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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

You Must Be Perfect . . . Or Else



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After reading the comments attached to Inside Higher Ed’s coverage of Professor Stephen Kershnar’s ordeal at SUNY Fredonia, I was struck by the following statement from “Roger Bowen”: 

President Hefner admitted his mistake, to his credit, but Professor Kershnar seems to see no contradiction in first offering to have his articles vetted by a censorship committee prior to publication and then when the offer is accepted with an add-on complains that the university attempted to stifle his speech. Faustian bargains of the sort that President Hefner and Professor Kershnar made behind closed doors have no place in the academy.

Now, this may or may not be the Roger Bowen I know, but his comment was picked up by several others in the thread, and it echoes something I see all the time in my own legal practice: An unwillingness to support an individual with valid claims because the individual has not behaved perfectly prior to taking his case public. Should professor Kershnar have offered to submit his articles for prior review? Ideally, no. But individuals in real-world situations under pressure often make decisions that to outsiders look like unacceptable compromises. Do we know the professor’s financial situation? His family situation? How much support he had from friends or from colleagues? When we ourselves are under pressure, do we always stand perfectly on principle?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with college students who’ve been victimized by real censorship only to have allies or potential allies turn their backs on those students because they weren’t morally flawless in their pre-litigation conduct. Life is complex, people are imperfect, but some things should be quite clear, even to “Roger Bowen:” Public university administrators should not condition professors’ promotions on their public support for state actions.

PLEASE NOTE: This even applies to Wisconsin’s own Kevin Barrett. The relevant question with Barrett is whether he can use an “Introduction to Islam” class as a platform for his bizarre theories and whether he can use Wisconsin’s name and reputation to promote his extra-curricular activities. To the best of my knowledge, Kershnar’s classroom work (where the University has a legitimate interest in his expression) was not an issue. 



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