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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Academic freedom once meant protection from politics; now it means protection for politics.

Peter Wood, quoted earlier today by David Thompson.

27 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    I am not sure that “academic freedom” ever did mean freedom from politics.

    After all Richard Ely (the creator of the American Economics Association and the “academic freedom” campaign that led to the growth of “tenure”) was an ardent interventionist (German educated – of course) who used his campaign for “academic freedom” as a way of trying to force anti free market people on all universities (thus destroying CHOICE for students – by making universities ideologically the same).

    Even today the various associations of academics target Hillsdale and Grove City College and violators of “academic freedom”, because these universities present a non “Progressive” alternative for students.

  • RRS

    I have a sense of concurrence with Paul Marks.

    To me, from the time I first went to university at 17, “Academic Freedom” meant freedom of the individuals within the academic community; physical and intellectual freedom which carried responsibility for errors.

    Paraphrasing: and to tolerate error so long as reason be left free to combat it.

  • Mr Ed

    Just who is paying for this ‘freedom’ if a University is tax-funded? Surely academics are entitled to be ‘right’ as an implicit term of the contract if not explicit? i.e do your research and find the truth, and find error, and tell us what you find, we shall be happy with that. Lying and unproductive laziness should always be grounds for dismissal, and paying people to lie is fine so long as those paying for it agree in advance and none suffer a tort.

    Once the State pays, everything is political.

  • I think Paul Marks has it right.

    Wikipedia downplays the impact of Ross’ racism in his getting fired.
    Here are the references:

  • RRS

    On a bit more thought that freedom within of Academic Freedom was more a “freedom to” than a “freedom from.”

  • Laird

    I think the original quote has it right. Academic freedom was intended to protect professors from penalty for propounding unpopular viewpoints (it certainly had nothing to do with shielding students from those views, or for any students’ attempts to refute them). Paul is undoubtedly correct that it was pushed by Ely and others in order to pack the universities with Marxists and the like, and in that it has been wildly successful. But that merely proves the point: early on they would have been removed from university faculties by political means (i.e., popular opposition) had the doctrine not been in place. Now that they have become ensconced those professors use political means (pressure on administrations, domination of tenure committees, etc.) to ensure that no one expressing reactionary ideas is hired and apostates are denied tenure. Mr. Wood expressed that much more succinctly.

  • CaptDMO

    See, what we need NOW is “academic justice”.
    Specifically for negro, female, homosexual, seniors, at Harvard, named Korn.
    Preemptive emotional guilt protection from the shredder of ones credential entitling, cut-and-paste, “thesis”?

  • Joseph W.

    I think it was Henry Hazlitt who asked whether we should also have “Taxidrivers’ Freedom” — to take the car where the driver, not the paying passenger, wants to go.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    OK, OK. As the/a token academic I agree to stand up and have potshots taken at me.
    Can I say first that I agree with the spirit of nearly all the previous comments (boo, hiss, spoilsport etc). However

    1) most UK universities are not supported by taxes to the extent that people think. 35% only in the case of my own beloved university/employer.

    2) Academic freedom is a dodgy concept. I’m enlightened (as I so often am (being but a poor higorant maffematician) by the comments at Samizdata-in this case by Paul Marks’s comments.
    But I have to think that there is a balance to be struck between universities as “refuges of the wrong” and “fortresses of orthodoxy”. Of course we could all argue that they’re being both at the moment. But try this on for size if you want to see a more responsive model of academic endeavour.

    3)Confronted, as we all are, by the constant urge to “feel”, I would hope that universities could remain a refuge for the countervailing urge to actually think and to take those thoughts where they may lead.

    4) I accept that my hope may be regarded as insanely optimistic.

    5) I am a taxpayer and I classify all post-modernists as enemies.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    And now I find, to my chagrin and dismay, that I have an unpaired bracket in my previous post

    [reaches for bottle of scotch and revolver.]

  • Laird hit the nail on the head, but I’d go further (of course).

    The term ‘academic freedom’ did indeed protect professors from popular opposition particularly as the Progressive movement largely captured the universities. In fact Google Ngrams shows that use of terms ‘academic freedom’ and ‘social science’ rose from nothing to serious heights roughly when Progressives seized power: 1890s – 1930s. Joseph de Maistre says that religion is (with patriotism) the basis of all great institutions and in the following passage shows how it came to be that, losing the authority of the priests, we now rely on the authority of professors:

    But all human institutions obey the same rule, being meaningless or dangerous unless they rest on the foundation of all existence. This principle being undeniable, what shall we think of a generation which has thrown everything to the winds, including the very foundations of the structure of society, by making education exclusively scientific? It was impossible to err more frightfully. For every educational system which does not have religion as its basis will collapse in an instant, or else diffuse only poisons throughout the State, religion being, as Bacon aptly says, the spice which preserves the sciences from decay.


    The question so often asked, Why a school of theology in every university? is easily answered. The reason is that the universities may exist and that instruction may not become corrupted. Originally, universities were only schools of theology to which other faculties were attached, as are subjects around their queen. Established on such a foundation, the edifice of public instruction had lasted until our day. Those who have overturned it among themselves will long repent in vain. A mere child or a lunatic can burn down a city. But architects, materials, workmen, wealth, and above all, time, are necessary to restore it.

  • Larry Sheldon

    Actually, it now means “now it means protection for” selected approved “politics”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nobody has mentioned this so far, even though RRS and Laird, at least, are in America; although it has come up before on Samizdata, I think.

    Here there is a great deal of bug spray and mustard gas being sprayed onto David Horowitz and his Academic Freedom campaign.

    For him, “Academic Freedom” means only that the colleges’ faculty members will teach as opposed to indoctrinating, as opposed to recruiting students to political positions and to activism supporting the professors’ ideologies, and as opposed to punishing students for their stances on various issues by means of giving them undeservedly poor grades.

    It DOES NOT call for laws either for or against hiring persons of any given political or philosophical persuasion. In fact it DOES NOT call for laws at all, although in some cases it has worked to get State legislatures to enact NON-BINDING Resolutions supporting something along the lines of his Academic Bill of Freedom for the state’s college and University system.

    The idea is that professors should be perfectly free to state and argue for their opinions outside the classroom, and that students should be free to state their opinions outside the classroom and also in class, in cases where the prof or lecturer is asking class members to state and defend their positions.

    It absolutely does NOT call for any sort of favoritism in terms of political or philosophical positions in hiring faculty. In fact Mr. Horowitz has said repeatedly that the personal beliefs of prospective teachers shouldn’t even be a subject of inquiry for the Search Committees and so forth.

    He wants free inquiry and free discussion on the part of both the faculty and the students, but without any pressure on the students to adopt some particular position on any political issue.

    Only stating this for the record.

    (This is not to be interpreted as 100% agreement with every jot and tittle of the Academic Bill of Rights; but I do see what Mr. Horowitz is getting at, and applaud what he’s trying to get at.)

  • Fraser Orr

    I think a couple of people alluded to this above, but let me say it explicitly. The reason why colleges and universities are full of Marxists and socialists is because colleges and universities are generally almost entirely paid out of government funds. These come either in the form of research grants, or student fees, usually borrowed under various government boondoggles.

    Perhaps those academics have high IQs, and are super smart, but none of that cancels out the universal law — he who pays the piper calls the tune. Academic freedom notwithstanding.

    Insofar as Universities deem it in the best interests of their institutions to protect maverick, disenting opinions (something which is always is) they should and can grant tenure and protection as part of the contract.

    But of course the plain fact is that education is going the way of the music business. Bye. bye big unaccountable institutions

  • bloke in spain

    Academia is, was & always has been the monopolisation of knowledge. Universities are not there to disseminate learning. Their purpose is to restrict it.

  • Does anyone really give a toss what is taught in the farts and the huge mannatees? I mean everyone knows it’s a bunch of toss anyway. I did physics and other than the (inevitable – we need more funding!) there was no politricks. I knew someone, as an undergrad, who did “social policy” and that was left of Lenin but then you expect that. I did and I was 19. She was a right munter too. That even goes against my concept that the only point of anything outside of science and engineering at university is for the provision of minge. I’m not saying she didn’t have a minge – I’m sure she had a crusty and radical one. Saints preserve us from such! I mean, really, there is science type stuff and there is wanking into a Ginster’s pasty and calling it art. And medicine/nursing is very borderline being as it is now mainly about coercive hectoring.

    Spoken from my angry lesbian breast. So there!

  • Mr Ed

    NickM, It matters since the people who can do things, do, and those who don’t go into politics, the purpose of which is the reward of failure, and the punishment of success. More end up in the State apparatus. The ‘useless third’ of the population who study the liberal arts are often not simply wrong, but often malevolent, and have no opposition from within the State sector, facing either acquiescence, resignation or indifference, and so step by step, they do immense harm as they put their ideas into effect, or failure to recognise harm when it is being done. Some, of course, escape into the economic world and do useful, productive things.

    From my pov, there is no such subject as, say, ‘English Literature’, there are simply collections of work and a pretence that the work is a matter worthy of study and comment. More likely, nowadays, it is a vehicle for advancing an agenda. Contrast the learning of say, Anglo-Saxon, which requires the discipline of learning a different language.

    The first sensible (i.e. likely to be politically possible) step would be to abolish all State funding for non-science studies at University, including any State-funded research grants to academics. It would be wholly mischievous to ban people with ‘Arts’ degrees from State-funded jobs (even sweeping the road on a council contract). However, it would be interesting to see the reaction. A ban on PPE graduates from Parliament might be a useful step, by the device of declaring the holding of such a degree a notional ‘office of profit under the Crown’.

  • RRS

    It is interesting how the thread is now shifting from discussion of the “nature” of freedom as applied in, or to, an academic (learning) milieu, over to the limitations that should be considered (via revenue sources, etc.)for those purposes.

    Suggested reading: The Logic of Liberty by *Michael* Polanyi (1951)Liberty Fund 1998 (reprint)

    [In re: government funding of “Science.”]

  • I have known a number of Eng Lit students/graduates… Guess what they all have in common? They have never read “The Lord of The Rings”. Wankers.

  • bloke in spain

    It’s hard to understand why sciences like physics don’t cut themselves loose from the entire university shambles. Some decent buildings out in the countryside, plenty of room for equipment. Stick a radio telescope on the front lawn if you want one.
    I was once being told how, when they were at Oxford, some pretentious prick’s rooms dated back to 1200 or somesuch. FFS! Trying to learn in a museum must be bad enough. Let alone living in one.
    The arts’n’farts want their dreaming spires? As long as they pay for them, let them keep them.

  • Mr Ed

    BiS: You could have said “You mean they’ve been talking bollocks here for 900 years! Shouldn’t you get out more?

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Nick M-my wife is an Eng Lit graduate and LOTR is her favourite book. She has read it 15 times. She also has a job in the private sector. However, I fully accept that she is in a minority.

    I do not think that people’s legitimate criticism of Arts and Humanities should apply to History, however. Many historians, IMHO, do sterling and rigorous work. OTOH some of them are leftist b***ards.

  • Mr Ed

    I’ve seen terms like ‘Marxist historian’, two words where ‘Scumbag’ would do, but how often do historians seek not to explain but to ‘interpret’ events, which have already happened and cannot be repeated, in order to work backwards to their ideological agenda?

    A bit like the ‘scientists’ who say X happens, because of Y, e.g. ‘women like handsome, rich, strong men because they have better genes and can provide for them and this gives their offspring better chances of survival‘ whereas one might think that this was deduced before the study from assumptions about survival of the fittest and/or some observations and a ‘mechanism’ is imputed, where the proper conclusions might be ‘that woman likes a handsome, rich, strong man because she does‘ and ‘it so happens that this maximises her chances of passing on her genes to her offspring and the offspring reaching adulthood and repeating the cycle“, as one cannot know what the women studied know of genetics (and the tricks that it can play).

    I rarely come across a history graduate, and when I do, I often sense a certain unjustified smugness. That may be sampling error.

  • Fraser Orr

    Regarding history — the theory is that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But from my reading of history, with a few notable exceptions, the only lesson that we learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history.

  • Ljh

    University is not simply teaching and exams but the interactions of students through voluntary societies and debate of topical interest. This is where the left has freedom of thought in a vice: the topics that cannot be addressed, the speakers who cannot be invited, academic boycotts, the ad homs against anyone not expressing a socially left view. Narrow narrow narrow! And coming to this environment, how are socially insecure adolescents to realise how much is crap and that dissent is not evil?

  • bloke in spain

    “University is not simply teaching and exams but the interactions of students through voluntary societies and debate of topical interest.”
    Seems a fairly good argument for aggressive carpet bombing.
    What’s the point of them debating points of topical interest? They don’t know enough, yet, to have useful opinions. Gives them bad habits as well. They end up becoming politicians & still don’t know enough to have useful opinions.

  • Mr Ed

    Ljh There are plenty of people in voluntary societies who don’t need a University to be involved, e.g. in the UK, scouts, St John’s Ambulance, football leagues, lifeboats, wildlife groups, aircraft preservation, museums, mountain rescue, choirs etc.. In fact, some student union voluntary societies used to get grants from the state-funded student unions, so it’s not really voluntary if tax is doled out. The whining self-importance of student union hacks is, as B-i-S says, an incitement to aggressive carpet bombing to some, (after the bars close naturally, I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt).