Thursday, February 19, 2009

Academic freedom

Stanley Fish is a literature professor who has also taken up law. Despite those handicaps, he writes well. He can be slippery at times but has a capacity -- unusual among Leftists -- to state both sides of an argument reasonably competently, including conservative arguments.

He has a long article in the NYT about academic freedom in which he surveys both popular arguments and a lot of case law. The poles of the argument that he considers are that academics are on the one hand just workers employed to do a particular job in a particular way and on the other that academics are superior beings who need acknowledge no contraint on what they do when they teach. In good Anglo-Saxon style, his own conclusion is a compromise between those positions. I suppose I broadly agree with that. I certainly reject the view that academics are especially wise, superior or insightful. As an academic myself, I see many if not most academics as intellectual mediocrities: foolish, gullible, narrow-minded, arrogant and in thrall to intellectual fashions. How you counter that, however, I have no idea. Only Leftists have all the answers. Fish's conclusions below:

What exactly would the public’s interest in academic speech be? One answer is provided by law professor J.Peter Byrne who argues in a critique of Urofsky (Journal of College and University Law, 2004) that a constitutional right of academic freedom exists “not for the benefit of the professors themselves but for the good of society.” Why? Because it is only in universities that a certain kind of speech — “serious and communal, seeking to improve the understanding” —flourishes. The special protection afforded to professors leaves them free “to articulate and critique more knowledgeable and complex assertions … in ways not possible on street corners or on television.” Now I have my elitist moments, but this is a bit much. Only professors, we’re being told, do real thinking; other people accept whatever they hear on TV and retail popular (but uninformed) wisdom on street corners. Thus while there is no reason to extend special protections in the work-place to non-academic speech — which is worthless — there is a good reason to extend them to the incomparably finer utterances of the professorial class.

Once again we see that the argument for academic freedom as a right rather than as a desirable feature of professional life rests on the assertion of academic exceptionalism. What I have been trying to say is that while academic work is different — it’s not business, it’s not medicine, it’s not politics — and while the difference should be valued, academic work should not be put into a category so special that any constraints on it,whether issuing from university administrators or from the state as an employer, are regarded as sins against morality, truth and the American Way.

It should be possible to acknowledge the distinctiveness of academic work and to put in place conditions responsive to that distinctiveness without making academic work into a holy mission taken up by a superior race of beings. One can argue, for example, that since it is the job of the academy to transmit and advance knowledge, there should be no pre-emptive anointing or demonizing of any particular viewpoint or line of inquiry; not because such pre-emptings would be an assault on truth, but because they would impede the doing of the job. Free inquiry means free in relation to the goals of the enterprise, not free in the sense of being answerable to nothing.

Those who would defend academic freedom would do well to remove the halo it often wears. Stay away from big abstractions and remain tethered to work on the ground. If you say, “This is the job and if we are to do it properly, these conditions must be in place,” you’ll get a better hearing than you would if you say, “We’re professors and you’re not, so leave us alone to do what we like.”

More here

Leading Australian universities trash the plan for a vast expansion of higher education

The envious bitch who wrote the plan seems to have had no capacity for any thought beyond kneejerk Leftist responses and no idea of all that her proposals would lead to

The Group of Eight has savaged the Bradley review, describing it as a "road map to mediocrity", foolish and deeply flawed, in a confrontation likely to fuel political tensions ahead of the federal Government's promised education overhaul. The Government is formulating a response to the Bradley review in a fiscal climate dramatically altered from that in which the review was commissioned, and Education Minister Julia Gillard met the Go8 yesterday as part of her consultations with the sector. The group's response to the Bradley review has hardened this past month.

On Monday evening, University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer warned the Government not to accept the review as a whole, saying it was not properly thought through and costed, and could not deliver dramatic increases in quality and output. He told the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney that he and "many of my colleagues" were troubled by the review's lack of a clear vision. He said the review did "not clearly acknowledge the fundamentally important principles of excellence, differentiation of mission and the importance of auniversity education for its own sake". "There is little recognition in the Bradley report of the special and key role played by research intensive, internationally well-ranked institutions."

The Go8 bristled at comments by Denise Bradley, former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, which it believes reflect a "hidden agenda" to "de-concentrate" research. Go8 vice-chancellors were fearful before the release of the Bradley review, in late December, that the hostility its chairwoman was believed to harbour against the research elite might influence her recommendations. The group decided to air its concerns, published today in the HES, after Professor Bradley revealed to a recent Australian Technology Network conference that her review had stressed the teaching and research nexus to counter an "extreme position" on research concentration.

Professor Bradley told the ATN conference: "I am aware of the arguments about the strategic importance of greater concentration of internationally competitive research performance, but I think that there are good national reasons for us to adopt a model which continues to encourage some spread across institutions." She argued against "too much concentration of research capacity in too small a number of what will inevitably be capital city institutions".

The Go8, which argued forcefully for research concentration to meet global challenges in a paper released before the Bradley report, slams the findings of her panel today. "What is presented as a tightening of criteria for university status, based on the mythical 'teaching-research nexus', could well loosen expectations of research quality and further dissipate the nation's research investment," argues the group's executive director Michael Gallagher. "The Bradley report reflects a parochial and complacent view in the context of aggressive concentration of research investment in many other countries."

But universities outside theGo8 sprang to Bradley's defence. In a direct response to Professor Hilmer's criticism, ATN director Vicki Thomson said: "We think that it is unfortunate that the Bradley review is being picked apart and that might diminish the opportunity for significant reform." The ATN and the Innovative Research Universities met MsGillard in Melbourne on Monday as part of the consultation process.

Representing the ATN, University of Technology, Sydney, vice-chancellor Ross Milbourne said the Bradley review was the best he had seen on the sector. He said its vision was to create a world-class university system. "We need a great university system, not one or two great universities," Professor Milbourne said.

Ms Gillard has finished her round of consultations and the HES understands that bureaucrats have been given two weeks to consolidate the sector's views for her consideration.

In his article for the HES, Mr Gallagher does not limit his criticisms to the research agenda. He asserts the Bradley report's "vision for the long-term tertiary education system is confused; it fails to offer incentives for diversification, either through competition or governmental strategies; and its financing model will not sustain quality higher education and university research".

The Go8's tough stand against Professor Bradley has been echoed by University of Melbourne professorial fellow Vin Massaro, who points out that the review's targets for enrolment growth would involve producing an extra 544,000 graduates by 2020, housed in an additional 20universities. "Assuming that the Government (was) prepared to fund these places, no mention has been made of the likelihood of finding the academic workforce to teach them, nor of the cost of building the necessary teaching infrastructure, nor of the plausibility that demand would rise so quickly," Professor Massaro says in an analysis for HES online. He estimates that the capital costs required to meet the challenges of this enrolment explosion would be in the range of $25billion-$30 billion.


No comments: