Phi Beta Cons

“The Right’s Ward Churchill”

Colorado law professor Paul Campos believes that he has located the “right’s Ward Churchill,” a professor whose public speech is so outrageous as to raise questions about his fitness to teach. Even worse, this professor is so radical and violent, that his employer may one day have an “accessory to murder” on its payroll. Yes, that’s right. This maniac is so dangerous that he might even drag a public university into the darkness of the criminal underworld.
And who is this radical rightist? Well, it’s none other than Glenn Reynolds, father of the conservative blogosphere and one of the most civil and respectful commentators in the political universe. And what was Glenn’s crime? Whose “murder” was he advocating? It turns out that Reynolds mused out loud whether direct attacks against the Iranian mullahs and scientists who are waging Iran’s covert war against the U.S. and building Iran’s illegal nuclear bomb might be preferable to the massive air strikes that the U.S. may be considering. Here’s how Campos describes Glenn’s (alleged) crime:

Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet’s most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.

“We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians’ toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq,” Reynolds wrote.

Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he’s now dutifully repeating the administration’s claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq’s civil war.

Iran is not at war with the U.S.? Tell that to the families of Americans slain by Iranian-manufactured IEDs and Iranian-trained and funded terrorists. Iran has been waging a sometimes direct, sometimes proxy campaign against America (and Israel) since 1979. Eugene Volokh takes apart the substance of Campos’s argument much better than I ever could, so I’ll focus my comments on the question of academic freedom and free speech.
Back during the height of Ward Churchill hysteria (when I was president of FIRE), we wrote a letter to the University of Colorado strongly urging it to protect the professor’s free speech rights even as it investigated him for plagiarism and academic fraud. Simply put, the public statements by professors — acting as individuals — regarding publicly important issues are and should be constitutionally protected. While free speech should be protected as a matter of principle, Campos’s article serves as a stark reminder that in the political calculus of the modern university, no one benefits more from free speech protections than conservatives. While radical leftist professors can sometimes generate headlines — and the occasional call for action from state legislators or even governors — the day to day reality of the academy is one of leftist control. If we start punishing professors for “controversial” out-of-class statements, the primary victims will be conservatives, not liberals. And not every conservative professor is like Glenn Reynolds — protected by an impeccable public reputation and the collective strength of a million or so readers.

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