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January 29, 2006

Posted by Patrick at 11:05 AM * 48 comments

Michael Bérubé on academic freedom: what it is, how it’s under attack, and why it matters. You must read this post.

Comments on Cornerstone:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:11 PM:

Bérubé's take on the subject is eloquent, sharp, and I think largely correct. I wonder what somebody like David Horowitz would make of the *student* responses to a question I asked in class: 'What would Confucius think of George W. Bush?'. The question was appropriate, relevant to the subject (political theory), and open ended (the students, not I, were given the responsibility for interpreting Confucian thought). I expect I'd be condemned as one of those dastardly liberal professors who seeks to indoctrinate students by broadening the canon, and introducing them to thinkers who are, ahem, conservative in a different way from Saxby Chambliss.

The purpose of a liberal education, after all, is to develop the mental faculties of free people and prepare them for adult citizenship. That means dealing with conflicting ideas and letting the students come to grips with them. This semester, for example, I'm teaching Marx. I'm also teaching Edmund Burke (though some students seem to be paying less attention the others, I just got back a quiz in which several students decided that Burke viewed society as a contract of the living, the dead, and the undead, and others decided that Burke saw the social contract as being among the good the bad and the ugly), Robert Nozick, and Thomas Carlyle. I suspect though, that someone like David Horowitz would focus on the fact that I'm also teaching Marx, W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Simone de Beauvoir, Malcolm X and Rastafarian thought as proof that I'm engaged in indoctrination.

#2 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:12 PM:

Once again, figures never lie but liers always figure.

#3 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 03:11 PM:

See also

#4 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Tuned into my local fox station cause Howard Dean was scheduled on Chris Wallace's show. The broadcast was interrupted by Directv due to technical difficulties. Problem was cleared up for the Thune interview. Could anyone see the Howard Dean interview?

#5 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:08 PM:

(about 14th-century Muslim intellectual life) "At this time it is as impossible to explain the growing conservatism of Muslim intellectuals as it is to explain the increasing creativity of European intellectuals....Another element is that fact that Muslim philosopher-scientists required the patronage of rulng families for their economic support, whereas, by the 12th century, European scholars were beginning to organize into autonomous universities. European scientists and philosophers enjoyed legal protection as communities of scholars. They benefitted from the exchange of ideas and the criticism that came from belonging to a faculty, and they could respond to threats to their livelihood by going to court. Muslim scholars, however were attached individually to the palaces of ruling dynasties....If their ideas were criticized by local religious leaders or by public opinion, the patron usually found it expedient to dismiss them."
-Egger, Vernon O., A History of the Muslim World to 1405

It is the very idea that things can or ought to be true in any way other than "This fits my pre-existing view of the world" that is under attack, and the institutions that support and defend that idea.

#6 ::: Little Mr Square Eyes ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:45 PM:

...students decided that Burke viewed society as a contract of the living, the dead, and the undead, and others decided that Burke saw the social contract as being among the good the bad and the ugly...

At the risk of being accused of wool gathering, I’ll give points to anyone attempting to use Joss Whedon and Sergio Leone as primary sources in a political theory class.

#8 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Mr. Square Eyes, those sound like false choices on a multiple-choice test to me. Of course, as someone who once listed "Martini and Rossi" and "Guido Sarducci" as possible answers to "who else besides Caesar was in the First Triumvirate?" I may be reading too much into it.

#9 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:55 PM:

I'll share this in other places -- a very interesting article.

#10 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 06:01 PM:

...who else besides Caesar was in the First Triumvirate?

Marconi and Crepitus.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Mr Square Eyes and Lila: Those were wrong answers on a multiple choice test. I have found that no matter how obviously dumb a wrong answer I put on a test -- and I use multiple choice tests only as a tool to keep the students noses in the books -- someone who feels that studying is a waste of time will pick the dumbest possible answer.

#12 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 06:29 PM:

...who else besides Caesar was in the First Triumvirate?

Ernesto and Julio? Mondavi and Sebastiani?
(I think I know the right answer, but that's a different matter.)

#13 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 07:24 PM:

Others may have problems with the oregonian URL above. The site may have something to stop direct linking. It's an editorial of January 23, 2006 entitled 'OSU academic freedom survives brush with fire', on a controversy at Oregon State University's College of Forestry about an attempt to stop publication of a graduate student's research on logging after wildfires, which might help your search. The incident seems to have a fair few stories about it in there.

Also pertinent is the start of a series of columns by John Terry (January 29, 2006) on the history of the 'red squad' in Portland. It reminds me of one of my arguments against the "you don't have to worry if you're not doing anything wrong" fallacy.

#14 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 08:21 PM:

While we're on the subject; Daniel Ellsberg's interview posted at Daily Kos lays out a chilling scenario for the United States to turn into a dictatorship within 3 years. No more Bill of Rights. A draft. A standing army which Bush will then send into Iran, Syria, North Korea... Nuclear testing. Martial law. Camps for Muslims and muslim sympathizers. An "Official Secrets Act" a la the UK. (Turns out Congress actually passed one of these in Clinton's last term. Did you know that? I didn't. Clinton vetoed it.) No free press, of course.

If you have problems with depression, make sure you're not out of your meds before you read this. But do read it.

#15 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:05 PM:

...who else besides Caesar was in the First Triumvirate?

Two of the social sins: Pompous and Crass.

#16 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:30 AM:

An "Official Secrets Act" a la the UK.

From its placement in the list you give the impression that this is the final step towards creating a dictatorship, in which case the UK is in serious trouble. I don't really see why the OSA should be such a terrible thing - I'm amazed the US doesn't have one. And yes, I have signed the thing myself.

Without meaning to offend anyone here, my feeling since I've been in the US (only about six months) is that it is *less* free than the UK - but that may just be the impression I get as an immigrant. Remember that the fuss about phone-tapping is about whether the NSA has the right to spy on its own citizens: I haven't heard anyone question the US government's right to spy on me. Or, for that matter, to take my fingerprints and a photograph every time I go in and out of the country. Or is this only reasonable? Quite possibly it is how Britain treats its immigrants too.

I don't know that I have a real argument here, and I'd be delighted if someone could help me get to what I think I mean. There is a very strong ideology of freedom in the US, but somehow to me it feels less free. Is this just the universal condition of being foreign? Or maybe it is just that the academic culture is much more under attack.

Fragano: you teach in the UK, right? I never felt under much pressure to watch my political stance in classes, but maybe I was always too junior. In any case, does anyone think the US is *already* less free than (say) the UK, preferably with arguments to back it up?

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:12 AM:


As a foreigner in the UK (for another fortnight, anyway), I can tell you that the US is much, much more intimidating to foreigners. My husband is fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned closely whenever we come into the US, even though he is married to an American citizen.

When I come into the UK on my American passport, I too go to a separate queue. In smaller regional aiports (like Edinburgh), we Johnny Foreigners wait till the EU citizens are through, then get one-by-one interviews with the lone immigration official. But they are more friendly from the outset (I suspect they can get quite intense if you aren't a permanent resident), and there is no photography or fingerprinting.

It was actually a UK immigration official who suggested that I apply for citizenship, when he was interviewing me at Stansted Airport.

As for the feeling of less freedom, yes, I feel that way when I go back to the US too. I feel it as a compression of the range of allowable discourse. There are things you simply cannot say in polite company. I remember the first time my (now) father in law said, in dinner table conversation, "Of course, I'm a socialist." I nearly dropped my fork.

And the borders of acceptable expression feel like they're narrowing. The whole "dissent = treason" meme is only notable because it's a rapid closing in, rapid enough that it calls attention to itself.

I can't point to solid facts here, but I have the same feeling in my gut that candle does.

#18 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:30 AM:

@ candle: The last time I was in the UK (2004) I just had to show a passport and return ticket.

The reason an OSA is terrible is that it allows governments to take things that should be discussed off the table by unilaterally declaring them "state secrets."

In the US, there is a schedule of classified documents, and rules under which documents may be classified. It's still horribly overused, but it does prevent some of the worst abuses.

#19 ::: Erick Oppeen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:02 AM:

A big part of why I'm not as sympathetic as might be expected is that too much of academia has become, IMNSHO, an intellectual monoculture...and that the academics themselves have made it this way. There's an interesting book, Profscam (don't remember the author's name, but check that talks about this, as well as other things wrong with American higher education.

Friends of mine who've been there say that any hint at all of political views that aren't left-of-centre can be the kiss of death for any hope of a tenured position. Meanwhile, there are professors who spend their time ranting about W-the-Antichrist instead of teaching what they're supposed to be teaching.

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 11:44 AM:

For whatever it may be worth, the only professors I had who pushed political views at students were my freshman American History prof who specialized in the environmental movement (and that was the only part of it that was pushed), and the English prof who taught Latin. He was more objectionable, even to my (liberal-leaning) mind: the first 'discussion of Roman civilization' on the schedule turned into 'the Romans were bad and we're not because they had slaves and we don't'; I skipped the other discussion days.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Candle: I teach in the US (I am, however, a citizen of the UK, and I got here via's a long story). In the fair city of Etlanna, as a matter of fact.

I wouldn't say the US was 'less free' than the UK. I'd say, rather, that right now the country is going through one of its periodic fits of paranoia and that it will eventually return to sanity.

#22 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:18 PM:

Colour me impressed at the strength and specificity of your examples, Erick. 'Friends of mine say,' and 'There are professors who,' indeed. Care to provide concrete references?

Michael Berube had a lovely response to this concern in his post:

Now, about all those liberals in the universities....So college faculties are full of liberals—isn’t this like saying “dog bites man”? ...Many people, it seems, aren’t surprised or outraged by this at all; they expect college faculties to be full of liberals the way they expect country clubs or corporate boardrooms to be full of conservatives; it’s just the way the world is divvied up. They get the money and the power and the finely manicured golf courses, and we get the survey classes on the American novel. Personally, I don’t see why conservatives would be complaining about this arrangement.

My take on this is that there is a paucity of conservatives in academia because of the level of intellectual dishonesty that would be required of them: 'Wait a minute - you believe in laissez-faire capitalism and America uber alles but you took a serious paycut to teach other people's children and your paycheque comes from an institution whose purpose is to be a crossroads of ideas and knowledge rather than to perpetuate a single canon of the 'right' ideas?'

Doesn't really work, does it?

#23 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:43 PM:

My take on this is, "I've been out of academia a long time."

I mean, I took a job on an army base and I expected a monoculture. I was wrong.

#24 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:49 PM:

Eric, I have spent umpty-ump years (thirty four, to be exact) in academia, both as a student and a librarian. I have found a great deal of political variation in the faculty ranks. Actually, the correct division should not be "liberal" and "conservative" but "normal" and "crank." There are many subdivisions within each phylae, of course.
Of course, most share one trait: they are, let's just say, unhappy with sloppy thinking.

#25 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:08 PM:

Fragano Ledgister: I hope your optimism is borne out.

On immigration officials: the most intense questioning I've ever had was at Montréal's Dorval Airport, because the landing card had the length of my stay as "0 days". Y'see, we were connecting to a Paris flight; there weren't any frequent flyer seats on the BOS-CDG nonstop. That was fairly painless, even so.

Before acquiring my Irish citizenship, entering the UK was always still very easy, mirroring abi's experiences; I'm sure it helped that, while not a permanent resident, I was married to a British citizen. (There's no real incentive to overstay on a tourist visit when you can be admitted for residence easily.) Now it's even easier, since the "locals" line includes EU/EEA nationals.

#26 ::: Jess Nevins ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:23 PM:


Come visit the universities in Texas. The one I work at, there's a philosophy professor who goes off on tangents, during lectures, about "the homosexual conspiracy."

He's hardly the only one here who holds those views or makes a point of inserting them into his lectures.

And he's not unusual in academia in the South, either.

#27 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:36 PM:

Erick, did you even read the article? he addresses several of your anecdotal grumbles with specific and concrete details.

If you disagree, you'd do well to respond in kind -- with specifics, with intelligent discourse, anticipating and addressing potential objections, and altogether being intelligent.

That would make the discussion a great deal more fun than it is making generalised statements that read like you didn't even look at the post before objecting.

#28 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:59 PM:

Thanks for the responses. I should probably say that last time I entered the US (after a conference in Montreal), I had forgotten to bring with me one of my multiple immigration documents. Now, I still don't see why I need to carry all the paperwork I used to apply for my visa *in addition to* the visa itself (plus passport and ticket, etc.), and I was mildly obnoxious to the US immigration people about this. This was partly because they had pulled me aside and kept me waiting in a side office but in full view of the rest of the people going through immigration, in what I took to be an effort to intimidate me. But I was wrong and they were right, and they were very nice about it (even to the point of waiving the usual fee and presentation-of-documents-later, or so they said). Of course, it might have been different had I not been a physically unthreatening, white, English liberal arts professor.

But what I'm saying is, I haven't actually had any bad experiences with immigration officials. I still resent being asked to give them fingerprints and the rest, though. But then, I resent the people at Safeway expecting me to sign up for a loyalty card, or websites trying to save cookies onto my browser. I suppose I'm not a little paranoid myself.

But yes, I suppose what I really mean is something like what Abi suggested: there seems to be a smaller range of acceptable discourse. And yet, politics does get brought in when it isn't relevant or at least when it is secondary to the pedagogical aim. Faculty meetings at my college did indeed used to degenerate into rants about GWB, which I can imagine made some people feel uncomfortable. Similarly, I'd feel uncomfortable working at CSU Fresno, where two of the three classics professors write for the Weekly Standard. But in Britain I don't think this would occur to me. I suppose this means that in America politics is taken much more seriously as a determinant of identity - which might be why it is more dramatic here to announce yourself as a socialist. In Britain you are supposed to smile politely and get on with the stuff you have in common. (I'm not saying this is always a good thing.)

So anyway, there does seem to be a monoculture in my college, in the arts at least, and especially in the English department. And it looks as though the response of conservatives in the arts is to create a rival political monoculture of their own. This doesn't seem especially helpful.

But then, when I worked in the MoD there was a definite conservative monoculture (well, mostly). I suppose the obvious answer, as someone said, is that convinced capitalists very rarely go into careers which involve a high level of public service and a relatively low salary, and socialists rarely choose to work in the defence industry.

In the US, there is a schedule of classified documents, and rules under which documents may be classified.

Isn't this also true in the UK? The OSA prevents government workers from revealing classified information (if it is not demonstrably in the public interest to do so), but AFAIR it doesn't make it easier to classify things in the first place.

#29 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 03:42 PM:

The articles on the Oregon State imbroglio are all here. (they do ask for zip code, year of birth, and m/f). It's a perfectly awful mess, with Oregon State professors trying to prevent Science from publishing a paper that had already been referreed and accepted.

#30 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 04:25 PM:

Erick -- I don't think "kiss-of-death" is what happens most places. We have a prof here with very strong libertarian/conservative views on a certain subject. And yes, he has been marginalized by his department, and he does claim that's why. But the real reason is because of where he falls on the normal/crank continuum Emma describes. If he hadn't written that very unfortunate letter to the editor...well, people don't forget something like that, and if I wasn't posting under my real name I would give you enough lurid details that you'd see why. (Now as to why it got published in the first place, well, he was exercising his academic freedom and so was the student newspaper. Although they were probably pleased to have something a bit more sensational than usual to print...)

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Christopher Davis: I hope my optimism is justified too.

Candle: What I've noticed is that the 'conservative' academic monoculture turns into a parody of the 'liberal' monoculture. Of course, there are different monocultures within the allegedly liberal academy -- at the institution where I work, for example, not to be Afrocentric is to be out of step. And I happen to be of the opinion that Afrocentrism is simply Eurocentrism in a darker skin. That said, I haven't had any ideological conflicts with my colleagues, though a saying Louis Farrakhan was a fascist.

#32 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 05:56 PM:

What I've noticed is that the 'conservative' academic monoculture turns into a parody of the 'liberal' monoculture.

Yes, I think that's part of what I meant. Partly it's because a backlash is often more severe than what gave rise to it, and partly because feeling embattled will make you more determined to control the parts you think you can control.

Of course, there are different monocultures within the allegedly liberal academy...

And yes, that's entirely true. As someone who teaches in both Classics and Religion I am quite used to working alongside groups which focus on reception, queer theory, "Black Athena", and other supposed liberal excesses, and I have also worked with bishops (Catholic and Anglican), evangelicals and Tories. And all of these groups do tend to stick together. But again, I can't help but feel that all of these cultures tend to be more vocal and insular than in the UK.

But perhaps at this point I'm only repeating Berube's point, that academic freedom (redefined as a political matter) is a big issue in the US right now, and less so elsewhere. Certainly I don't feel under pressure as regards anything I might publish. This may be because I haven't yet worked out how my political beliefs relate to what I work on.

#33 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 07:34 PM:

Friends of mine who've been there say that any hint at all of political views that aren't left-of-centre can be the kiss of death for any hope of a tenured position. Meanwhile, there are professors who spend their time ranting about W-the-Antichrist instead of teaching what they're supposed to be teaching.

That's crap. There's no other word for it.

I'm in the trenches; I'm a student at UCLA, the school attacked by this moronic site. I've attended three other universities, here and abroad, and taught at five institutions, public and private.

There is no unified political agenda in higher ed. Sure, there are faculty who think the class room is their opportunity to proselytize but they are in a minority--one or two out of an entire faculty at most schools. Students know darn well who they are, and the word is out--avoid these people (unless the faculty in question are also regarded as easy).

The faculty I know best on that site are a leading Shakespeare and Jonson scholar, and a Yeats scholar--both good teachers, and top notch scholars, both of whom encourage independent thinking. I've never seen either bring politics or religion (or anything else) to a class where it didn't directly relate to the text at hand--and I know their work both as a student and as the staff member who prepared their web sites. These are good teachers, and good scholars.

What's more, every college or university that's accredited by a respected agency in the U.S. offers anonymous evaluation of all teaching staff by the students--we'd see a lot more comments on student evaluations about inappropriate classroom behavior then we do, were it as common as various folk seem to think it is.

It really isn't that common; in fact generally, there are more inappropriate comments by students about the physical appearance of teachers (male and female) than there are complaints about "liberal bias" or any bias. Such complaints are taken very very seriously indeed--and if there's a pattern of them, well, chairs and tenure committees and advancement committees, they tend to notice those things, and not in a good way. One of the goals of higher ed is to teach students to think independently, not to tell them what to think. That's still very true today.

I do think we're seeing an increase of students who want to be told "the answer" and who think there is "an answer," and who don't want to know that there might be more than one answer, and that maybe, we should be asking different questions. They tend to be the same students who complain about using Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as a text because it's anti-Irish, or who complain that we're teaching obscene texts when we teach Wycherly's Country Wife, or Chaucer, or who want us to not teach Milton because it's "overtly Christianm" or who think we shouldn't teach about Marxist theory as a potentially valid form of literary criticism, because it's "un American."

I know the ivory tower has some rotting pillars, but there are far more important things to get exercised about, even within academia, than some vaguely asserted fear that any "hint at all of political views that aren't left-of-centre can be the kiss of death for any hope of a tenured position." As moribund as the tenure system appears, it still mostly works to reward scholarship, not personality -- and not, generally, teaching, though quality teaching can lead to tenure, thank goodness, at some schools. And for an awful lot of scholarship, the political or social or religious or sexual foibles of the practioner are completely outside the realm of consideration. If you actually look at what earns tenure it's pretty hard to find any kind of political bias at all.

#34 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 08:24 PM:

I do think we're seeing an increase of students who want to be told "the answer" and who think there is "an answer," and who don't want to know that there might be more than one answer, and that maybe, we should be asking different questions.

My mother was a theatre professor (acting, directing, script development, etc.). Every fall, she told the Beginning Acting class the same thing: "The final for this class is an essay titled 'How You Do It.'"

The students would freak. "What do you mean, 'How You Do It'? What do you want? What should we say?"

Mom always replied, "The final is an essay titled 'How You Do It', and this is Acting 101. The rest is up to you."

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 09:47 PM:

Even without throwing political views into the mix, students pass the word about which teachers to avoid. There was one in the comp sci department where I was studying who was from India and had inadequate English-language skills, as well as an authoritarian attitude (no independent thought wanted). Students did their best to avoid his classes, to the point where his sections were frequently the only ones with open space. And he managed to make the department secretary unhappy by constantly asking for (mostly irrelevant) amterials to be put in his folder. He quit about the time the school was ready to give him tenure, greatly to the relief of the students.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:09 PM:

Candle: Good points. I'd have to say that my political beliefs and personal interests have had a lot of impact on the work I've done. But then I'm a political scientist, and politics is what I study (both normative and empirical, I have to add). To some extent, my research agenda is driven by the fact that if I don't investigate some subjects they won't get investigated, or at any rate not from a perspective from which they'll be thoroughly understood.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:10 PM:

Lexica: When I was an undergraduate, back in the 1970s, some of my instructors would, in an examination give the students the option to set and answer their own question. I wouldn't dare give students today that option.

#38 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 09:13 AM:

"several students decided that Burke viewed society as a contract of the living, the dead, and the undead . . ."

I suppose it's possible they were reading Terry Prachett's Carpe Jugulum . .

It's marvelous, what they've done in Escrow . . .

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 10:16 AM:

Dan S.: Now, if only Terry Pratchett becomes MP for Bristol...

#40 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 10:24 AM:

I realized belatedly that the problem of "liberal bias" in schools, like so many other problems, can be solved by the market.

Don't like what a particular school is teaching? Send your kids (or take yourself, if you're the student) to a good, red-blooded American school instead. And that way, you can avoid the theory of evolution and interracial dating, too!

Anybody who has faith in capitalism would go along with that, right?

#41 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 04:15 PM:

I'd have to say that my political beliefs and personal interests have had a lot of impact on the work I've done.

Oh, I have no doubt mine have too: it's just that I haven't quite worked out what either of them are yet. I have a lot of political beliefs, and a lot of beliefs about history, religion and culture too. But I'm not quite sure where I'd put myself on any of the scales I have seen. This is only one more reason why "liberal bias" is a wild goose chase. (In part because if you accuse any professor of being liberal their first response would no doubt be to argue about the meaning of the term. Academics aren't good at producing a monolithic *anything*.)

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 07:43 PM:

Candle: I take your points. The problem is, of course, that if you're committed to learning something about the world you realize that no single picture, no single perspective contains The Truth. Movement conservatives, neo-con or Christian or pseudo-libertarian, are convinced there is a single Truth. Imperialist conservatives seek to impose a single Truth. Anything else is error, and error has no rights.

#43 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 08:24 PM:

Thanks, Fragano. Just to clarify, I wasn't meaning any of that as criticism of people who *do* know where they stand. And I guess my own political bias(es) are actually pretty clear from my comments here. Now I just have to articulate them in some kind of consistent fashion.

Right now I like "utopian socialist". With "utopian" understood as in Thomas More.

#44 ::: Jake McGuire ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 04:28 AM:

Isn't this also true in the UK? The OSA prevents government workers from revealing classified information (if it is not demonstrably in the public interest to do so), but AFAIR it doesn't make it easier to classify things in the first place.

As I understand it, the OSA makes it a crime for anyone to publish classified information, while in the US it's only a crime for someone who agreed not to disseminate it as a condition of receiving it (i.e. has a security clearance) to do so. Hence there's been no suggestion of prosecuting Bob Novak for telling people that Valerie Wilson was a secret agent, even if he should have known that it was classified. Or, the New York Times didn't get in trouble for publishing the Pentagon Papers. Under the OSA, both of those are criminal acts.

(Note: the US claims that information about making nuclear weapons is "born classified" and you can't publish it even if you come up with it on your own, but it's not, and the fact that they government always drops the cases when it looks like it might make it to the Supreme Court indicates that they know this.)

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 12:01 PM:

Candle: You are not, by any chance, Raphael Hythlodaeus?

As I look at the shelves in my office groaning with books, I have to reflect both on their relationship to what and how I was taught, and to how I see the world. When I was a student, I had an expectation that my teachers -- regardless of their biases -- would be objective. I've tried my level best to do the same; it is part of the honour of the profession. Unfortunately, not everyone (and the left is often as guilty as the right, and so are the ones who claim to be in the middle) sees it that way.

#46 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Well, I'm particularly pleased today because my student evaluations for last semester gave me particularly high marks for "grading objectively", as if they would know. But you see, we give the students every opportunity to complain. And all of this despite my favourite moment in the class being when an evangelical Christian from a small town in western Oregon wrote in a report that he would probably have chosen to fight on the side of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War (for all that there wasn't exactly a wonderful array of choices), and that this was not something he'd ever expected to think.

I am not Raphael Hythlodaeus, nor was meant to be. And I'm probably temperamentally more "Thomas More" (character not author). But then, the thing is written as a dialogue for a reason. But part of my decision to become a classicist was to better understand the background to More's Utopia.

Meanwhile, I'm surprised by Jake's understanding of the Official Secrets Act - you may be right, but I have never heard of it that way. When I started work at the MoD I had to sign up to the Act as a condition of employment: I personally am prohibited from revealing classified information (not that I know any) as a result. If the act were just a blanket ban then it wouldn't matter whether I signed or not. I don't think that can be the case. Surely this is why David Shayler was prosecuted in the UK a few years ago for revealing classified information, when the papers which reported it were not.

But I shall have to look up exactly what the provisions are.

#47 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 03:12 PM:

Re: OSA, it's more complicated than I thought, and Jake may have been closer to the truth than I was. The provisions of the act (here explained on Wikipedia) do allow any citizen to be prosecuted for revealing any kind of damaging information relating to the military or intelligence services. And there is no official "public interest" defence.

On the other hand, section 5 of the act explicitly says that for a crime to be committed it has to be proved that the person revealing it had to have reason to believe that it was classified information and that its release would be "damaging" to the national interest (as interpreted with regard to these agencies). Which actually amounts to a public interest defence, as the question of whether or not it is damaging has to be decided by a jury in court. Hence the outcome of the Clive Ponting case and the other failures to enforce anything much as described by the BBC here. Note that the attempt to make it an offence to report anything classified was declared unlawful both by the British courts and by the European Court of Human Rights, in 1988 (but the decision still applies).

So the release of classified information which a jury considers to have been damaging to the national interest, *can* in theory result in the conviction of an ordinary citizen. The only case in which I know of anyone being successfully prosecuted was the Sarah Tisdall case, and the particular information she revealed was arguably not overwhelmingly in the public interest, and she was a government employee anyway. And she was in prison for about as long as Judith Miller.

One of the good things about the British system is that Parliament really isn't as powerful as it likes to think it is. And the history of the OSA looks to me as an exemplary case of checks and balances, rather than the model of a dictatorship. On the other hand, checks and balances are so unfashionable in the higher reaches of American politics right now that I can see how an Official Secrets Act might be abused.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2006, 05:51 PM:

Candle: I tend to get evaluations calling me hard but fair. (My own favourite moment occurred when I was a graduate teaching assistant; a student wrote in an essay that the Chilean Christian Democrats were originally called 'fraganistas' -- falangistas, actually -- I corrected the error and managed, barely, to refrain from writing 'They've betrayed everything I ever stood for' in the margin.)

On the Spanish Civil War: I've always taken sides (though never in front of a class); my grandparents voted for the Frente Popular in the 1936 elections, and voted for the statute of autonomy for Galicia just a few days before the Civil War began.

OSA: I had to sign the act in order to read the Foreign Office stylebook, back in the days of my youth when I briefly worked for HMG. I can understand why some of the content was secret, but most of it was fairly mundane.

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