Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Call for "Aggressive Oversight" of Professors' Ideology by Trustees

K.C. Johnson has written a screed against Bill Ayers that may stand as the worst thing he's ever penned. There is so much wrong with what Johnson says, from claiming that one misguided 2006 appeals court ruling ends all discussion of what is unconstitutional, to his bizarre assertion that trustees and personnel committees should use non-academic political writings from 36 years ago, rather than academic merit, to judge the qualifications of academic candidates.

But by far the worst part comes at the end. After noting the respect for Ayers' views on education among many education scholars, Johnson writes, "the harm that Ayers' approach has done to American schoolchildren will continue, without more aggressive oversight by boards of trustees around the country." This is an incredibly frightening attack on academic freedom. Johnson is calling for trustees to purge thousands of education scholars from every college in the country for the thoughtcrime of agreeing with Ayers' rather mild advocacy of small schools and liberatory education.

I despise Ayers' days with the Weather Underground, but we cannot punish professors for the politics of their past history. I'm not a fan of Ayers' views on small schools and similar matters, but I hardly consider them harmful to education. Even if I did, academic freedom requires us all to defend the liberty of those we disagree with, even when we imagine their ideas are harming the country.

We should all stand up against Johnson's belief that trustees need to exercise "aggressive oversight" of the ideology of left-wing professors and ban controversial thinkers from academia.

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