July 23, 2006

Stanley Fish takes on the Kevin Barrett controversy.

Stanley Fish takes on the Kevin Barrett controversy in an op-ed in the NYT today:
Mr. Barrett’s critics argue that academic freedom has limits and should not be invoked to justify the dissemination of lies and fantasies. Mr. Barrett’s supporters (most of whom are not partisans of his conspiracy theory) insist that it is the very point of an academic institution to entertain all points of view, however unpopular.....

Both sides get it wrong. The problem is that each assumes that academic freedom is about protecting the content of a professor’s speech; one side thinks that no content should be ruled out in advance; while the other would draw the line at propositions (like the denial of the Holocaust or the flatness of the world) considered by almost everyone to be crazy or dangerous.

But in fact, academic freedom has nothing to do with content. It is not a subset of the general freedom of Americans to say anything they like (so long as it is not an incitement to violence or is treasonous or libelous). Rather, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to study anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis....
In short, whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content — a crackpot theory may have had a history of influence that well rewards scholarly scrutiny — but of its availability to serious analysis. This point was missed by the author of a comment posted to the blog of a University of Wisconsin law professor, Ann Althouse: “When is the University of Wisconsin hiring a professor of astrology?” The question is obviously sarcastic; its intention is to equate the 9/11-inside-job theory with believing in the predictive power of astrology, and to imply that since the university wouldn’t think of hiring someone to teach the one, it should have known better than to hire someone to teach the other.
Hey! Fact check, people! Can't you tell the difference between the blogger and the commenters? I've written a lot about the Barrett controversy, but I didn't write that. A commenter called "kpom" did. (Note to the NYT: I want a correction printed!) [CORRECTION! I misread that myself. Sorry! He does say a commenter.]

I have said this:
It's conceivable that [Barrett] could still, as a teacher, present [the 9/11 conspiracy theory] neutrally, just as a university teacher on religion could teach the religion he believes in. My problem is that the teacher believes a crackpot, ridiculous theory and he's using a class on Islam to teach his theory. It's like being hired to teach astronomy and covering astrology and actually being someone who believes in astrology. I feel sorry for the students who think it's worth their time to engage with this material and to subject themselves to the power of someone who would believe something so nutty.
So my problem is that belief in this conspiracy theory reveals such a defective mind that the teacher cannot be trusted, and that the factual truth of the conspiracy theory isn't properly taught in a course about Islam. That many Muslims believe the theory could be part of the course, but the inquiry should be into why they would be drawn into such beliefs, and a teacher who thinks the beliefs are true would not seem to have much grasp of the topic.

And I've said this, as a comment in the thread with the quote that isn't mine:
[A] test for the university will come when we see how it treats others in similar positions. What if we found someone hired to teach here was a white supremacist, planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? Would he be treated with as much respect as Barrett? What if we found someone hired to teach evolution was a young earth creationist planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? These people now must be treated the same. Pretty horrible. I hate to even type that out. But this underscores why the hiring phase matters so much.
Back to Fish:
[T]he truth is that it would not be at all outlandish for a university to hire someone to teach astrology — not to profess astrology and recommend it as the basis of decision-making (shades of Nancy Reagan), but to teach the history of its very long career. There is, after all, a good argument for saying that Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante, among others, cannot be fully understood unless one understands astrology.
The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

And this is where we come back to Mr. Barrett, who, in addition to being a college lecturer, is a member of a group calling itself Scholars for 9/11 Truth, an organization with the decidedly political agenda of persuading Americans that the Bush administration “not only permitted 9/11 to happen but may even have orchestrated these events.”

Is the fact of this group’s growing presence on the Internet a reason for studying it in a course on 9/11? Sure. Is the instructor who discusses the group’s arguments thereby endorsing them? Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur.
I agree heartily right up to the last sentence. It is the responsibility of the teacher not to cross this line. But how is the administration to police it? Students may think a teacher is really pushing a viewpoint when he isn't, and a good teacher can sell his viewpoint without it showing. I could use the Socratic method in the law school classroom and only ask questions but have a position I'm hoping to ingrain. I could run a discussion in which I constantly take the opposite side from the one I want the students to adopt and do it in a way that I think will cause students to internalize the side I'm forcing them to defend. How could the administration find out? What would you want them to do about it? And what percentage of university professors do you think cross this line? You'd need a witch hunt if administrators got serious about Fish's line: "that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur."

More Fish:
Provost Farrell ... is too hung up on questions of content and balance. He thinks that the important thing is to assure a diversity of views in the classroom, and so he is reassured when Mr. Barrett promises to surround his “unconventional” ideas and “personal opinions” with readings “representing a variety of viewpoints."...

Rather, the question should be: “Do you separate yourself from your partisan identity when you are in the employ of the citizens of Wisconsin and teach subject matter — whatever it is — rather than urge political action?” If the answer is yes, allowing Mr. Barrett to remain in the classroom is warranted. If the answer is no, (or if a yes answer is followed by classroom behavior that contradicts it) he should be shown the door. Not because he would be teaching the “wrong” things, but because he would have abandoned teaching for indoctrination.
[A]cademic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and shortchange students in the guise of showing them the true way.
What Farrell did was to rely on the fact that Barrett "assured me that students will be free -- and encouraged -- to challenge his viewpoint," that "Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor," and that "he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics." That is, Farrell accepts Barrett as a strong advocate for one side as long as he maintains an open debate in which the students can speak and argue with him.

Both Fish and Farrell stress process over substance. It's not a question of what subjects come into the classroom. (They ignore the process point I've made, which is that I doubt that administrators could stick to substance neutrality. Again: picture a teacher of white supremacy.) Farrell emphasizes the process of multiple viewpoints and debate. Fish emphasizes the process of academic inquiry and avoiding proselytizing. He would ask the teacher whether he could set aside "your partisan identity" and not "urge political action."

I wonder how far Fish means to take that. I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are. They would portray Fish's ideal professor as a big sneak, posturing as neutral, but really slipping opinion in everywhere. Is Fish saying that professors who take the open approach are wrongly allowing their "partisan identity" to appear in the classroom? It would be terribly repressive for administrators to forbid that. Maybe Fish only means for the professor to refrain from "urg[ing] political action." If so, he's not saying very much. But Fish thinks he's identified a clear line:
The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.
Is that a clear line? The more I look at it, the less clear it seems. It's quite subjective. Each of the last two sentences of his essay contains the phrase if the point is. How are we to tell what the teacher's point really is? A smart person with an agenda knows how to hide it.

UPDATE: From ACTA:
The Times' publication of this piece, written by one of the great old lions of the academic culture wars (recall that Fish chaired the English department at Duke during the years when it was making a serious bid to become the most politically and theoretically avant-garde department in the country), is highly significant. Perhaps the time has finally come for a national discussion about what academic freedom is, why it matters, what it protects, and, crucially, where its privileges end.
Polonius writes:
[W]hat on earth is wrong with professors urging activism? Professors are the canaries in the coal mine; they're often the first ones to see what's gone wrong. If they don't urge activism, there's often no one who will.
Similarly, in the comments here, Ben Wallace writes (and I've added links):
Fish argues that advocacy of ideas is the dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate speech in a university. This is an acceptable normative position but the position is inconsistent with academic freedom as practiced at the UW since the 1890s. Under Fish's standard, Richard T. Ely would have been fired, not defended, for advocating socialism and encouraging activism. Fish's position, if implemented, would undermine a long-settled standard of academic freedom by attempting to eliminate partisan advocacy of ideas.
Is Fish's idea at odds with "The Wisconsin Idea"? If so and if Fish is right, we have a huge problem here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me first say that by writing "If so and if Fish is right, we have a huge problem here," I mean to suggest the likelihood that Fish is wrong.

Southern Appeal writes:
[T]his is a bit of a strange argument for Fish, who has made his name (outside literature circles) by pressing the view that we can’t separate ourselves from our basic beliefs and that there is no neutral ground....

[T]here’s something to Fish’s distinction between “teaching” and “indoctrination” and in the idea that the classroom isn’t supposed to be a recruiting session for one’s pet projects, however noble they might be. But that doesn’t mean, I think, that teachers need to separate themselves from their views. ...

[T]he detachment model is deficient [because] it subtly teaches students that what smart people do when faced with controversial subjects is to take an air of detached neutrality, cooly surveying the various options, and declining to embrace any of them. My experience as a teacher has been that students don’t really like to get engaged in arguments over controversial subjects -- the detachment model merely reinforces that tendency.

This goes along with something Ben Wallace and I have been writing in the comments here. Ben says:
Under Fish's rule, a faculty member in the South in the 1950s could not embrace and urge the idea that segregation is wrong and that students should act to remedy the situation. The only thing that would be available to a faculty member in that situation [w]ould be dispassionate analysis of the benefits and costs of segregation and a discussion of the different arguments behind segregation. Allowing advocacy and urging students to engage all ideas has demonstrated more effective than efforts to create speech codes, which is essentially what Fish has come up with.
I add:
[I]f the university required teachers to take this dispassionate, neutral stance, it would exclude a certain type of emotive, engaged person who actually is an excellent teacher. The drier, abstract folks would get more jobs in Fish's ideal university... and the students would get more... bored.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Lindgren has a post titled "Astrology, Fish, Althouse, and 9/11 Conspiracy Theories." He's into the astrology subject:
I have actually been studying who believes in astrology. Some indices of conservatism use a belief in astrology as a measure of how conservative a respondent is. Yet Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans, with the most conservative subgroup -- conservative Republicans -- being among the least likely to believe in astrology.
That makes me want to remind you of this old post of mine from back when were were all talking about Jerome Armstrong (which may well be what prompted Lindgren's study). I have no idea what the politics of believing in astrology are. I don't see it as having anything to do with politics, but it has something to do with being unscientific. I think there are lots of unscientific folks out there, and neither party is completely anti-science or bound to science.

97 comments:

sparky said...

Ann--
Forgive me if I misunderstood your piece, but I think you left out an important section of the piece here. I say this because your skepticism seems to suggest that we already know that no one is incapable of being anything other than a shill for one's own beliefs.

Fish writes:
It is part of a teacher’s job to set personal conviction aside for the hour or two when a class is in session and allow the techniques and protocols of academic research full sway.

This restraint should not be too difficult to exercise. After all, we require and expect it of judges, referees and reporters. And while its exercise may not always be total, it is both important and possible to make the effort.

It seems to me that the first question to ask is: have we jettisoned this idea(l)? It seems that we have in certain arenas but not others. Your comment about law profs is telling precisely because lawyers are one of the few areas of endeavor left where we choose to believe that the advocate need not actually believe in the cause or the the client. So in the domain of law we think that personal politics will not automatically win out (well, that was the theory, at any rate). But if we have lost that everywhere else it will be a tragedy for society. So I suppose the question is: do we really want to act as if it's impossible for anyone to have a space between personal beliefs and public acts?

David said...

The recent case of the "vapours" out of the Harvard faculty/Summers debacle puts paid to the notion of teaching vs. indoctrination in public education.

As long as tenure is the 'golden fleece' (Interesting phrase, that) of so-called academics in pursuit of permanent employment, the only protocol is survival.

I think Fish is obfuscating the truth of life in academia these days. Personal conviction is accepted only if it toes the party line of the apologists, multi-culturalists, appeasers, and left wing supporters of the "ME GENERATION". The ultimate hypocrisy/example is accepting Solomon money but refusing to allow military recruiters on campus.

Academics are hired based on their beliefs on and off campus. Their adherence to the failed policies of the Democratic Party since JFK is both expected and required. Peer review affects tenur and the interview process is biased in favor of candidates who toe the party line. Check the ratio of conservatives to liberals on most college faculties.

Restraint is not a trait found in much of society today!

Dave said...

Fish, like virtually all literature professors, is both an idiot and a fraud, unaware of the real world in which we non-professors who subsidize the University of Wisocnsin, reside.

I don't understand why you are paying attention to him or his opinions; they serve only to perpetuate the myth that education cannnot proceed in the absence of academic "freedom" by which is meant, "professors can teach all manner of multiculturalism and leftist garbage they want, lest they be oppressed by the state."

People like Fish serve only to engender mistrust and apathy toward academia. Were academia a publicly traded stock, given the prevalance of prevaricators such as Fish et al I would be shorting it.

Professors such as you--cogent and grounded in the real world--seem an increasingly rare commodity.

Editor Theorist said...

Fish's points seem reasonable as far as they go - but surely there is more to say about the constraints on what material is presented in teaching.

For example, teaching is constrained by some kind of summary of curriculum content (ie. if offering a math course, then you should mostly be teaching math in it).

Responsibility for what is offered in courses, what is judged appropriate, usually lies with the Department or School who approves the course (unless the teacher - when in class - goes way outside the official curriculum - which is of course his or her responsibility).

And this leads onto the point argued by Louis Menand in The Future of Academic Freedom that AF is strictly (legally, he says) the freedom of academics as a group to regulate themselves without external interference.

So, AF is about professional autonomy - ie. who gets hired and promoted, and the criteria for doing so; and what gets taught.

I guess this implies that those who hired Dr B, and approved the course, are responsible for this teaching - unless Dr B goes beyod the approved curriculum. ie., by this reasoning, the teacher is not personally responsible for what they teach (after all, in some situations, they may have been told exactly what to teach).

As AA originally said - I agree that the key issue here probably concerns the university and department's procedures for hiring and course content approval.

Slocum said...

I think it's odd that in this discussion, this recent post seem not to have not come up:

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2006/06/touchstone-to-determine-actual-worth.html

Believing that there was a government conspiracy to bring down the World Trade Center through controlled demolition is nuts. But I would say that it is quite a bit less implausible than the belief that our fates are controlled by the movements of the heavens.

What's more, as a non-believer, I would say that although I am absolutely confident that Barret's conspiracy theory is wrong, I'm even more confident that the entire earth didn't flood, that Noah did not save all the animals in his ark, and so on.

To me, Barret's crackpot theory is, indeed, bonkers, but at least it doesn't violate the known physical laws of the universe the way astrology and miracles do.

So I live in a world full of otherwise sensible people who believe wacko things (some of whom are loved ones or very close friends). I can't believe I'm defending Barret, but I have a hard time drawing a line here...

Daryl Herbert said...

Why is a radical post-modernist making such a conservative, black-and-white argument?

One can easily distinguish between advocacy and fair teaching???

I would expect this from Pat Robertson, not Stanley Fish. Super weird.

ben wallace said...

Fish argues that advocacy of ideas is the dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate speech in a university. This is an acceptable normative position but the position is inconsistent with academic freedom as practiced at the UW since the 1890s. Under Fish's standard, Richard T. Ely would have been fired, not defended, for advocating socialism and encouraging activism. Fish's position, if implemented, would undermine a long-settled standard of academic freedom by attempting to eliminate partisan advocacy of ideas. Attempting to implement this would be a dangerious social experiment because of the political conflict that would occur within and around universities as society would have to separate out legitimate and illegitimate discourse under this type of a standard.

JohnF said...

This has nothing to do with "academic freedom." Or very little. It has to do with simple contract principles. He was hired to teach an introductory course in Islam!!! What is this 9/11 crap doing there? If he decided to throw in a little phlogiston theory, would the administration be justified in saying stop?

Second, Fish's point that the teacher should not act as if he believes what he is saying (like the astrology professor teaching us about it to understand Chaucer) is plainly wrong in many, many cases, e.g., physics. There is always some historical stuff that has been discredited and is nevertheless worth study from a teacher who doesn't believe the discredited theory, but, in general, one wants teachers to believe in what they are teaching!

We just don't want them teaching nonsense as fact. Especially when that subject was not on the agenda when they were hired!

brylin said...

Kudos to Stanley Fish. Regardless of his position on the issue, he enhances its public airing making more likely a political solution in Wisconsin this November.

Dave said...

Re: "Second, Fish's point that the teacher should not act as if he believes what he is saying (like the astrology professor teaching us about it to understand Chaucer) is plainly wrong in many, many cases, e.g., physics."

Again, Fish is a literature professor, and therefore an idiot and fraud. Knowledge of physics is not required for the job. And the physics knowledge required is that of a standard level high school physics class. Nothing college-level, let alone grad school level, about it.

Gerry said...

"Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. "

Sounds like a great reason to teach all about Christianity in the classroom, and to allow Christmas displays and Easter celebrations. You know, to enable the inquiry into its structure, history, influence and so forth.

Rob said...

I've been dismayed at the comments here lately. I don't think it adds much when people like David and Dave use hijack the comment thread. (See "the failed policies of JFK" and "he is a literature professor, therefore he is an idiot" flavored comments)

As to the substance of this post, I agree with Ann that the line is difficult to draw as Fish sets it out but I think it can be formulated differently. I think we all need to keep our common sense hats on about certain things (white supremacy, holocaust denial, 9/11 controlled explosions) and when we hear things that do not comport with common sense then we should inquire whether the topic is being taught from the perspective of the believer professor or as a Classics professor I used to have said "the perspective of a martian looking down on our world." I belive it takes a certain psychological predisposition to belive in things like white supremacy, holocaust denial, 9/11 controlled explosions and that predisposition would make it impossible to teach well about those topics.

I imagine the response to this idea is that your common sense is someone else's genius insight. Perhaps. However, I think a group of people committed to these principles of common sense followed by an inquiry into belief could make good decisions. I imagine mistakes will be made in that some brilliant insights could be overlooked by one institution and picked up by another. However, the current system of absolutist "academic freedom" guarantees mistakes will be made. Thus, I think my statement of the test would lead to lower costs than the current system.

Dave said...

Yeah Rob, I've really hijacked the comments by calling Fish an idiot and a fraud.

Why, no one else can get a word in! If you don't like the words I use to describe Fish, here's something you can do: ignore them. Dismiss me entirely if you want.

But hijack the comments? Wow, you certainly are putting my little derogation of Fish up on a pedestal aren't you? My ego is swelled now, thanks!

mais si! said...

JohnF, your physics counter-example doesn't undermine Fish's point so much as limit its scope. No doubt, it would be bizarre for a physics intructor to not express belief in certain basic principles of physics. But this point applies outside the sciences, too, and Fish is surely aware of it. Most every field of study is going to have a set of core premises that one must buy into in order to work in the field. For physics, it may be that the physical world can be described with equations. For philosophy, it may be that argument is a valid mode of inquiry.

But for (nearly?) every non-dead academic discipline there are going to be controversial claims to be made, and when it comes time to teach these, Fish's distinction between advocacy and inquiry comes into play. Not every physicist buys into string theory, but a string theory doubter or a string theory believer could teach a class on the subject equally well if the class were structured as an inquiry into why certain physicists buy into it while others do not. In this case, it would not be necessary for the instructor to express a personal belief one way or the other; it would suffice to describe why other physicists believe as they do. It may take more study to reach the controversial areas in some fields than in others, but that doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Since Fish's concern in this essay is the presentation of controversial claims, his distinction holds up fine where it counts (to this angle of attack, anyway--Anne's probing could very well cause him trouble)--even in physics.

mais si! said...

Dave, I would be interested in knowing why Fish is a liar and a fraud. In particular, I would be interested in knowing how his being a liar and a fraud taints his argument.

We should keep in mind that even liars and frauds make good points once in a while (and if they make enough good points in a row, we may have to rethink classifying them as liars and frauds, which would be a shame since that would give us fewer people to dislike--but at least we'd know that the remaining objects of our animus truly deserved it.)

PatCA said...

I think what Fish is advocating is that "theories" such as Barrett's should be examined, as a couple of commenters have said, in a class designed to study conspiracy theories, their "structure, history, influence and so forth."

I would encourage such a class that examines critically why Muslims, for instance, or anyone, could believe Barrett's theory; however, this will never happen on today's campus.

I agree with Fish. You say you use the Socratic method--do you think this is also Barrett's method??

It may be difficult to distinguish between advocacy and teaching, but it is the job of the university to try.

ben wallace said...

Fish believes that embracing and urging ideas is just cause for dismissal. Ideas are constantly embraced and urged within universities. Academic freedom, and the Wisconsin idea, represent the belief that all who disagree with these ideas should be encouraged to debate the ideas. There are two basic principles forming the core of the Wisconsin idea: (1) faculy may encourage students to do what they feel should be done (i.e. faculty may advocate) and (2) students all others are encouraged to critically evaluate these normative claims. That is how sifting and winnowing works. Fish's principles are a fine idea but they are inconsistent with principles that UW has done well with.

PatCA said...

Again, Ben, you are ignoring my point that the actual process of debate between two unequal parties is important. The Socratic method is one thing; naked advocacy is another--and is wrong.

However, the provost has not asked for my opinion yet, so I will sign off on this subject.

ben wallace said...

Under Fish's rule, a faculty member in the South in the 1950s could not embrace and urge the idea that segregation is wrong and that students should act to remedy the situation. The only thing that would be available to a faculty member in that situation ould be dispassionate analysis of the benefits and costs of segregation and a discussion of the different arguments behind segregation. Allowing advocacy and urging students to engage all ideas has demonstrated more effective than efforts to create speech codes, which is essentially what Fish has come up with.

Ann Althouse said...

PatCa: "You say you use the Socratic method--do you think this is also Barrett's method??"

I said that I could use it as described, meaning I know how it is done. In fact, I don't use the Socratic method, at least not in the pure form referred to in the post, which requires the teacher to use only questions. The more important point is how you use it. It could be used, as I say in the post, to make the student believe something and to make it feel to the student as if he had discovered the idea himself, thus making it more persuasive than if the idea had been spoon-fed. I have no idea what Barrett's method is.

Ben: You're making so many good points. Thanks. I would add that if the university required teachers to take this dispassionate, neutral stance, it would exclude a certain type of emotive, engaged person who actually is an excellent teacher. The drier, abstract folks would get more jobs in Fish's ideal university... and the students would get more... bored.

R2K said...

Cool page : )

Zach said...

I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are.

More honest, maybe, but also more overbearing. You should never forget that at the end of the semester, the professors are doing the grading and the students are getting graded.

If you do tell your students your position on an issue, I think you owe it to them both to go out of your way not to let it affect the grading, and to let them know that you do so.

Even then, I think you risk sending the signal that the students should pull their punches when discussing the issue for fear of offending you. If Barrett were in some position of authority over you, would you feel totally reassured when he says that he'll listen to all viewpoints? Remember, he's also on the record as saying that the evidence for his crackpot theory is "overwhelming," so there's the implied threat that you'll get a bad grade for being a moron, not for refusing to toe the line. Suppose he assigns a paper on 9-11 -- would you be happy writing half of the things you've written on your blog in the last week? For the last paragraph, do you say that the evidence in favor of the theories is hogwash, and the advocates are fools or liars? Or do you write about how the picture is inevitably muddled, and there are points to be made for both sides, and we truly may never know?

Pat said...

I can't help wondering if Barrett is mentally stable enough to be placed in charge of a classroom. Oh, put him on Hannity & Colmes and he can appear fairly reasonable (just another shouter); but listen to some of his interviews with his fellow conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and suddenly we're in the Twilight Zone. Have you read his letter to John Kerry?

Editor Theorist said...

One revealing aspect of this debate is the implicit assumption many people have that a college education should properly consist of debating propositions - and that this process should ideally be impartial but is bad when biased.

However, students are _not_ at college to debate propositions. While this discussing stuff may have some educational value, surely attending college for several years at vast expense should primarily involve acquiring quite a lot of new conceptual knowledge related to things that are true, and enough related facts to understand and use these concepts.

It must seem utterly bizarre to outsiders that some academics in some diciplines seem to regard it as perfectly reasonable to spend the whole of their professional lives (and many years of their students lives) discussing the pros and cons of a bunch of arbitrarily chosen notions.

I think the sad truth is that there are indeed many disciplines and courses which are nothing more than a matter of generating moralistic (typically one-sided) debates about anything under the sun. The moralizing is intrinsic, because without a moralizing (ie. 'political') agenda it is utterly pointless.

But then again students are not at college to be morally-brainwashed and politically-indoctrinated.

You may gather I believe that the undergraduate colege curriculum should be radically-pruned.

knoxgirl said...

At no job I've ever had would such a doofus enjoy the luxury of so many people urging that he remain employed and paid, while simultaneously acknowledging his idiocy.

Bravo to Barrett, I guess. He found the right medium for his message.

J said...

From Fish's op-ed:

"It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform"

This is the crux of the issue here. Barrett is a humanities professor who has openly stated that he's going to teach things that he has less expertise in than a high school student who took honors physics, and have nothing to do with the subject he was taught to teach. Even if his views were valid he'd be out of line, since he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Sadly, I have to concede my experience with humantities professors in college left me with a view very similar to commenter Dave's, though I wouldn't call Barrett a liar. I think his views (about the 9/11 stuff) are sincere - he's just too ignorant to know any better.

Simon said...

"I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are."

I tend to think that this is accurate, not least because I think most people like to convince themselves that their views are reasonable, fair and supported by many other reasonable fair-minded people. In other words, people often believe that they are far closer to the mainstream than they really are, and in order to to this, they simply imagine that the mainstream is just a little to the [left/right] of their views, and accordingly call themselves "moderate", or "just to the left of center", or "mainstream [liberal/conservative]". I don't think many people -- a fortiori those who are academically-inclined, and thus like to think of themselves as being especially susceptible to reason -- like to think of themselves as ideologues or being posessed of extremely strong views that are totally outside of the mainstream.

But this is entirely false. Joe Biden probably believes his legal views are mainstream; Sam Alito probably thinks his views are quite mainstream (although I'd note that conservatives have generally got a better track record of being honest about their inclinations). Both cannot be right. So what Biden et al do is to take their views, and asssume that the mainstream can't be far away.

When teaching any subject which is susceptible to ideology and viewpoint, I stand with Weber et al - genuine viewpoint-neutrality is impossible (or at best, rare), and the best remedy is for professors to be honest about their views so that students understand and can see (and either reject or embrace) the subtle or unsubtle inducements of the prof. So, for example, if your torts professor says he voted for John Edwards, you probably want to get another torts professor, and so on and so forth.

Random10 said...

I agree with the position in several previous comments that the fundamental process of teaching is convey to others what you believe is true. The entire point of paying money for education is to be instructed in the knowledge someone else knows. In that sense all teaching is advocacy to believe in the material taught. If advocacy is wrong then most of the UW Madison Sociology Department should be fired. (Not that that there is anything wrong with that.)

What is clouding this debate seems to be differentiating new ideas which arise from traditionally accepted knowledge, from ideas which are created without historical foundation to serve emotional or political needs. For example, Nicolaus Copernicus was certainly advocating a literally earth changing unconventional theory, but it derived from attempts to more accurately match theory to observed reality and not because he hated the Pope.

oneperson said...

A few comments:

First, to a recent commenter: I support at least part of Fish's column, because students _are_, at least partially, at college to debate propositions. Part of a good college education (and one of the foundations of a liberal arts education) is the development of critical thinking skills. Students should be learning not only facts or theories or histories, but how to evaluate them. Hopefully, students will come out of college knowing how to recognize good and bad arguments, and how to evaluate a wide variety of information that comes their way. Debates and discussions help teach this.

Second: I will chime in with those who are questioning how clear any line between advocacy and teaching can be. And I find the idea that we can and should somehow leave behind our own stances for an hour or two a day silly to impossible.

I teach sociology to classes full of students who have been raised to think of themselves as independent beings that neither affect nor are affected much be the societies around them. As a sociologist, most things I teach challenge this viewpoint--I am, in effect, advocating for a point of view of society, in ways that often challenge not only how students think about themselves, or the people around them, but also about the issues of the day.

In addition, social scientists often teach things that have clear and close relevence to political discussions of the day. What is the line between teaching the sociological and psychological findings about (the non-drawbacks of) being raised by a homosexual couple, and advocating against current political arguments for outlawing homosexual marriage or adoption? There is a line beyond which an instructor is inappropriate, yes. But what that line looks like is not so clear. Good professors can have students in the same classroom who feel intellectually enlivened and who feel preached at.

Mary said...

Zach said:
"You should never forget that at the end of the semester, the professors are doing the grading and the students are getting graded. If you do tell your students your position on an issue, I think you owe it to them both to go out of your way not to let it affect the grading, and to let them know that you do so. Even then, I think you risk sending the signal that the students should pull their punches when discussing the issue for fear of offending you."

I think students have a responsibility for their educations and assumptions. Are they just there to figure out the prof's views and what's going to be on the test, fearing with a low grade they'll miss out on the good life?

Maybe having "sneaky", neutral-posing professors over the years has contributed to this student mindset-- the need to search for those subtly dropped clues, and the fear of penalization for saying the wrong thing. Sad.

Ann Althouse said...

"So, for example, if your torts professor says he voted for John Edwards, you probably want to get another torts professor..."

I voted for John Edwards. And I defended his malpractice work on this blog.

JohnF said...

Well, this is spiraling to the outer edges of the solar system here.

We started talking about the loon Barrett. I suggested that what he proposed to teach, and what he was hired to teach, might not be the same, and thus that the issue was not one of academic freedom, but a much simpler issue.

Now we are talking about whether academics can or cannot be advocates. I am reminded of a class on administrative law we took from K.C. Davis, who was asking the class whether some principle or another was the correct one. One group of students was vigorously saying it was, and the other was saying it wasn't. Finally, Davis brought the conversation to an end by proposing that "sometimes" the answer was right and sometimes wrong, by which he meant that it depended on a variety of circumstances.

Well, is it not obvious that professorial advocacy has its places and doesn't have its place? To take one example from the comments, the southern professor in the 50's who wanted to advocate social justice might well use his class in U.S. history, or social studies, to present these views and give arguments in support (while no doubt tolerating arguments against, as well (yeah, that's the way it works)), but he SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO PERVERT HIS PHYSICS CLASS WITH IT, even if, as a physics professor, he has as much academic freedom as the next guy.

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: "Maybe having 'sneaky', neutral-posing professors over the years has contributed to this student mindset-- the need to search for those subtly dropped clues, and the fear of penalization for saying the wrong thing."

Students can do this to excess. I've gotten evaluations from students that say it was clear what my positions were, leaving me wondering which way they thought it was clear. When I read exams and feel that students are trying to replicate what they think is my position, I feel embarrassed for them. Why are they saying to me that that's what I want? It insults me. I'm not interested in teaching my own views but in understanding the cases and learning legal skills. My students are wasting their time paying attention me like that. I understand that they may have learned to appease the teacher elsewhere and feel that they need to defend themselves, so it might not be their fault, but it's still a problem.

boldizar.com said...

If only more professors were like Fish. My experience of the American university system (Harvard Law School) was that every professor is far more interested in disciples than education. Academic power comes from having more graduate students in your camp -- professors are like little superpowers always trying to extend their spheres of influence.

If you want a good grade you type real fast during class and spit out whole verbatim sentences back to the prof on the exam, mimicking their sentence structure, methodology, and substance.

If you want a bad grade, you try creativity. The overwhelming majority of professors that I've had use the few students who disagree with them as a foil to bring the whole class to the "correct" conclusion.

So while I applaud Fish's argument, it has far less grounding in the real world than the arguments of those like Barret who expect planes hitting the pentagon to leave a cartoon-style cutout hole.

www.boldizar.com

Ann Althouse said...

JohnF: "Well, this is spiraling to the outer edges of the solar system here. We started talking about the loon Barrett. I suggested that what he proposed to teach, and what he was hired to teach, might not be the same, and thus that the issue was not one of academic freedom, but a much simpler issue. Now we are talking about whether academics can or cannot be advocates."

What are you talking about? Did you read Fish's op-ed? What you say isn't even close to the topic is exactly his topic? You're welcome to focus on the aspect of the problem you want, but denouncing others for going off topic is going off topic. Plus, it's not true.

And with respect to Barrett, there is a way in which the 9/11 conspiracy theory could be relevant to his course, but it can only be handled competently by someone who concedes that the theory is false.

David said...

Rob, your bias is showing! I distinctly said "...failed policies since JFK". That does not include JFK because he inspired me with his statement;

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

I am not politically correct, as you can tell. The root cause of the problems in academia arise from enforcing multiculturalism and other new age phenomenon at the expense of a classical education.

If you choose not to believe that education in the West is being hijacked by cultural relativists that is your choice. I respect your right to choose. I disagree, however, with the practice of lending dignity to the meanderings of "an idiot and a fraud" as Dave has aptly named the "Fish!" as in "Go Fish".

boldizar.com said...

David, the reason education is being hijacked by cultural relativists is that most university professors are still, on the whole, more intelligent than the average New York Post reader.

For god's sakes, even physics is relative to your perspective, time changes depending on how fast you're moving, etc., and yet there are still morons out there who use the term "relativist" as though it were a pejorative. Good and evil, truth and lie, ARE relative, to the extent that they exist as constructs at all -- unless you're willing to abdicate all critical thinking to a series of books written 2000 years ago, or some preacher in a church. But just because right and wrong are relative doesn't mean you can't act to protect your own perspective and cultural values, to the extent of using bombs if necessary. But when you're trying to see what's out there in the world, carrying ideas of right and wrong can only blind you, which makes your actions (the second stage) much less effective. See Iraq.

The problem with our education system is not enough relativism.

www.boldizar.com

Perseus said...

1) Each of the last two sentences of his essay contains the phrase if the point is. How are we to tell what the teacher's point really is? A smart person with an agenda knows how to hide it.

This is all the more problematic given Fish's postmodernism, which leaves a lot of room for creative interpretations of "the political agenda [an idea] may be thought to imply." And recall the "Sokal hoax" if you want an example of how easy it is for a smart person to hide an agenda.

2) What are the criteria to determine--or, in postmodernist fashion, who gets to decide--an idea's "availability to serious analysis"? A lot of what postmodernists consider to be "serious analysis" seems rather frivolous to the rest of us.

3) The preferred strategy of postmodernists is to debunk rather than to recruit directly, but it is disingenuous for them to claim that the effect of their debunking has no political implications.

Seven Machos said...

"I would be interested in knowing how his being a liar and a fraud taints his argument."

Someone above actually said this, and I would like for it to be noticed in its own special comment. This gibberish is nearly a prima facie explanation of everything that is wrong with liberal education today.

Secondly, the astrology example is apt. Another example: imagine if Pat Robertson is teaching a History of Christian Thought at Wisconsin and wants to dedicate 10 percent of the class to his own pet theory of God wrathfully visiting hurricanes and tsunamis and weather-related plagues (and also the making of age-defying protein shakes). How would this go over with the provost? Would it be okay if the people of Wisconsin, through their government, sought to remove such a person. (I would add that Pat Robertson is far better educated in terms of academic pedigree than Barrett.) Would it be understandable when the people of Wisconsin, through their government, punished the University collectively, because of the decisions of its leaders?

Jonathan said...

Fish's line between exploring something academically and espousing it in class is at least clear as a matter of theory. Whether it's enforceable as a policy is a different question, but it doesn't really matter here, because Barrett is clearly on the side of advocacy - he admitted to trying to convince his students that he's right. The idea of academic freedom is that administrators shouldn't fire professors for studying politically unpopular or seemingly trivial things. An administrator in the segregated South shouldn't fire a professor for advocating integration, but academic freedom isn't the reason, it's the right-ness of the professor's position. If the administrator is pro-segregation, then what are the chances that academic freedom will save the professor's job?

David said...

Boldizar; Interesting point but I disagree. Many of the problems we face today have confronted civilizations in the past. We must learn from history.

"The wolf is always at the door" is an apt expression for those who would do harm to others. Do you park in the darkest part of the furthest parking lot at the mall and walk to your car unafraid that you will be robbed, raped, carjacked, etc.? The same logic applies in the world at large as evidenced by 9/11 and regularly occurring wars throughout time.

The question you ask yourself is how do I minimize my chances of being a victim? When you become a victim, what do you do about it?

That requires the ability to differentiate, based on a set of values and principled behavior, between right and wrong, good and bad, justice or mercy.

Moral relativists will have a difficult time making a decision for action. But that is the beauty of relativism, isn't it? By it's nature it seduces one into thinking that the process of talking about something is an end in itself.

Sort of like making love but never leaving the foreplay stage!

boldizar.com said...

David, I consider myself an "absolute" moral relativist. That doesn't mean that I don't think the Taliban needed to be destroyed, nor do I think it makes the general muslim treatment of women disgusting, sick and barbaric. The list of examples is endless.

I'm just honest about my reasoning for it. Your example of parking in the the dangerous location shows your perspective. You are the type of person who owns a car, shops in a mall, is protected by the police, and so you want law and order to be respected. Part of trying to get others to respect it is to extend the argument's power beyond the nomological circle to the moral, ethical, religious, etc., trying to get as many people to follow the rules that benefit you by calling them "universal."

You are clearly not a heroin addict needing to get the money for your next fix by any means possible. Nor are you a father of a starving baby in a country with no social network.

My baby is also much more likely to be harmed by the criminal in the parking lot than he is to be starving in a system that values private property over life, and so I agree with you about the dark parking lot, but for very different reasons. I don't think a system of laws is somehow "better" than one based on, say, might. But it is the system that maximizes the safety of my family, and so I support it.

A moral relativist might understand that were the situation otherwise (were I faced with the dillema of breaking into a car to steal a loaf of bread to feed my baby) I might be on the other side.

But it doesn't inhibit action. I have an idea of what I want my world to look like. I want the environment that I live in to reflect what I consider important and I'm willing to fight for it without the intellectual dishonesty of thinking that what I am doing is somehow annointed by god or goodness. For example, I am an atheist liberal, so I am against immigration from religious countries, whether muslim or christian. But keeping out the righteousness lets a moral relativist see the reasoning of the other side. From a purely strategic perspective, being able to understand your enemy is an advantage. And from a human perspective, the empathy is itself an advantage. Moral relativism is a big part of what has made the West the best system in the world (in my opinion).

ben wallace said...

Seven Machos: You ask if it is appropriate if the people of Wisconsin, through their government, attempt to remove a problematic faculty member. Perhaps it is. It is possible to write legislation that gives political actors a veto over provost decisions (perhaps by a 3/4 vote on the floor of the legislature). But the legislature has never enacted such legislation, and in the Barrett case the legislature could not even gather a majority of signatures supporting firing Barrett. Allowing academic decisions to be determined by a minority of state legislators would introduce unnecessary intability in the university. State legislators have persistently honored the implicit agreement with the university holding that university officials to have the final word on academic decisions. The authority delegated to the UW can obviously be undone, but such a policy has not yet been enacted and likely will not be enacted.

Jonathan: Fish has a clear divide in mind; nobody here contests that. The point is that Fish's principle is inconstent with academic freedom as conceptualized at UW over the last 120 years. If you think these principles have worked reasonably well over that time period, then Fish's proposal introduces uncertainty into a well-settled area.

Seven Machos said...

Boldizar: How is your idea of what you want your world to look like any better than anyone else's, including the Taliban's?

If you are against immigration from "religious countries, whether Muslim or Christian," then you are pretty much against immigration.

I also would add that you sound as dogmatic, overbearing, and self-righteous as any hardcore fundamentalist, probably more so. I disagree with a lot of the people here, but I alo have a lot of respect for them. I've never seen someone preen the way you are preening here.

Seven Machos said...

Ben -- My sense is that, if there is a backlash on the part of the populace, it will come down to funding the University (which the legislature is the ultimate authority). You don't need to make a law about X if you can say "We don't like X and either you fix X or we will cut funding." The cause-and-effect does not need to be made nearly so explicit as I just made it. As I have said again and again, politics ain't beanbag. It is a real-world clashing of wills, not a theoretical device.

Also, I suspect that Barrett may lose his job for some other reason, much like Ward Churchill. I guarantee you someone on somebody's staff is researching Barrett's background very thoroughly.

AlaskaJack said...

"But just because right and wrong are relative doesn't mean you can't act to protect your own perspective and cultural values to extent of using bombs if necessary."

Boldizar has just given us an excellent defense of the view that "justice" is nothing but "the will of the stronger". Too bad it isn't original. Thrasymachos made this argument in one of those 2000 year-old books that B doesn't like.

Seven Machos said...

AlaskaJack -- Exactly. Which is why, when relativists get in charge of anything, it tends to lead to oppression and tyranny.

I wish the Democrats would take their party back from the relativists.

ben wallace said...

Seven Machos: Policing the univeristy with the threat of funding cuts would be good for the state if faculty overwhelmingly supported the substance of Barrett's arguments or if his defenders were limited to left-leaning academics. Such support would be indicative of far deeper problems within the university. In this case, such a drastic step seems unnecessary. All the faculty who have publicly supported Farrell made a point to state that they found his ideas to be preposterous. The defenders of academic freedom also were the ones who opposed speech codes at UW. These defenders are not symptomatic of left-wing dominance of universities because these codes were supported by the left.

Maybe Nass and other legislators should put pressure on the chair of the LCA department (which governs Barrett directly) to set the terms of the syllabus for Barrett. I suspect that LCA has more to fear about inquiry into their business than Barrett. In other words, such pressure would probably make them jump. Farrell is used to dealing with state legislators; the LCA department would probably be far less willing to resist political pressure.

Or students could organize and go sit up in the LCA department and bang drums until the department agrees to alter the content of Barrett's syllabus. I think that would be sufficiently annoying to the faculty in that department to get them to think more seriously about what they want their lecturers to be teaching.

boldizar.com said...

Seven Machos, that's absurd. Were Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Caliphates, today's Islamofascists, etc. relativists?

Is it George Bush's relativistic instincts that are eviscerating the freedoms for which this country once stood?

And AlaskaJack, you missed my point. I didn't say might is "right". I'm saying might always decides what is right. And whether you acknowledge that or hide it within complex codes makes little difference. The only difference is that when you acknowledge it you make it easier for the disempowered to fight against the tyranny. You eliminate one tool of the oppresive regime, which is the insistence that anyone who opposes it is somehow morally wrong.

boldizar.com said...

And AlaskaJack, no, of course "Realism" isn't new. But within recent western history, it has been used to best effect by feminists and other minority groups. Oddly enough, it is never embraced by Tyrants. They prefer labels like process, law, god, destiny, science, and other grandiose labels.

John McAdams said...

According to Ben Wallace:

Under Fish's rule, a faculty member in the South in the 1950s could not embrace and urge the idea that segregation is wrong and that students should act to remedy the situation. The only thing that would be available to a faculty member in that situation would be dispassionate analysis of the benefits and costs of segregation and a discussion of the different arguments behind segregation.

Do you equally believe that a professor in the South in the 50s has a right to be an activist for segregation?

Or could it be that you favor activism only for academics who happen to agree with you?

As for "dispassionate analysis of the benefits and costs of segregation and a discussion of the different arguments behind segregation" do you think that would support or undermine segregation? If the former, you ought to favor segregation. If the latter, you should welcome a professor doing just that.

gnocchi said...

"Yet Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans, with the most conservative subgroup -- conservative Republicans -- being among the least likely to believe in astrology."

Wow! I'm so shocked -- how can it be that conservative Republican are unlikely to believe in astrology? It couldn't be because they already belong to an even more twisted and destructive cult, could it? Say, maybe, Christian Fundamentalism?

It saddens me to think that this kind of shoddy thinking goes on at my alma mater. Please tell me you haven't been tenured.

ben wallace said...

John: I would apply these principles to both sides of the segregation issue. Academic freedom implies (1) allowing faculty to advocate for and against segregtation and (2) encouraging students to question all perspectives offered by faculty. Academic freedom is strongest when both sides advocate positions on institutional change. On the second point, I would also argue that positive analysis of the net benefits of segregation (or other social institutions such as slavery) is essential to social scientific undertanding of these institutions. My point was that Fish's principle would limit analysis only to the positive side, a position would radically alter existing university practices. We mind as well replace the sifting and winnowing plaque with Milton Friedman's essay on positive economics. I wouldn't think that is too much of a problem (given my feelings about social science) but it would in practice be a fairly radical change.

Also, I might add that I am probably one of the only people here at UW who has also taken your course on the Kennedy assassination. So I know that Barrett's logic is weak. But I also would support Barrett working here because Barrett promised to at least present alternative hypotheses. If anything, he should be constrained from teaching social science in a humanities course. But even that type of a rule might impinge on academic freedom since there is not often a clear divide between social sciences and humanities.

In the end, if Barrett is to be fired, it should not rest on the standards Fish proposes. I agree with Fish that conspiracy thoeries should never be prima facie excluded (which is obvious from a course like yours) but I do not think his principles are workable in practice or even desirable.

Seven Machos said...

gnocchi -- Take away all the miracles and non-science from the Bible and the Catholic Church. What do you have? You have a working body of law that functions basically like law today and a feasible moral system.

Take away all the non-science away from astrology and what do you have?

Also, atheism is every bit the religion that any other religion is. You have your holy book, your high priests, and plenty of unprovable beliefs.

ben wallace said...

Also, John, the legislation proposed by Nass effectively claims that the 9/11 commission report is a fact. Barrett may be bad, but Nass' solution is worse in the long run. Imagine politicians saying that that the HSCA of 1971 was the final word on the Kennedy assassination and that anyone who contradicts it should be fired. Not a good idea in either case, in my opinion.

Ann Althouse said...

gnocchi said.."Wow! I'm so shocked -- how can it be that conservative Republican are unlikely to believe in astrology? It couldn't be because they already belong to an even more twisted and destructive cult, could it? Say, maybe, Christian Fundamentalism? It saddens me to think that this kind of shoddy thinking goes on at my alma mater. Please tell me you haven't been tenured."

So, you're quoting Jim Lindgren and objecting here? What is Lindgren's alma mater? If you have a question for him, it's probably more likely to be answered over on his blog. Presumably, you think the quote is mine though. Shoddy reading.

And you're "saddened"? Really? Thanks for caring and being all concerned about us ... or the phantoms in your head.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Boldizar said: "Were Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao...relativists?"

Paul Johnson makes the case that they were. I don't know enough about the subject to say whether or not he is right. But three of the Big Four were atheists. (What Hitler believed is an open question.)

Whose body count is higher, the Big Four's, or the pre-modern religous fanatics? What holds in check the atheistic monster as opposed to the religious monster? For the atheistic monster, nothing - absolutely nothing - is off-limits. Expediency in the only consideration.

I am not saying atheistic monsters are worse than religious monsters. Monsters are monsters. But if we're talking body counts, sheer horror, and the facts of history, it's no contest.

Boldizar said: "And AlaskaJack, no, of course "Realism" isn't new. But within recent western history, it has been used to best effect by feminists and other minority groups."

I see what you mean by the relativity of truth. I don't recall the great, "I am a realist," speech, though I do recall the great "I have a dream," speech.

Do you believe racism is bad because it is evil or because it is imprudent?

Have you ever felt moral outrage, Boldivar? Well, get over it. You are an absolute moral relativist. Moral outrage is not allowed. Unless you are not really the relativist you pretend to be.

boldizar.com said...

Johnny Nucleo, I'm not arguing in favour of atheism, though I happen to be one. I'm arguing against the totalizing aspect of universal truths. You say three of the big four were atheists. So what? The views used by them to get millions of followers to commit atrocities were all based on religion-like mass beliefs in the moral rightness and superiority of their systems, with no room for difference or otherness. Communism and Hitler's form of nationalism are very similar to religion, in that they are the only right or true way. From their perspective, they are "universal" truths.

And as for moral outrage, you're again arguing against a strawman. Moral relativism isn't nihilism. I went out of my way to prove I had strong moral views (to the point of "preening" myself, I guess) to pre-empt exactly this point.

I've spent years in countries where people wipe their behinds with their left hand and water. I prefer to use toilet paper. I don't think they're wrong or disgusting for using their hand, and I don't think that toilet paper is somehow inherently better or more civilized. I just prefer it. My first few months I tried it their way and decided, no, I prefer my culture and if someone tells me that I'm decadent and that water and left hand are cleaner, I'll disagree with them. If they try to take the paper away from me and tell me I can't use it, I'll slap their hand away. All this without thinking that toilet paper is more civilized in any way or trying to impose it on them.

If we could just apply the toilet-paper paradigm to things people feel more passionately about, we'd have a lot less "evil" in the world, by any definition of the world.

www.boldizar.com

Seven Machos said...

"I don't think that toilet paper is somehow inherently better or more civilized. I just prefer it."

This is idiocy -- the kind of idiocy that can only be achieved by certain kinds of intellectuals after years of training.

Also, to try to get back on topic and steer away from this stupidity, it is, in fact, universally true that the U.S. government had nothing to do with September 11. It is false to suggest otherwise. This isn't subject to interpretation.

John McAdams said...

Hi, Ben,

I don't want Barrett fired either, now that he has been given a contract.

On the other hand, I do think that some conclusions have to be considered evidence of incompetence.

To use some hackneyed examples, I think a flat earther is incompetent to teach Geography, and somebody working on a perpetual motion machine incompetent to teach Physics.

Barrett thinks the suicide bombings in Iraq are western intelligence operations since Muslims would not do that to fellow Muslims. Imagine somebody teaching Western Civ who doesn't believe that Christians would kill Christians!

I admit that drawing the line can be difficult at times. When in doubt, err on the side of academic freedom.

I think UW made a mistake in hiring Barrett. Now that they have, I think they should keep him for the term of his contract. After that, it would be a blunder to hire him again.

After all, he only has "academic freedom" because they gave it to him.

David said...

People who use toilet paper live longer than people who use their left hand, or any other hand for that matter. People who was their hands after using toilet paper live longer than people who don't.

It comes down to educated choice which extends our health and longevity. Moral relativists and multiculturalists would celebrate the difference between the cultures. They would also watch them die young of preventable disease.

The rest of us would impose our system of toilet paper use on them because we have something in common. We don't like our loved ones and family dying prematurely if it can be prevented. Witness the howl that comes from Bono about not providing aids vaccine to the African continent.

Some things are self-evident. The most basic for most inhabitants of this fair planet is the desire to live long, healthy, and productive lives. Anything that enhances that dream is good, anything that diminish our choices for obtaining Maslow's heirarchy of needs is bad.

Unless you are a Muslim fanatic who wants to believe that 9/11 was a special effects tour de force and that 72 virgins await with bated breath his imminent arrival in paradise.

Unfortunately for Barrett, many of us watched the tragic events of 9/11 as it occurred. Unfortunately for Fish, he talks to much about the trees and misses the forest.

Seven Machos said...

I would add that I love Preening Boldizar's verbal sleight of hand as well. No values are better than any others, naturally. It's not that one way is better than another way, of course. He just PREFERS certain things to other things. Not values. Just preferences. Totally different, man. Totally different.

davidh442 said...

Excuse me if others have made these points . . .

Can you really distinguish advocacy from objective discusion? One poster suggested that it was OK to teach string theory in a physics class if the professor was examining whether it was valid, but not if s/he was advocating it. Well, maybe in a history of ideas class, but would anyone teach string theory in a physics class if they did not think it was at least valid enough to study? So is that advocacy? And on the contrary, isn't teaching a physics class that only uses "standard" theory and doesn't mention string theory just as much advocacy?

Well maybe people don't care much about academic freedom in theoretical physics, but the failure to teach or take seriously alternate or "deviant" social theories certainly strikes me as much "advocacy" as teaching them. I don't think I need to mention the names of any theories here, but let me say that as someone who studied political theory in the 60's and 70's, current conservative complaints about "political correctness" strike me as hilarious compared to the conformity imposed at that time.

A number of posters have characterized the 9/11 conspiracy theories as bonkers. Well, maybe they are. I assume these posters have read and examined all the relevant evidence and arguments, right? Or are they basing this on Fox News? Personally I haven't seen anything convincing about "inside" demolition of the twin towers, or radio-controlled planes hitting the pentagon. On the other hand, I haven't seen any good explanation of why interceptors couldn't reach the second NY-bound flight or what was going on with all the war-game military exercises on that day. And yes, I did read/follow the committee investigation, and I thought there were a lot of questions left unanswered.

What I'm saying here is that it's not always easy to decide what's bonkers: That the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was based on a lie? That the 2004 Ohio vote count was manipulated? That Mayor Daley stole the election for JFK? That an elementary particle can be in two places at the same time? That evolution can produce an eye? Ok, ok, there are lots of things I think are bonkers too -- too bonkers to even be worth checking out: astrology, for example, or the existence of God. But if you can always tell what's bonkers just from looking at it, you're smarter than I am.

And should a teacher always be "neutral"? I remember teaching a social theory class to a group of police and criminology students. One of the pieces we read was by Marx, whose theories I presented neutrally. One of the older students, a state cop, said: Why don't you stop telling us what Marx said, and tell us what you think? After getting reassurance that he wasn't asking this in his professional capacity I responded that I thought Marx was mostly right. Everyone sprang to attention, and we spent many hours playing "everything you ever wanted to ask a socialist but you never met one before." Best class I ever taught.

woodlandcritter said...

The job of the Provost is to act in the best interest of the University. The continued presence of Barrett on campus is not in that best interest.

The higher education system of this country, including academic freedom, is based on the value that it has provided to the country in comparison to its cost. Because it is funded 1) directly by the states, 2) by tuition, 3) indirectly through government grants and 4) contributions from the public, it is always in the best interest of the academy to ensure that the value to society far exceeds the cost.

Over the past 20 years, more and more members of society have questioned whether the value received justifies the value given. This is especially true of the Humanities.

This is the true danger to the University from the Farrell/Bennett mess. It provides support to the side that questions the value of the need for academic freedom and research, especially in the Humanities.

Consider the net societal contributions from a University that supports research only in the natural sciences, applied sciences, social sciences and business. All other classes would be taught by instructors who maintain teaching loads similar to the loads of secondary teachers. Would the graduates of such a university be disadvantaged in the job market? Would high tech growth, patents, and net economic benfit be greater or smaller than if the University focused on the Humanities and Arts as well? I think that most of the citizens of a state would choose to allocate education expenses away from the Humanities and Arts, and state legislatures are likely to concur.

Consider the next step for political opponents of the current system. State universities could be required to list faculty members, their most recent research, writing and publications along with the course syllabi and departmental costs, on a web site. Would the taxpayers approve or would substantial changes be demanded? Remember that any education reform organization could now achieve something similar on a website.

While the above is necessisarily speculative, it is not in the best interest of the University to find out if it wishes to maintain its current form.

Barrett's continued employment signals that the department has excessive funding to waste on such an instructor and course. It will fuel the criticism noted above and result in closer monitoring of faculty publications and output.

For the good of the Humanities, Farrell and Barrett should be fired.

Seven Machos said...

davidh442 -- I am, in fact, basing my conclusion that September 11 was not an inside job on what I saw on Fox News. Because the entire thing transpired on live television. Those guys at CNN, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Pravda, etc. who all reported otherwise? Wouldn't know. I'm just a conservative sheeple.

The U.S. military is not set up to defend against commercial airplanes. And even if it were, it doesn't just shoot down planes full of people.

And wargames go on every single day in this country. You look like a complete and total moron when you mention "all the war-game military exercises on that day." (I won't even mention the 100 million+ who died thanks to socialism and "mostly right" Karl Marx. What do you think soldiers do when there is no war? Sit around and write term papers? Speak truth to power? Military exercises go on all day, every day Military exercises are what soldiers do.

I am very sorry you are teaching classes. I pray that it is at a remote community college, where you can't do much damage.

Jeffrey said...

Slightly OT, but interesting, I believe.

Has anyone noticed that the ease with which we can now cut and paste has degraded our skills of paraphrasing? On blogs we are allowed to paste long passages that would not be accepted in normal academic papers. As a composition teacher, I know that students always find it harder to paraphrase -- as we all do, I think -- and when they use direct quotations they tend to use too much of the original passage.

I don't have an answer here, but looking at Ann's long excerpts made me think again of something that I've been noticed over the last three years.

*

ben wallace said...

Hi John: I agree that Barrett should not be selected again. A department chair needs to actually look at Barrett's work on 9/11. I hope that any chair who actually did this would recognize Barrett is unable to teach any aspect of social science. If they read that and believe it is credible, then the provost should override the department and terminate the contract. Maybe Farrell should have read some of Barrett's work in deciding if Barrett should be allowed to teach on that particular subject.

I just hope Barrett does what he told Farrell he will do, which is give students both sides of the issues. This may be time taken away from learning about Islam (since the entire conspiracy issue is far removed from what the course is about), but it may give students something to think about. Of course, I expect students will be tuned out of whatever is going on in lectures in a course taught by a lecturer in weeks 13 and 14 (or not even showing up until the final), so there may not even be that much of a debate. It is true that students are not a blank slate, but also that they are cognitive misers who will probably be paying attention to more important things when it is time to listen to his 9/11 bullshit.

Seven Machos said...

Ben said: "I just hope Barrett does what he told Farrell he will do, which is give students both sides of the issues."

1. No. There are not "both sides" of the issue of whether September 11 was an inside job by the government. There is the one side, which is that it was perpetrated by 19 Arabs with assistance from fellow travelers, and the other side, which is an absurd, incoherent lie which reasonable people do not take seriously.

2. As I understand it, this is a class on Islamic Thought. What does the U.S. government planning September 11 have to do with Islamic thought?

3. As I further understand this course, it is fairly introductory. How about the Koran, a Muslim critique of the Koran, something by Bernard Lewis, and Milestones by Sayyid Qutb (itself a radical, radical tomb)? No one -- NO ONE -- would question that.

4. Anecdotally, in my experience, my far-to-the-left professors have assigned far-to-the-left books with nothing from the other side while moderate and conservative professors have been much better at assigning texts from different perspectives.

richard mcenroe said...

What Farrell did was to rely on the fact that Barrett "assured me that students will be free -- and encouraged -- to challenge his viewpoint," that "Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor," and that "he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics."

And then he will flunk the ones who disagree with him.

ben wallace said...

Seven Machos: I agree with you. Now that Barrett won't be fired, they should take the types of points you are making to get him to take the conspiracy nonsense out of the curriculum. The simplest way would be for LCA to tell Barrett that, upon contemplating the issue, they would prefer students read something more relevant to Islam during those weeks. I don't know why people are not pressuring the department to get their act together. Qutb seems important to this type of a course, though Charlie Wilson's War might be even better!

As for conservatives assigning a more balanced reading list: I agree, but I think that is because the conservative arguments are usually stronger! Plus, conservatives tend to be more interested in arguments, while liberals tend to take things really personal (e.g. if you disagree with this theory, you must be a bad person; hence, no need to assign counterarguments from bad people who are obviously bad and wrong).

Zach said...

I think students have a responsibility for their educations and assumptions. Are they just there to figure out the prof's views and what's going to be on the test, fearing with a low grade they'll miss out on the good life?

I agree about the motivations of the ideal student, but I don't agree that the entire problem is student-driven. In fact, I think it's driven by the rational expectations students have that professors will and do grade down for beliefs opposing their own. I think you'd be amazed at the fraction of students who feel they've been leaned on in that way -- I certainly have. In fact, a lot of my friends in the sciences who also had interests in the humanities chose the sciences specifically because they felt that the humanities allowed far too much of that stuff.

The professor is the adult in the professor-student relationship. He or she is the one who's getting paid. Except in the case of flagrant abuse, he or she is the one with the power to exert discipline and provide evaluation. Is it really unreasonable to ask that the professor be the one to show a little bit of professionalism? It's not like grading for conformity is a legitimate educational technique.

Robert Fovell said...

Will Barrett use his lectern to advocate his notions to his students? I don't know the guy, of course, but based on experience I would predict that is extremely likely he will do so, no matter what he promises. IMHO, the farther one is from the political and cultural center, the less able one is to refrain from proselytizing, and the less likely one can conduct a balanced and well-rounded discussion.

However, will his advocacy make any converts? This is more doubtful. I recall having classes with, umm, rather opinionated professors. For a student, Survival 101 involves parroting and regurgitation. But, at least for me, the more unfair and one-sided a prof was, the less likely I was going to treat anything s/he said respectfully or seriously. I doubt I'm alone in this reaction.

The real problem here is the lack of symmetry. If Barrett were espousing an equally extreme viewpoint, but one typically associated with the far right instead, would the administration and faculty's response be the same? I think the smart money's on their finding some creative pretext for removing the rabblerouser from the classroom.

Seven Machos said...

Thank you, Ben. I would add that Milestones is less of a tomb, and more of a tome.

inmypajamas said...

"For example, I am an atheist liberal, so I am against immigration from religious countries, whether muslim or christian." Well, thank heaven you got here after Washington, Adams and Jefferson and all that "endowed by our Creator" nonsense. Now that you're here, we'll have no more of all that silliness. Those scary British Christians immigrants never accomplished much anyway.

The Barrett issue is the difference between freedom to say anything and the freedom to teach anything. Teaching is not just public speech; it is speaking with authority, placing a great deal of responsibility on the teacher to be knowledgeable and honest. Teaching the two sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict is controversial but valid; teaching a straight-up falsehood like the 9/11 conspiracy as if it were fact is another issue entirely. It is irresponsible for a teaching institution to allow an instructor to present a known lie as fact, which is why no Holocaust deniers have classes or tenure. We should be endeavoring to give our children useful, valid information not cluttering up their minds with nonsense.

kpom said...

Wow, denounced by Stanley Fish!

I am honored.

hoodawg said...

1. If Barrett was teaching the history of Islam and proposed that Mohammed was an alien and that he secretly implants a mind-altering virus in the brains of all his followers from a bunker located under the Masjid al-Haram, he would be fired.

2. If Barrett was teaching the history of Islam and proposed that Islam was actually founded in 500 B.C. by a mouse in Cairo, he would be fired.

3. If Barrett was teaching the history of Islam and proposed that the Knesset was secretly controlled by Islamofascist vampire militias that arm Hamas and Hezbollah after dark, he would be fired.

So, now that Barrett is teaching the history of Islam and has proposed that 9/11 was brought about by the United States government -- a proposal that has no more basis in fact than 1-3 above -- why hasn't he been fired?

And as for whether the students in Barrett's classroom have the "freedom" to counter his views, let's remember the vast disparity in power between student and teacher. If a student stands up to Barrett, Barrett could smile and say he appreciates his perspective, but silently mark him down to a C in his mind. It would be virtually impossible for the student to combat that. Grade challenges are very difficult to win, and most students forego them in anything but the most egregious circumstances if they are majoring in the subject -- faculty politics, you know.

Similarly, a student who doesn't stand up to Barrett in the classroom, but then has to answer this question on a test: "Explain the cause of the 9/11 attacks and the implication that has had on current events." What now? Do you answer the way your professor would, detailing the grand conspiracy and Bush's justification of war against Islam? Or do you put your foot down, describing al Qaida's plan of attack and Bush's justified war against terror? Is this a fair position to put any student in - between a politically-correct lie for a likely A and a truthful argument that may or may not cause you to flunk the only test in the course?

As one who stood up to his professor's claim that all men are promiscuous and you're not a man if you don't cheat on your wife, only to get precisely the grade on the exam that dropped me to a B, I can say that principle can come with a price -- a price no student should have to pay. Who is protecting the student's academic freedom??

AST said...

Prof Barrett appears to lack one of the most basic requirements of a professor: the power of critical thought. Add to that his apparent willingness to use grades to force his view on his students, as if they were facts, and you have not a teacher but a cult leader.

Editor Theorist said...

I would like to re-iterate that Academic Freedom is not individual autonomy but professional self-determination. A college teacher is not free to teach what they want to, and never has been.

On the contrary many - perhaps most - college teachers are and have been, one-way-or-another, told pretty exactly what they should teach. [Of course, teachers are free to resign if they disagree with what they are required to teach.]

For example, professionally accredited courses may have a detailed curriculum imposed from outside. Or the examinations may be external (the University of London was essentially an examination board - Medical exams are another example) which dictates the curriculum in reverse. I have known lecturers in the exact sciences who were given the script of their lectures by the department - and merely delivered them.

Teaching to an externally imposed curriculum may indeed make for dull and uninspired teaching, but it is an absolutely mainstream aspect of university education, and has nothing to do with 'academic freedom'.

Therefore, if UW Madison does not approve what Dr Barrett is proposing to teach, they should instruct him to teach something else of which they do approve - and if he refuses, they should cancel the class.

I don't know whether refusing to teach as instructed would constitute a formal breach of contract in the USA, it would do in the UK. However, in practice, it would be disproportionately costly and time-consuming (in the UK) to let go an employee on a fixed term contract, so the employer would probably let them serve-out the time of their contract in idleness.

T J Olson said...

'OOOh!' say the PoMo pimps.
'I've discovered the truth(s) of relativism."
Echoing this, boldizar.com says "I consider myself an 'absolute' moral relativist." In other words, I'm a deep-thinking moral relativist who is immune to totalizing claims of lunkhead absolutists. Why? there are no truths or moral principles that transcend culture. Right.

These claims have been dispatched by philosophers in the social sciences in the 70s and 80s (and yes, by philosophers well before then). Just like the Biblical literalists of old morphed into "creation scientists" in the 80s, and by the 90s into "intelligent design" advocates, the PoMo pimps like Fish have replicated their rhetorical strategies. Thus, for those who love Truth-seeking, debate with both devolves into a "whack a mole" game - an unenviable sport where one move reulst in a familiar countermove, and so on, much like checkers instead of the creative potential of chess. Which is precisely what we see in boldizar posts above.

In an attempt to make short work of thankless Augean labors, Ian Jarvie provides a sophisticated recapitulation here: http://www.arts.yorku.ca/phil/jarvie/documents/documents/CultRel.doc

I excerpt: "In this paper cultural relativism will be described critically, that is, its claims and premisses will be subjected to close philosophical scrutiny. We will find that the doctrine cannot survive such scrutiny and so needs to be explained as itself a product of a particular (sub-)culture rather than as a scientific truth disclosed by anthropological research." In other words, "wisdom" is unmasked as parochialism.

Jarvie defends ten propositions on this subject, based on methodological and moral relativism. To cut to the chase, let's just look at one in detail - that relativism is incoherent.

Put "generally: 'all judgements are relative to culture' is a judgement, call it (J). We may now construct a dilemma: Is the truth of (J) relative to a culture? If the answer is yes, then, since (J) is relative to a culture, (J) is not universally or absolutely true. If it is not absolutely true that all judgements are relative to culture, the possibility that there are judgements true independently of culture is not closed and (J) may be absolutely true. If the answer is no, then (J) is a case of a true judgement not itself relative to culture. The existence of one case opens the possibility of a class of such judgements. Thus the very attempt to formulate (J) opens rather than closes what it tries to forbid. Thus cultural relativism fatally affects its own assertion: it cannot be coherently formulated. To say that values are relative to cultures confuses culture with value. Values are used to measure cultures, including the culture that gives birth to them. If values cannot transcend cultures how can cultures engage in self-assessment." Thus, PoMo pimps utterances logically reduce to "we know we don't know what we are saying."

Apart from incoherence and falsehood (see link above for details), the truth is that there is progress in human life and society, but relativists can neither explain, promote, or defend it. As such, their understanding of it, like baldizar's, is wanting and undermines their ability to defend any positive claims.

Unfortunately for relativists - as in the case of Barrett at UW-Madison when evaluating claims about truth value and cometence are at issue - such dogma cannot help us get the job done. Most likely, as seen in boldizar's posts above, it frustrates understanding.

Folks in the humanities flaunting the pretense of knowledge would to well to catch up with the social sciences. We know your game better than you do; you even believe we invented it. Old whine offered in new "improved!" bottles ain't selling.

Mark in Texas said...

A discussion of academic freedom really ought to mention Professor Jared Sakren and the Arizona State University theatre department.

Rob said...

T J,

Quick point. Your "paradox" is unfair. You set up your proposition as a judgment and then defeat it. A relativist could argue the statement contained in your intitial proposition is not a moral judgment - it's a statement of fact or a statement about the nature of morality.

Disclosure: I am not a moral relativist, but I do believe some actions do not have a moral content.

amba said...

I'm goin' crosseyed . . . Farrell and Barrett are becoming Barrel and Ferret.

Barrel and Ferret and Fish. Ferret shoots Fish in Barrel.

TM Lutas said...

I do wonder if Barrett's going to discuss the Shriners. Let's recap.

It's an Islam 101 course. If muslims actually staged the 9/11 attacks, it would be a reasonable minor topic to discuss. If muslims did not perpetrate the 9/11 attacks but a non-muslim group (or groups) did it and drew a false connection to muslims, then the Shriners who are very obviously faux muslim are an equally legitimate topic and should get equal time. To my mind that would be zero.

amba said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sigivald said...

From Polonius' blog, quoted above: Professors are the canaries in the coal mine; they're often the first ones to see what's gone wrong. If they don't urge activism, there's often no one who will.


That's an interesting assertion.

Interesting because I don't think it's actually true; maybe it's a generational thing, or something to do with not being in academia (having graduated and Moved On).

But I don't recall the professors generally being the people to urge activism when nobody else will (though they certainly are known to push for activism, but I've only really seen it as part of established movements).

What activism does he speak of? Am I just ignorant of some great contribution of the professoriat to activism in general, or is my observation accurate?

Anyone?

(This, of course, ignores the question of whether or not the activism of professors is useful activism, or harmful, though I think a judgement on that might affect people's willingness to support professorial activism en mass.)

Kent said...

I don't see many grounds for such confidence.

When it comes time to drag the rotting corpse away, it does no good to disparage the undertaker for doing something distasteful. Of course legislative intervention is highly distasteful; but the fault does not lie with the legislators who have been handed the buck, but with the university that passed it to them.

I watched Barrett on CNN. He said 9/11 was a "New Pearl Harbor". What's that about?

Evidently he loves conspiracy theories, including the old canard that Roosevelt deliberately allowed Pearl Harbor to be bombed in order to end isolationism. Evidently he is in the same crowd as Jeanette Rankin, the only dissenting vote on the declaration of war with Japan, who objected that no one had proved to her satisfaction that Pearl Harbor was not bombed by British planes in false colors from the neighbor islands. (I wish I was making this up.)

Rankin was a Republican, by the way. Didn't someone make a spot-on but completely unprintable comment earlier on how the far Left and far Right wrap around and meet?

Mike said...

A half-hour interview with Kevin Barrett on a Sunday morning Madison talk show; "For The Record".

http://www.c3ktogo.com/video-player.php?id=4688

Any rational person has to see that the U.S. government was behind the attacks.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Debra said...

"Any rational person has to see that the U.S. government was behind the attacks."

Thank you, Mike, for adding some much-needed little balance to this very closed-minded discussion. I see a shortage a critical thinking skills here along with a surplus of dogma . Those who are brave enough to actually research and examine 9/11 revisionist theories (as outlined in David Ray Griffin's books, for example) are the real patriots. Undertaking this kind of research is so very painful and disturbing, so I certainly understand why people are quick to dismiss anything which challenges the official account as presented by the 9/11 Commission. However, it is necessary and important.

If you can't wrap your mind around the fact that there are many "evil-doers" running our own government (past and present), do a google search on "Operation Northwoods." Here is a link to the actual government document:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news
/20010430/northwoods.pdf
If you don't want to read the entire text, start reading on page 10 to get some valuable insight into the workings of our military. Sadly, there is indeed nothing new under the sun...

Seven Machos said...

I have noticed something. At the end of comment threads on blogs like this one, a few days after the commenting has basically died, paranoid cranks like Mike and Debra will add posts suggesting ridiculous paranoia. It happens a lot regarding September 11 and religion threads.

What does this suggest? My theory is that people like Mike and Debra (very possibly the same person, by the way) are so enthralled by their crazy ideas that they google around looking for places where their pet theories might be discussed. This accounts for the lag time, and the fact that these people are never seen nor heard again.

Mike/Debra: You are wrong. There are people out there who want to destroy the West. Those are your bad people. I am right now reading "The Muslim Discovery of Europe" by Bernard Lewis. Pick it up, or anything by Lewis. Therein, you might discover that there are other civilizations and -isms out there.

Seven Machos said...

And another thing. I did look up "Operation Northwoods." It's a fraud. A hoax. No American would say "college students on holiday," just for example.

I'm not sure if the docs were in 12-pt. font and produced on a laser printer.

What is it with moonbats and fake documents?

Dr Weirde said...

Seriously discussed in the New York Times.

Dr. Weirde's impossible dream has come true.

Dr. Weirde
http://conwisconsin.blogspot.com/

Debra said...

In response to the posts left by Seven Machos, I would like to clear up a few points. First, I am only me and am not Mike. In addition, I am not paranoid, nor a religious crackpot. Secondly, I came across this blog by clicking links related to the July 23 NYT article by Stanley Fish. I do very little blogging, as I feel that my time is better spent reading and researching. Your comment "My theory is that people like Mike and Debra (very possibly the same person, by the way) are so enthralled by their crazy ideas that they google around looking for places where their pet theories might be discussed," couldn't be more wrong. (Certainly, THIS particular discussion pokes huge holes in your "theory.") As I read through the posts, it soon became apparent that my views were not well-represented -- but I continued to read because I am interested in the opinions of others and am always optimistic that there will be an opportunity to learn something. You are right about one thing, Seven -- it is not likely that I will return to a forum where I am disrespected.

By the way, if you followed the link I provided for Operation Northwoods, that is the site of the National Security Archive at George Washington Unversity, which I think would make this document a verifiable primary source. To quote from GWU's site: "An independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The Archive also serves as a repository of government records on a wide range of topics pertaining to the national security, foreign, intelligence, and economic policies of the United States."

Chew on that for awhile...

Seven Machos said...

Debra -- "Operation Northwoods" is a hoax. It's amazing to me that people are more than willing to believe papers allegedly 40 years old but not what they saw five years ago with their very own eyes.

September 11 was real. A crazy faction of Arab Islamists really wants to desroy the West and 19 guys really did hijack four planes and kill 3000 people and destroy three buildings and damage the Pentagon. The United States government had nothing to do with it.

Your views are not well-represented here because the people here are rational. You are a crazy kook. Please, for the love of Mike, take your bizarre conspiracy theories elsewhere.

occidental tourist said...

For this particular academic controversy, Stanley Fish has adopted the lingo of indoctrination and proselytization vs. study and research.

I think this is a useful but not controlling distinction. The question isn't what Barrett believes, or even what he annouces people ought to believe, but whether the class is open to thoughtful disagreement and in larger measure whether the campus environment - i.e. other humanities offerings and extra curricular intellectual undertakings (if that is not oxymoronic)-- welcomes the study and exposition of viewpoints antagonistic to Barrett's.

Fish's generic formulation in previous writing has been that the central purpose of the university is the search for truth -- "the serious embrace of that purpose precludes deciding what the truth is in advance, or ruling out certain accounts of the truth before they have been given a hearing, or making evaluations of those accounts turn on the known or suspected political affiliations of those who present them."(that is a quote from one of his many columns for the Chronicle of Higher Education).

This could be read to cut in Barrett's favor, but I suggest it reformulates the question to whether Barrett is engaged in a search for the truth or rather in announcing his theories as some indisputable truth? As I said above, this theory can also be observed at the macro level.

There are worse problems for the American academy than a few crackpots like Barrett and Churchill. It is the lack of an academic answer to these extreme academics. For all the handwringing over Ward Churchill and whether he was subject to a witchhunt following his silly non-academic treatise on where chickens roost, not one academic at Colorado or elsewhere teed up the obvious criticism of what a hypocrite he was in comparing those working at the World Trade Center to Adolph Eichman. Forgetting that the analogy was emotional and excessive, Churchill himself had written a paper only a few years earlier embracing Lipstadt's view of such expression as immoral equivalencies ( http://zena.secureforum.com/Znet/zmag/allarticles1.cfm ). Churchill was contradicting himself.

If he had been taken on on the academic level, I think people would have imagined that the University system was working and crys for Churchill's head on a platter wouldn't need to have been raised as his fellow academics would already have delivered it in proper fashion. At the very least a lively academic debate around his representations and how they square with his scholarship would have demonstrated that the liberal educational model was alive and well. The lack of such response tends to make me believe it is not. A public lynching based on previous weak and cribbed efforts is what Churchill gets, but this doesn't fix the system, it just goes after on obvious symptom.

Back when Fish was on and off the Horowitz bandwagon in pushing for an academic bill of rights I analyzed the body of the Fish's commentary on academic freedom and have republished that work in honor of the extensive discussion on this blog at our own: http://www.fromtheheartland.org/blog/2006/07/fish_story.php

I'm not trying to hijack the discussion which is lively here, but thought those who enjoy subjecting themselves to minidissertations on these subjects might enjoy the context provided by looking at Fish's previous work.

Brian

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