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 Volume 1.13  This View’s Column May 6, 2002 


         
   
What Kind of Stupid Does This Woman Think We Are?

The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Academic Freedom”
   
         
         
   

Recently, The New York Times ran an article on a “scholar’s pedophilia essay” and the stir it has caused. (The professor is not, it may be gathered, entirely against “intergenerational intimacy”.) The chancellor of his university issued a statement in support of “the right to hold unpopular views”, and academics of several stripes have naturally chimed in with proclamations of the necessity of academic freedom. Considered with other similar cases of “unpopular views”, this incident helps us to see that contemporary claims for “academic freedom” simply reek with blatant hypocrisy.

A Political Science Professor Writes About Pedophilia

I could have had a Milk-Up-The-Nose Moment.

You know what I mean: a kid drinking a glass of milk at the lunch table in school is startled, or is overcome by sudden amusement and can’t contain his laughter — or his drink, some of which finds its way up and out his nose.

Most of us learn, I guess, how to avoid such irritating reactions as we grow up. Had I been drinking anything, though, I would have had one of those dear Moments at the keyboard the other day while reading “Scholar’s Pedophilia Essay Stirs Outrage and Revenge”, an article in the New York Times, Apr. 30. Dr. Harris Mirkin, chairman of the political science department (yes, that’s right: poli sci) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is now garnering attention for a publication several years old:

In the article, an 18-page essay with 38 footnotes published in the Journal of Homosexuality [Volume 37, Number 2, 1999], Dr. Mirkin argued that the notion of the innocent child was a social construct, that all intergenerational sex should not be lumped into one ugly pile and that the panic over pedophilia fit a pattern of public response to female sexuality and homosexuality, both of which were once considered deviant. “Though Americans consider intergenerational sex to be evil, it has been permissible or obligatory in many cultures and periods of history,” he wrote.

(Some times, some places, certain activities are “permissible or obligatory”. So what? Slavery, ritual female genital mutilation, human sacrifice, and exposing unwanted infants to the elements until they die: these have all been “permissible or obligatory”, some where, some time. Actually, the first two are still practiced, I understand, in some Muslim countries. But that would be the subject for another column.)

The professor’s article — recently brought more into public light because of, apparently, the current Catholic scandals — has caused an uproar around the world. Both chambers of the Missouri state legislature have even voted to cut the university’s funding by $100,000 in response, “saying taxpayers did not want to finance such perversity”.

But Dr. Mirkin’s notion that our ideas about “intergenerational sex” ought to be more... nuanced... was not the cause of my Almost Milk-Up-The-Nose Moment. No. If you haven’t seen coming the small-step-by-small-step approach to legitimizing pedophilia, you haven’t been paying attention.

No. Here is the sentence that caused my startled amusement:

The chancellor here, Martha W. Gilliland, issued a strong statement supporting “the right to hold unpopular views,” as did the president of the four-campus University of Missouri system.

I said to myself, What kind of stupid does this woman think we are? Generally speaking, academia is the last place in America that welcomes “unpopular” views.

Darned Near Every Academic in Missouri Speaks Out

I wanted to see the whole of Gilliland’s “strong statement”. I found it in this issue of the UMKC Faculty Senate Report (covering meetings of Mar. 19, Apr. 2, and Apr. 4, 2002):

Our professors have a right to conduct research, publish their findings and exercise free speech, just as they have an obligation to teaching and to serving the best interests of the community. Institutions of higher education have no less an obligation to defend those rights, even if we do not agree with the views being expressed. The integrity of our educational system and our democracy depend on it.

While I personally find statements attributed to Dr. Mirkin by the press to be offensive and highly insensitive to the magnitude of this critical issue, the conduct of legal and ethical academic research should not be subject to censorship by a university administration. Peer review and the court of public opinion determine the validity and acceptance of academic work.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City supports the fundamental principles of a free and open society. Among these principles are the right to independent thought, the right to criticize, and the right to hold unpopular views.

The report also presents the text of the resolution adoped by the “Faculty Senate”:

We, the Faculty Senate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, deplore the attempt of the Missouri House of Representatives to reduce funding to the University because of articles authored by Professor Harris Mirkin. Open and free exchange of ideas, even controversial ones, is a fundamental tenet of all universities. Affirming this principle, the University of Missouri Board of Curators has stated in its Collected Rules and Regulations (310.010): “Institutions of higher education are established and maintained for the common good, which depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. Academic freedom is essential for these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth.” The same themes are reflected in UMKC’s core values which “encourage free, honest and candid communication” and “foster academic and intellectual freedom.” We strongly support Professor Mirkin’s right as a scholar to express his views and find reprehensible the attempt by the Missouri House of Representatives to stifle academic freedom.

Also, the “response” from University of Missouri president Manuel T. Pacheco:

Thank you for sharing the resolution. It certainly is consistent with what the Chancellor and I are trying to convey. I have tried to make the distinction between personal views about the issues and the right and responsibility of faculty to conduct their research unfettered by political or unpopular considerations. Unfortunately, that distinction is not often made by legislators and many of the citizens of the state. It is difficult for many to understand that everything is always open to both discussion and research. Please thank your colleagues for their expressions of support for this basic tenet of academic freedom.

And — if I have not already driven you too precariously close to having your head bounce off the desk in front of you in mind-numbed stupor by quoting these items — a resolution adopted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City chapter of the American Association of University Professors:

The official handbook of the American Association of University Professors, “Policy Documents and Reports” (1995 edition) states: “Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning. Universities and colleges exist not only to transmit knowledge. Equally, they interpret, explore and expand that knowledge by testing the old and proposing the new... Views will be expressed that may seem to many wrong, distasteful, or offensive. Such is the nature of freedom to sift and winnow ideas” (p. 37). A University professor also possesses the right to freedom of speech as provided under the First Amendment.

We, the members of the AAUP Chapter of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, protest in the strongest possible terms public statements by certain members of the Missouri House of Representatives which attempt to censor and intimidate Professor Harris Mirkin, and the punitive vote by the House based on these statements severely reducing funding to the University. Such actions constitute a reprehensible attack on the principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the integrity and probity of university faculty. They affect not only Professor Mirkin but all his colleagues at UMKC and all faculty in the University of Missouri system, at other Missouri schools, and throughout the U. S.

We urge that all those whose responsibility it is to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, including Chancellor Gilliland, the Curators of the UM system, President Pacheco, and elected officials in and from the state of Missouri, join us by issuing strong public statements in defense of these principles.

Assuming you have stayed awake through all that, if you can read those without busting a gut laughing, you must have more fortitude than I do.

The Real State of “Academic Freedom” in the USA

Sure, I can never read phrases like “Faculty Senate” without smiling at the smugness of wannabe-politician academics trying to make their machinations come across as high-minded patrician demigodhood. And anybody who has earned a degree could hardly take seriously the idea of the “integrity and probity of university faculty”. Especially one that considers the reduction of $100,000 from a $78-million appropriation as “severely reducing funding”. A reduction of roughly 0.13 percent. (The university’s total annual budget is $215 million, of which $100,000 is only 0.05 percent.) “Severely reducing funding”?

These are picayune annoyances compared to the real problem with these statements, resolutions, responses, messages, declarations, and announcements: they have no discernible connection to the reality of discourse in American higher education today, where — take your pick — conservative, Republican, traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian, and/or moral viewpoints are screened out and tamped down, or decried and avenged. (I do not mean to identify those viewpoints with one another: rather, I set them over against liberal, Democrat, “progressive”, non-Western, non-religious, and immoral.)

Evidence for such an assertion is easy to find — so long as you do not confine your searching to mainstream venues such as The New York Times or CBS: just today, for instance, two opinion pieces have been published, testifying to the overwhelmingly lop-sided bias towards liberal, Democratic views and individuals and organizations in academia; and, a fairly new weblog is dedicated, in part, to chronicling incidents of bias against conservative, Republican views and individuals and organizations.

Christina Hoff Sommers

Sommers gained notoriety (and infamy among feminists) with the publication in 1994 of her book on the radicalization of feminism, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. In an article in the Christian Science Monitor, May 6, she conveys her own personal experience at one university, then relates that to the larger situation:

In a recent talk at Haverford College, I questioned the standard women’s studies teaching that the United States is a patriarchal society that oppresses women. For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with a dissident scholar.... After my talk, the young woman who invited me told me there was little intellectual diversity at Haverford and that she had hoped I would spark debate. In fact, many in the audience were quietly delighted by the exchanges. But two angry students accused her of providing “a forum for hate speech.”

As the 2000 election made plain, the United States is pretty evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. Yet conservative scholars have effectively been marginalized, silenced, and rendered invisible on most campuses. This problem began in the late ’80s and has become much worse in recent years. Most students can now go through four years of college without encountering a scholar of pronounced conservative views....

Campus talks by “politically incorrect” speakers happen rarely; visits are resisted and almost never internally funded. When Camille Paglia, Andrew Sullivan, David Horowitz, or Linda Chavez do appear at a college, they are routinely heckled and sometimes threatened. The academy is now so inhospitable to free expression that conservatives buy advertisements in student newspapers. But most school newspapers won’t print them. And papers that do are sometimes vandalized and the editors threatened.

David Horowitz

Horowitz, the son of thorough-going Communists, was himself a radical leader of the New Left in the 1960s. Since then, he has been transformed into a crusading conservative. He gained notoriety especially last year by his attempt (often thwarted) to publish his “Ten reasons why reparations for slavery are a bad idea for black people — and racist too” as an advertisement in college-campus newspapers. In an article, May 6, at his own FrontPage Magazine, Horowitz tells the circumstances of his appearance at Vanderbilt University, then relates them to academia at large:

I spoke at 23 universities this spring and appeared at Vanderbilt on April 8. The invitation had come from a conservative student group called Wake Up America, which was formed three years earlier for the purpose of bringing speakers to campus. Despite its dedicated agenda, however, Wake Up America has only managed to put on four events in the three years of its existence. This is not because of a scarcity of conservative speakers ready to speak on college campuses. It is because Vanderbilt refuses to provide funds to Wake Up America to underwrite its aspirations. Vanderbilt’s attitude towards Wake Up America is in fact anything but supportive. Vanderbilt officials have treated the group like an alien presence from the moment of its conception....

At Vanderbilt, the university annually provides roughly $130,000 for left-wing agitations, including the visits of left-wing speakers. This is balanced by $0 for conservative groups and speakers. Ironically, the faculties of these schools are strong proponents of campaign finance reform in the political world they don’t control.

In the academic world, the situation at Vanderbilt is completely normal, with the exception of a handful of small conservative and religious schools like Hillsdale and Bob Jones University. At the University of Wisconsin, the Multicultural Students Association attacked the reparations ad I placed in the Badger-Herald last spring by attacking the paper as “a racist propaganda machine” — an absolutely unfounded smear — and attempting to shut the paper down. The MSA was rewarded for its bad behavior the following fall with a grant of $1 million to fund its radical activities. On the same campus, the Students for Objectivism receive a mere $500 in student program funds. At Duke University, in the wake of my reparations ad and the demonstrations that attended it, president Nan Keohane announced a grant of $100,000 in additional funds for student groups. When I spoke at Duke, which was a day after my visit to Vanderbilt, $50,000 of Keohane’s grant had been disbursed — $500 to the Duke Conservative Union and $49,500 to left-wing groups.

CampusNonsense

The CampusNonsense weblog was started a few months ago to publicize anti-conservative actions in American academia. The following complaints are noted just today:

  • the Indiana University website does not list the community’s conservative newspaper/weblog among its sources of “IU News”, and the editor of the Hoosier Review asks for an e-mail campaign to the webmaster;
  • one poster claims that liberals threw away dozens, if not hundreds, of copies of the publication of his conservative club (College Republicans?); and,
  • the editor at Brandeis University of a conservative publication relates the following: “So I woke up this morning to see the signs posted to my door, including a sign marking my dorm as the ‘office’ for Concord Bridge Magazine, torn down and replaced with the epithet ‘Republicans suck d**k.’”

What Planet is UMKC on?

Considering these testimonies from the front line, so to speak, the ringing proclamations from academics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City ring hollow, if not hypocritical. Rather, they don’t ring at all with any resonance to the real world of academia in contemporary America.

I do not mean to pick on UMKC: maybe it isn’t a hothouse of liberal doctrinal tyranny; maybe it’s a haven of intellectual diversity — something quite different from the kind of “diversity” that requires persons of different skin color, social backgrounds, and sexual orientation but precludes differing points of view, especially if they are anything but liberal.

I am sure, however, that various reports, and resolutions, and by-laws, and constitutions, of various faculty and student organizations at colleges and universities all across the country are replete with glowing praise of “academic freedom” and “the advancement of truth”, and with assertions that “everything is always open to both discussion and research”. All of which have little, or nothing, to do with what is really happening in political, social, religious, and moral discourse at their illustrious institutions — except to keep the truth from getting through, perhaps even to themselves.

When this deplorable situation finally improves — when one can read a news report about widespread intellectual debate at colleges concerning important matters like, say, race relations and sexual behavior and marriage & family — that too will be a Milk-Up-The-Nose Moment. But one quite worth having.

ELC 2002

   


 Volume 1.13 This View’s Column May 6, 2002 





The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”