Power in the university

Authority’s first duty is to preserve itself.  Jennifer Frey writing in First Things on The War on Tenure is doing her part.  Amusingly enough, I also wrote a defense of tenure when I was an assistant professor.  I can’t quite go along with this:

Tenure rights for university faculty exist for one purpose: to safeguard academic freedom.  Academic freedom is simply freedom to pursue the truth in good faith, unimpeded by fear of dismissal by those who wield power.

Oh no, my friend, the purpose of tenure is that we the faculty are supposed to be the ones wielding power.  The departments are ours, and we shall guard our control of them jealously.  “Academic freedom” is just another word for our collective authority; it means that no outsider may set limits on our research and teaching.  I get the sense that Prof. Frey really does appreciate that this is what it’s all about when she writes things like the following:

What the cases at Duke, the Mount, and USTH all appear to have in common is this: They are examples of the erosion of the traditional rights and privileges of tenure. This erosion coincides with a power shift that marginalizes the role of faculty within the university’s shared governance. This is a direct attack on the institution of the university itself.

In response to the student mobs intimidating faculty at Yale, I wrote

In previous discussions of academic freedom, JMSmith, Bruce Charlton, and I pointed out that the freedom in question has always been understood as the autonomy of the academic guild against interference by some outside force like the Church or the state.  It has little to do with the freedom of individual scholars against their peers, even though it is often formulated so as to seem to be about this.  In other words, “academic freedom” is the defense of a particular authority, which makes it easier for me as a reactionary to get behind it.  It also seems that to effectively mobilize the faculty to defend their authority, the outside subversive threat must be identified and acknowledged.

Today, the main threat to academic freedom on campus is the students.  Not all or even most of them, of course.  There is a vast silent majority that just wants to learn and/or be credentialed.  That silent majority doesn’t matter, though.  When a howling mob of grievance majors comes for your scalp, none of the students who appreciate the time you put into constructing lectures, helping them during office hours, etc. is going to be there to defend you.  What matters is the howling mob.  They are now the most feared and most powerful force on campus.  Now they even dare to challenge us, we the professors who should be their masters!  With impunity they attempt to intimidate some of our own number, demanding apologies, demanding resignations.

My fellow professors, for a thousand years, we have ruthlessly advanced our dominion over the university system, fighting off all rivals to our power and prestige.  And right we were to have done so, because authority’s first duty is always to preserve itself.  Today, a new rival has arisen from among our own students.  While they are certainly terrifying, we should not quit the field of battle yet.  They are demos, we are logos.  The university is just a circus unless we’re in charge.   Really, there is no reason we should tolerate mobs at all.  This is not free inquiry or individual expression.  When a mob forms around an isolated target and starts shouting or chanting, this is an attempt at intimidation, pure and simple.  Protests should never be allowed on campus, not even “peaceful” ones, because to gather a large crowd of impassioned youth simply is to threaten violence.   Anyone caught at one should be immediately expelled.  Anyone disrupting class should be expelled.  Anyone caught faking a hate crime should be expelled.

Needless to say, faculty have not followed my advice and so have continued to endure humiliating assaults.  Being Leftists, they can’t help it.  They really think that each generation is more virtuous than the last and that morality always consists in critiquing order, never in upholding it.  At one time, these progressive “memes” served to enhance our power (which is, perhaps, what originally recommended them), but once formulated, ideas take on a life of their own.  The faculty’s own belief system demands they acknowledge the superior authority of social justice hooligan teenagers.

I’ve come to expect students to behave like the lower primates.  What’s most shocking about the protests at Evergreen State College is the faculty response.

The students didn’t get everything they asked for…Nor did Bridges accede to this: “We demand Bret Weinstein be suspended immediately without pay but all students receive full credit” (the “full credit” was a nice touch). Bridges’s refusal to fire him (or any other Evergreen employees targeted on the student list) may be cold comfort to Weinstein, however, because Bridges also declared there would be a “full investigation” of “any complaint of discrimination”—and such complaints look highly likely in the future. Dozens of Weinstein’s fellow faculty members at Evergreen have already signed an open letter asking the college to pursue a “disciplinary investigation against Bret Weinstein” simply for publicizing his predicament: “Weinstein has endangered faculty, staff, and students, making them targets of white supremacist backlash by promulgating misinformation in public emails, on national television, in news outlets, and on social media.”

When the mob comes for you, you must take it silently, because otherwise you are putting our students in danger of backlash from Klingon warriors, or some other equally fictional menace.  I suspect this will be a common tactic.  It’s how the majority of the faculty will rationalize demanding their colleagues surrender to the mob.  Good to know.  It reminds me of how Leftist bullies in academia like to announce that they have received “death threats” whenever criticism of their outrageous behavior draws attention.  There’s no trick so stupid it won’t work when your people control the media.  Actual social justice violence is excused because we must protect ourselves from entirely hypothetical violence from non-existent “white supremacists”.

As I said in my earlier post, the university system is still not as far gone in terms of authority collapse as the Catholic Church.  But the situation is very, very bad.  Some things to look into.

  1. Jonathan Haidt suggests that faculty should speak out in groups, because it will be more difficult to punish a group than a single dissenter.  (See his footnote 1.)
  2. According to the Weekly Standard article, Bret Weinstein attempted to engage protesters who invaded his class in a reasoned discussion of their grievances, which of course they were not interested in having.  I admire the guy’s courage and appreciate that there wasn’t anything better he could do under the circumstances, but it still needs to be said that this is inappropriate.  If someone interrupts a biology class because he objects to the professor’s political beliefs, the only thing he should be allowed to do is apologize to the class for his interruption before being ejected by the police.  The material on the syllabus for that day, not a “dialectic” on Professor Weinstein’s alleged racism, is what should be going on in class.  Realistically, Weinstein probably couldn’t have had them ejected, but still, that’s what should have happened.
  3. Sooner or later, students are going to find ways of interrupting classes that have been moved off campus.  We should be looking into online classes where each student logs in separately (no large gathering of students to disrupt) and the instructor has full moderating power.  It should be possible to create uninterruptable classes.  It would also be best to move colloquia and academic debates off of campus, for speakers’ safety.  As much intellectual activity as possible should be moved off campus, to embarrass the usurpers.  Let the world see how valuable spaces still are once the social justice rabble have claimed them.

7 Responses

  1. Oh no, my friend, the purpose of tenure is that we the faculty are supposed to be the ones wielding power.

    That sounds nice, but I can’t think of what power faculties actually wield. Administration normally preserves the outward appearance of faculty governance (because, I think, those most pointless of all institutions, accrediting bodies, require it), but its content seems absent. Does your faculty senator seem powerful to you? Is the whole faculty senate together as powerful as the Provost? Ha ha. Are you wielding power when you serve on the oversight committee for some money-making but otherwise worthless center/certificate program/executive education program?

    A faculty is sometimes able to deliver the coup de grace to a tottering university president via a vote of no confidence. But running out in front of a parade and claiming to be leading it is just another example of the preservation of appearance.

    My colleagues almost all act as if they think staying in the good graces of university administration is important to them. And the ones who don’t are “cranks” who don’t enjoy the fellowship of their fellow faculty members.

  2. I’m happy for administrators to rule the university as a whole (who else would want to?) as long as faculty control everything at the department level. (The big exception being, of course, the decision to hire a new tenure track position. If faculty lines belonged to us, we’d have to pay for them.) And of course at the classroom level. That’s what really bothers me about these students plus administrators going around cancelling classes of white professors, interrupting class to interrogate professors, insisting that project deadlines be extended for protesters, demands that all classes address social justice concerns / highlight nonwhite contributions, and the like. This is really an intolerable assault on our authority over our classes.

  3. “It should be possible to create uninterruptable classes.”

    It worked for the early Roman Christians gathering in the catacombs.

  4. …but when the administration gets wind of it, the mob will “make” the administration shut it down.

    There’s a strange pretense here that the mob is opposed to the faculty and administration, rather than being their pets. The mob gets what they want from the adults on campus because they’re demanding what the adults trained them to demand, and using the methods they were taught to use.

  5. Anyone caught at one should be immediately expelled. Anyone disrupting class should be expelled. Anyone caught faking a hate crime should be expelled.

    Needless to say, faculty have not followed my advice and so have continued to endure humiliating assaults. Being Leftists, they can’t help it.

    Having no balls isn’t helping either.

    I’d be interested in stats (though I doubt it has been collected) showing how many agitator students pay for college themselves as opposed being on the parental dole. I suspect not many. Expulsion is the appropriate tool. Since college has become vocation training anyway, and since it is the gateway to higher paying and satisfying vocations, any college that forces its students to navigate a PC gauntlet should be slapped with a RICO indictment.

  6. Alasdair MacIntyre makes a strong case in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry that modern universities are fundamentally incoherent institutions – that may be one reason why they are both indefensible and so difficult (coherently) to defend.

    Almost anybody can shove them around. Even Oxford (which I know a fair bit about) adopts a snivelling, grovelling, submissive attitude towards its attackers.

    But you are surely correct that the deepest root is the Leftist (atheist) cancer – the perpetual revolution of institutional destruction. Even the most nonsensical and incoherent radical Leftism is pandered-to, ultimately because the administration and faculty are themselves nonsensical and incoherent Leftists.

  7. “Authority’s first duty is to preserve itself. ”

    Authority’s first duty is to give glory to God by upholding the True Religion.

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