Friday, September 28, 2007

Deal or No Deal?

The folks at Phi Beta Cons are giving me a hard time for not accepting Peter Wood's "deal." Wood claimed, “In his earlier post, Wilson seemed to say that if conservatives criticized David Horowitz, he would favor the AAUP standing down from its absolutist claims about the freedom of faculty members to carry their political messages into every class, no matter the subject.” No, I never said that at all. There are no “deals” in honest intellectual debate.

Here’s what I wrote: “the AAUP statement takes it for granted that professors can’t grade students based on politics, and instead focuses on the cases where there is a genuine debate. O’Connor claims that the issue is faculty ‘compelling them to adopt certain viewpoints in order to complete assignments.’ If this were the main issue, the AAUP would have no argument with it. O’Connor and others who accuse the AAUP of creating ‘straw men’ need to read carefully the views of Horowitz, the leader of their movement and the man they refuse to criticize.”

So, I was saying that the AAUP has never adopted absolutist claims about the freedom of faculty. Faculty can’t grade students based on politics, and they actually have to teach the class rather than turning it into a complete political digression. And I added that conservatives should be criticizing Horowitz’s efforts at suppression. No deal, just two topics that coincided.

George Leef adds: “Wilson thinks he is entitled to do just about anything in his classroom, but if professors won't stick mainly to their subjects, there will be a reaction from students, parents and donors.” Leef is wrong. I don’t have a classroom (nobody will hire me, it must be because I’m too conservative), but if I did, I agree that there should be a reaction if a professor won’t stick mainly to the subject. By “mainly,” I assume he means that a professor who spends more than half of the classtime of a course talking about irrelevant political issues deserves condemnation and some sharp commands from the administration to do the job. I agree with that. What we’re talking about, however, are cases like Elizabeth Ito (fired for spending 10 minutes in a writing class criticizing the war in Iraq), or David Horowitz’s view that any professors who mentions the war in a class about a different subject should be dismissed.

Wood declared, “I was prepared to criticize David Horowitz, but I wanted a guarantee that the AAUP would in turn support genuine academic freedom, including the freedom of students from having their classes hijacked by political-quip-of-the-day instructors....” Does Wood want to fire professors who engage in a “political-quip-of-the-day”? Is he willing to also fire professors who spend a minute in class talking about football, or who start class one minute late? I'm not, even when I might disagree with all three examples.

Wood concluded, “Just for the record, I never thought that John K. Wilson would accept the ‘deal.’ I did, however, think it would be a useful exercise to put his rhetoric to the test. And it was.” I never offered any kind of deal, and I would never sacrifice the truth for a “deal.” My rhetoric has been thoroughly consistent throughout: professors, whether liberal or conservative, should have the right to express political ideas in the classroom. And we (conservative and liberal alike) should criticize anyone who tries to suppress free speech in the classroom, especially through legislation. If somebody thinks I’m guilty of hypocrisy or inconsistency, I’d like to know what it is. Until then, I think Wood is distorting what I’ve said and drawn all kinds of mysterious conclusions from it.

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