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2/11/2005

 

sack churchill and tenure along with him



reading over dahlia lithwick's latest, i find myself wondering when, exactly, the primary purpose of faculty at our universities shifted from teaching kids to the production of free speech. i really missed the train on that one. crazier still, i sorta figured that a university prof had some obligation, tenure or no, to provide a reasonable facsimile of quality education to the people who bankroll his cushy little fishbowl existence.

but before i launch, a general comment on lithwick's approach. for a writer who alternately criticizes her subject as sophomoric, a hack, and possessed of a third grade mentality, she might want to lay of the *cough* john stuart mill on liberty quotes and the people vs. larry flynn unpopular-speech-is-why-we-have-a-first-amendment style grandstanding. maybe churchill isn't the only one who needs a bit more primary schooling.

ok, let's go.

note that lithwick studiously avoids the contention that churchill as a professor per se is undeserved of his fate. the man is indeed a hack, his scholarship is the basest sort of fraud, his me-tonto haircut and claims to indian ancestry are about as legit as jesse jackson's claims to ordination, etc. simply put, her argument is that tenure is and should remain a get out of jail free card, that while churchill doesn't deserve the bulletproof vest he'd been given, what's done is done, and in the long run the greater harm was in taking it away.

and why is that? because according to lithwick, tenured professors "must be allowed to say and write what they choose without fearing removal by popular referendum," since "[w]e can none of us learn anything...if our fixed notions aren't challenged." in other words, education and iconoclasm are synonymous. lithwick pays lip service to the notion that educational institutions are for teaching, but by teaching she doesn't mean the process of building upon previously established truths to expand one's understanding, she means the exact opposite: deconstructing students, tearing and uprooting what they've learned in favor of what's inevitably termed more "progressive" values.

what better means to that end than the tenure system itself? how better to insulate "annoying blowhards" from the prudent wrath of the american public if not through tenure? on the one hand we quote the latter day saint of democracy himself, john stuart mill, and on the other we argue in favor of an intellectual elite which can and must operate beyond the reach of all democratic principles, comrade lithwick? it's not the death of education that she and, of course, the education establishment along with her, fears, it's what they perceive as stagnation, it's being stuck in a country they don't like rather than being free to rear up future generations towards one they do. and this, naturally, is couched in lots of flowery rhetoric about the constitution and unpopular speech and the true meaning of Christmas yada yada yada.

ward churchill didn't fall through the cracks of the tenure system, he's the reason that system exists. as lithwick correctly notes, the higher-ups at the university of colorado never had much of a problem with his loony politics or third-rate scholarship before, he simply became an embarrassment to them, and, much like moves by the saudi regime to distance themselves from the wahhabist demons they've created, they will cut him loose. not because they don't like him, not because they don't agree with him, not because they don't think he was doing a good job, but because--let's call a spade a spade--things have gotten to the point where there is an excellent chance of him costing them a lot of money, both in lost tuition revenues from irate parents who will pull their kids, and from those who will refuse to send them to churchill's idiocy factory at all.

the solution, then, is quite simple: free your markets and your mind will follow.

locdog is glad he could help