Day By Day

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Academic Censorship in Arizona

The insufferable arrogance and stupendous irresponsibility of the academic left has long threatened to marginalize our institutions of higher learning and to invite outside interference in their operations. The storm clouds have been gathering for a long time, and now the hard rain is beginning to fall in Arizona.

A State Senate committee last Thursday approved a bill that would:

ban professors at public colleges and universities, while working, from:

  • Endorsing, supporting or opposing any candidate for local, state or national office.

  • Endorsing, supporting or opposing any pending legislation, regulation or rule under consideration by local, state or federal agencies.

  • Endorsing, supporting or opposing any litigation in any court.

  • Advocating “one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.”

  • Hindering military recruiting on campus or endorsing the activities of those who do.

Under the legislation, the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public universities, and the individual boards of community colleges would be responsible for setting guidelines for the law and for requiring all faculty members to participate in three hours of training annually on their responsibilities under the law.

Punishments could come in two forms. The governing boards’ guidelines would need to develop procedures, including suspensions and terminations in some cases, according to the bill. In addition, the state attorney general and county prosecutors could sue violators, and state courts could impose fines of up to $500. The legislation would bar colleges or their insurance policies from paying the fines — money would need to be paid directly by the professors found guilty.

Read it here. [hat tip John Miller, here]

Critics like Miller argue that such measures would stifle free speech, impede the free exchange of ideas, and drive "good professors" away from Arizona, but in response I would raise two objections:

1) On many campuses and in many classrooms, free speech is already stifled and the range of ideas permitted to be expressed is already severely constrained. Education, especially in the liberal arts, has in recent decades come more to resemble indoctrination than informed inquiry.

2) The rationale for academic freedom lies not with freedom of speech, which is a general right to be exercised by anyone, but rather in the presumed existence of a responsible, self-regulating, "community of competence" which can be trusted to render objective, informed, and disinterested information and opinion upon specific subjects. But experience has shown that such communities of competence, an expression of late nineteenth-century Progressive thought, are chimera. There is no such thing as a disinterested authority, and the academic institutions and professional associations that are supposed to represent such authority have long since ceased to function, if they ever did, as such.

I think this bill is a bad idea, but rather than seeing it as an expression of overweening government power, or populist fallacy, I think it is a clear warning that the deep rot that has afflicted our institutions of higher learning and professional associations has raised a stench that is no longer tolerable to the general public.

A warning: The public will be served! If the professors cannot reform themselves, they will be reformed and our national academic culture will be impoverished even more so than it already has been.


David French puts the situation this way:

For many years, university professors have enjoyed a measure of academic freedom that is actually greater in scope than the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Persistent and arrogant abuse of that freedom is going to invariably lead legislatures and universities themselves to begin to roll back professors’ expressive autonomy. Sadly, the university establishment seems oblivious to the fact that their own abuses are leading them down the road of regulation, and they seem blissfully unaware that their employers have far more power over their expression than they dare to think.
Read his whole comment here.

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