Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Amy Wax, again, and academic freedom and the duties of administrators

Penn's Amy Wax has done it again, and this time her Dean has caved into those (reasonably) offended and condemned the substance of her remarks.  In the past, Penn Dean Ruger did the right things when it came to Wax, but in this instance he failed:  it is not the job of a Dean to condemn the protected and lawful speech of faculty members.  (See this for more details about my views on this score.)   The public response should have been succinct and consisted only of this:  "Professor Wax speaks for herself, not for the institution."   Individual faculty are free to exercise their speech rights to criticize Wax's latest stupidity, but the institution, for whom the Dean speaks, should remain silent. 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.

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