In all the fuss over UC Davis’s withdrawal of its invitation to Lawrence Summers, I haven’t seen anyone actually defend the revocation–until now. The initial objections of feminist faculty members to Summers were reported. But since the public controversy broke, those who disinvited Summers have simply kept silent and hoped the controversy would go away. Now two professors, John Cary Sims and Deb Niemeier, defend the decision to boot Summers. Check out, “Another View: Disinviting Summers was justified.”
The argument here is weak. First the authors say the controversy “has nothing to do with academic freedom,” then they argue that the invitation “violated a bedrock principle of academic freedom.” So which is it? The problem here derives from a bit of sophistry deployed by Sims and Niemeier. They say that addressing the Board of Regents at a private dinner (which Summers was asked to do) is not the same as actually appearing on campus. Since Summers wasn’t going to be addressing a group of college students, “academic freedom” was supposedly not at stake.
Well, the professors are wrong. Academic freedom is very much at stake in the Summers case, as is the existence of a broader marketplace of ideas outside of the university. Depriving Summers of a podium because he once tentatively raised one partial, possible explanation for male/female differences in academic hiring sends a chilling message to the entire country about forbidden topics of debate on America’s college campuses. The authors expose their own contradiction when they say that despite this being a “private dinner,” the “UC community has a vital stake in any advice he is providing to the regents.”
In other words, Summers was slated to address a private dinner that supposedly had nothing to do with academic freedom, but the UC faculty somehow had a right to quash the talk because they believe Summers must remain a pariah. The dinner doesn’t count as “college,” yet somehow the college community has a right to stop it anyway.
The message here is hair-splitting, contradictory, and downright dishonest. Nowhere do these authors own up to what they’re about. They obviously want Summers banned because they view his remarks on women as “insulting and uninformed.” Yet they aren’t willing or able to simply say this outright and offer an extended or coherent justification. We’re told a lot about why this supposedly has nothing to do with academic freedom, but virtually nothing about why the faculty wanted Summers silenced to begin with. We also learn that the petition to ban Summers was signed by “hundreds” of professors. That must have been the bulk of the UC Davis faculty. Chilling. At any rate, read this piece and see how Summers’ enemies defend themselves.