Monday, March 20, 2023

NY Times catches up with the Amy Wax case at Penn...

...but doesn't understand academic freedom, in ways that are typical.  The reporter says that Dean Ruger's move to sanction Wax threatens "one of tenure’s key tenets — the right of academics to speak freely, without fear of punishment, whether in public or in the classroom."   That "or" conceals a world of difference! 

The AAUP definition of academic freedom, to which Penn is committed (in principle), prohibits the institution from sanctioning Professor Wax for her speech in the public square.  But the AAUP definition of academic freedom definitely does not permit a professor to "speak freely" in the classroom:  in fact, it's the opposite.  The professor may exercise his or her academic judgment about what to say in the classroom subject to the professor's disciplinary and pedagogical obligations.  So, for example, when I teach "Evidence," I cannot tell students there is no meaningful hearsay doctrine in the United States; and when I teach "Jurisprudence," I cannot tell students that natural law theory is the only plausible philosophy of law. When I teach any subject, I cannot insult the students, demean them, or abuse them.  

"Academic freedom" does not protect academic malpractice.  It also does not protect pontificating about matters unrelated to the subject of the course.  (There are no allegations against Professor Wax on either score, just to be clear.)

There is no question that most of the extramural speech that has provoked Penn's disciplinary proceeding is protected by academic freedom.  (I have noted a possible exception previously.)  If she had engaged in such speech in the classroom, it would most likely not be protected, but it does not appear she did so.

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