Sunday, October 22, 2006

On Freedom... with Pie

Again with the conflation of “academic freedom” and “freedom of expression”! And from a philosophy professor, no less!

Marquette University’s James South, Chair of the Philosophy Department, told a graduate student to remove a quote from Dave Barry from his office door. In an email, according to an Associate Press story:
South said he supports academic freedom but hallways and office doors are not "free speech zones."

Did South forget the elementary logic he certainly once studied? “A implies B but C does not equal D” does not an argument make. He might as well be saying “I love cherry pie, but Washington did not cut down that cherry tree.” The sharing of “cherries” does not make cherry pie and cherry tree the same thing, nor does “free” makes “academic freedom” and “free speech” the same. Furthermore, there is no relationship between the statements—and wouldn’t be, even if pies and trees (or academia and speech) were, in fact, identical.

What is particularly galling about this to me is that it plays into the hands of those conservatives who are trying to paint American universities as bastions of liberal bias where deviation from the liberal line is tantamount to a criminal act. Because of the attitude expressed by South and Marquette administrators, someone named J.J. Jackson, writing for a blog called ”The Land of the Free,” is able to make hay out of this example of liberal stupidity, implying that it is just one more example of the leftist hegemony in academia.

The Barry quote?
As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer of course to the federal government.

Frankly, even as a liberal, I like that quote. But that’s neither here nor there. The right has co-opted the concept of small government over the past decades as their own—seeing any opposition to it as necessarily “liberal.”

In this case, I don’t see the opposition to the quote as “liberal” at all—just stupid, whatever James South's political persuasion might be.

Certainly, the flurry has nothing at all to do with “academic freedom”—except in this: by bringing the phrase into a discussion of the appropriateness of political expression on the campus of an academic institution, South further confuses popular understandings of “academic freedom,” playing into the hands of the right a second time, making it even easier to couch their own opposition to the perceived liberal bastion of academia in terms of a further misunderstood concept of “academic freedom.”

So fie on you, James South. Fie on you twice. First, for abridging freedom of expression (though you have the right, for Marquette is a private institution and the expression, therefore, took place on private property) and second for giving another little boost to the war on real “academic freedom” currently being waged by the right.

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