More on the Faux Nazi Professor, and Academic Freedom,

from New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine.

Dustin (mail):
I want to ask:

Should academic freedom be absolute? In other words, should a professor's job be safe regardless of any political ideology? I don't think absolutes ever work, though the author of this article seems to think otherwise.

If a professor of any subject were a KKK member or a member of al qaeda or a Nazi, even if she only participates in speech and at rally, and not with money or terrorist action, should that professor really be teaching our kids?

As Mr. Volokh says, most professors are public servants.

Academic Freedom should be a tall wall that endorces students and teachers discussing the most radical of thoughts and having very radical ideologies, but at some point, that sort of wall can be overcome by particularly poor ideas.

Which of course leads to fear of repression and all that John Locke stuff about free speech.

(and of course, if professor mengele really was being secrent agent anthropologist here, he could have let a colleague know in advance)

What do folks here think? Absolute 100% tolerance? 99.999&tolerance? Should professors let their deans or provosts know before they join the Taliban or Church on the Rock (joking, joking)? I'd say No, Yes, Yes.
1.20.2006 3:21pm
bigwhitehat (www):
Lights? I thought they needed Nuclear power for that.
1.20.2006 4:26pm
Kieran (mail) (www):
i think you mean nazi faux professor
1.20.2006 4:35pm
Sorry for being off topic.

I expected to see a discussion on the Maryland intermediary court's decision striking down MD's same-sex marriage ban: opinion. . .
1.20.2006 4:36pm
Tuch (mail):
Dustin: Absolute tolerance. If the Nazi is a good interpreter of German texts (and that's his field of study and teaching) then keep him on. If he is literary critic and follower of de Man, or an existential philosopher and an expert in Heidegger, keep him on if he meets the ordinary standards for retention.

If the faculty is collegial and the intellectual life on campus is rich, it could be that the Nazi will find reasons to rethink his politics.

On the other hand, if the prof (of whatever political/social/religious persuasion) insists on making his chemistry class listen to political propaganda (unless it is properly masked as a metaphor for some chemical reaction), I would not feel it an invasion of his academic freedom if the fellow got warned once and sacked the second time.
1.20.2006 5:18pm
JohnO (mail):

That's not Maryland's intermediate court, that is the trial court. The intermediate court is the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
1.20.2006 5:45pm
Dustin (mail):
Tuch, so absoulte tolerance... unless their thoughts betray their coursework, in which case we'll just call that a firing for something outside of academic freedom.

I don't think your academic freedom so long as relevance applies example is proper though.

No need for extreme examples. My astronomy professor once said that she'd like to see "this country knocked down a peg or two." That's really not incredibly extreme speech, I know.

She actually was an amazing professor, by the way. Probably my favorite. But certainly that is considered propoanda and it's not relevant at all to astronomy. But, as annoying as I found that comment, I don't think it would make sense to fire her.

On the other hand, if she had a swastika on her arm during class and said nothing, I'd think it a greater problem.

There is no reason at all why we should have a political argument in an astronomy class. She and I did, while I adjusted my telescope. It was a valuable part of my education.

But beyond relevance, I think there is set of views that , if held, should disqualify certain people. You note that a Nazi professor might learn a better way in a free environment, that perhaps the best ideas would win out (that Locke stuff).

That's not true though. The best ideas never win. No ideas win. In college it's all relative, all unserious ideas can be taken seriously and if I overcome an idea in clsas it will be taken seriously anyway by students next class.

And some ideas are dangerous. For example, Nazism. If a Neitchze expert endorses Hitler's interpretation of Neitchza as a great idea, that's dangerous.

Anyway, if the professor has an abolute right to hold those views, how does he have that right against me, the citizen. Where does that come from? The government can't forbid speech. But that's not the same thing as saying the government is free to speak anything as well.

Am I making my point clearly? As far as my sarcastic comments about the actual professor, I hope its taken lightly, as I don't care about him one way or the other.
1.20.2006 5:53pm
Mobius (mail):
I am a little disturbed about this situation for the following reasons: the investigation into the allegations seems flawed, which is embarassing for an academic institution; the political speech was outside the classroom therefore did not affect any of the students; and he had no history of violence.

"The neo-Nazis and the IRA generally don't move in the same circles, so that should have tipped off the college kids that something about the letter was a bit fishy." I think this was a pretty big clue to the accuracy of the allegations. You would think people with a higher education could use some common sense and realize the IRA and Nazis almost never associate with each other. I don't think extreme Catholics(IRA) and Protestants (the usual neo-Nazi theology, but not always) mix.

As I understand from the article, he never said anything in class or at school. He also did not have a past history of violence or radical thought. So the school dismissed the professor on mere allegations. This should be disturbing for any person employed by a university. To think that someone could make thin allegations and end your career is terrifying.

Sometimes I think universities should teach common sense to Phd candidates, but academics is also a business. You have to make or do outrageous things to get noticed among the thousands of other scholars and get funding. Pluss' stunt may not have been the smartest thing to get attention; he should have claimed to be part of the Federlist Society (tongue in cheek). But, it is hardly the most egregious thing I have heard of.
1.21.2006 1:21am
Mac (mail):
If a professor of any subject were a KKK member or a member of al qaeda or a Nazi, even if she only participates in speech and at rally, and not with money or terrorist action, should that professor really be teaching our kids?

No, but I'm sure that this college, as well as many others, would not have a problem with Al Queda. Academic freedom only seems to apply to wacko's on the left. (See Ward Churchill and Sammy (I can't spell his last name) at the University of Florida, I believe. Churchill is not even an Indian, as he said he was, and is still teaching ethnic studies despite the fact that by lying he deprived real Indians of the job. So, you lie on your application and you are a left wing wacko who despises America, your job is secure. If you are a right wing extremist, or pretending to be one, you are fired for "absences". And, that is academic freedom today.
1.21.2006 5:02pm
Paulg (mail):
Isn't the moral of the story "If you're an academic and you're about to associate yourself with a distasteful group for research purposes you should fully inform your faculty before you join the group".
1.23.2006 1:49am