Congratulations to Minding the Campus for its forum on academic freedom. Saying something constructive about academic freedom doesn’t look all that difficult. It is one of the core doctrines of higher education. It has an abundant history, full of colorful characters, eloquent declarations, incisive legal arguments, and enlivening controversies. Yet somehow
O’Connor and Black spot the Big Silence in Zimmer’s account of academic freedom: he says nothing about the duties that faculty members must shoulder if they assume the “right” to academic freedom. High on that list of duties is the need for disciplines to enforce tough professional ethics. Because these days that enforcement has withered, academic freedom in the true sense is pretty much a dead letter—just another rationale for privileged people to do whatever the hell they want.
Adam Kissel, a close of observer of the
My friend John Wilson, a man of the left with a sharp eye for suppressio veri catches Zimmer on several inconvenient facts about The University of Chicago’s rough handling of several socialist professors in years past, as well as student dissenters.
And Candace de Russy (my board member) faults Zimmer on the opposite shore: he is so meek an advocate of academic freedom that he offers not a peep of criticism of those ideologues among the faculty who, claiming the mantle of academic freedom for themselves, ride roughshod over everyone else’s.
What more is there to say? As Candace puts it, Zimmer’s tone is “lofty.” But his writing is, well, creaky. Get the man a copy of Strunk & White, or Fowler.
As to the substance of his speech, all that I would add this to the comments already posted is that while academic freedom is of great value, it is still possible to blur its value by overstatement. Zimmer puts the value of academic freedom so high that it teeters in existential peril. Academic freedom, in his view, is the pivot of everything valuable in higher education. Dealing with “societal, scientific, and humanistic issues,” “the ability to investigate, invent, and give account,” “rigorous and intense inquiry as the highest value” (at least at