Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Hypothetical Question


Let’s suppose for a moment that you are a left/liberal and you run a hiring/promotion committee at a large state university. One of your tenured professors is up for promotion to full professor, a promotion that you know means quite a bit (in addition to the pay raise) to most professors, including this candidate. On paper, he presents some rather excellent credentials. He has published more than most members of the department (something like 11 peer-reviewed papers in 12 years), and he is an excellent teacher. Uniformly high student evaluations have contributed to three teaching awards, including two Faculty Member of the Year awards from the Dean of Students. But there’s something else. This professor is also a prolific columnist and has become (by far) the most famous professor at the university. His columns reach millions, he has written a book that was widely read, he has another book on the way from a major publisher, and he regularly appears on television.

To be sure, this professor is a controversial and outspoken dissenter from the status quo. His columns generate cries of outrage and calls for his resignation or termination. He is occasionally threatened and on at least two occasions he has been subjected to strange and misguided investigations from university officials. As a courageous member of academia, you remember an eloquent recent essay that proclaimed the academy as the home of dissent:

We also invoke Ralph Waldo Emerson’s exhortations for scholars and other intellectuals to “defer never to the popular cry,” to stand up against majority opinion, unjust governmental power (specifically on issues of his time like support for slavery and the Mexican-American War), and corporate plutocracy; in “The American Scholar” he speaks of “the disgust which the principles on which business is managed inspire.” We follow Emerson up with his disciple Henry David Thoreau’s “Life Without Principle” (“There is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay to life itself, than this incessant business”), and “Civil Disobedience”: “Why does [government] not cherish its wise minority?… Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

So you make the obvious choice, right? You defend the independence of the academy, you reward good teaching and solid scholarship, and you resist the cry of the mob by granting the promotion that is so richly deserved.

Or not. We all know that the academy leaps to the defense of scholars who compare World Trade Center victims to genocidal Nazis or persecute Jews in class, or accuses the Bush administration of slaughtering its own citizens on 9/11 but we also know there is little tolerance for a different kind of dissent — conservative dissent.

Last week the University of North Carolina Wilmington denied Mike Adams promotion to full professor without explanation (read FIRE’s coverage here. During his time at Wilmington, the university has invaded his private e-mails, investigated him after false (and facially ludicrous) felony allegations were made against him, and now denied his promotion. The university has some explaining to do. Stay tuned . . .


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