Wednesday, September 20, 2017
...for his abject failure of leadership in one of his central duties as head of an academic institution: to defend freedom of speech and inquiry by faculty and students on both scholarly matters and matters of public concern. It is not his role to express his own opinions about positions defended by his faculty, either in their scholarship or in their contributions to public debate. If he wants to express his own opinions, he should step down from the Deanship and rejoin the faculty. But as Dean, his job is to defend freedom of speech and inquiry, even when it is unpopular. He has failed.
USD Law professor Tom Smith has more, including a response from many of Larry Alexander's colleagues to the Dean's inappropriate public statement.
The op-ed by Larry and Penn law professor Amy Wax that has generated all the controversy was rather feeble, confusing correlation and causation in ways that were, by my lights, embarrassing and strange. The piece has been subjected to sensible criticism from colleagues of Professor Wax. I make my opinion known about the merits only so we can be clear that mine is an objection based on a crucial principle: the job of academic administrators is to administer a university environment, which includes protecting the space for scholarly and political debate. An administrator can only do that if he or she does not enter that space and take sides against members of the faculty or the student body. Here is how the University of Chicago's 1967 Kalven Report (authored by famed First Amendment scholar Harry Kalven) puts it:
The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.
The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.....To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry, and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community....
Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues o fthe day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.
The Dean speaks for that community, and the way Dean Ferruolo has spoken has now endangered the community he was charged with shepherding.
Up until this point, I had thought Dean Ferruolo had done rather well by USD, but he has failed, and failed mightily, here. His choices are clear: apologize for his failure in this instance, or resign.
Readers may be interested in my discussion of these issues in a column last Spring at CHE.
UPDATE: See also the discussion of the op-ed by Penn's Jonah Gelbach.