two sides to every question.

If you believe in the ideals of the open society and the intellectual legacies of the Enlightenment, you should believe in the ideal of professors’ intellectual independence from the state—and you should believe that it is an ideal worth defending.

But sure go and read the WHOLE ESSAY.