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Friday, February 04, 2005

Don't just fire Ward Churchill; terminate tenure entirely

Several blogging professors are against firing Ward Churchill for championing the 9/11 attacks and slandering the victims as "little Eichmanns." Dead wrong. Of course he should be fired. What our tenured professors do not want to come to grips with is that tenure itself is a moral crime.

"Academic freedom" as a grounds to get paid for behavior that an employer does not think is worth paying for is a violation of principles of liberty. Tenure was created in European universities that were under the power of kings. In that circumstance, it served an important function by breaking up the king's unaccountable monopoly of power. In a liberal society, tenure CREATES unaccountable power.

Tenure should be illegal at public universities because it directly contradicts the fundamental principle of republican government: that the people are sovereign and must be able to "vote the bums out." No one in the public sphere can properly be beyond the reach of accountability to the people. We decided to make judges an exception to this principle and have been rewarded with the judicial overthrowing of our constitutional system of limited enumerated federal powers. Extending this unaccountability to a huge class of lifelong sinecures is grossly untenable.

In the private sphere, tenure should be scorned as morally perverse, and there is even some grounds here to make it illegal under the concept of anti-trust. Tenure just is an extreme form of trade unionism, where those with seniority cannot be fired, and trade unionism should be illegal under, as every other form of collusion by sellers is illegal under our laws.

Eugene Volokh is even talking about a first amendment right not to be fired for expressing views that his employers at the University of Colorado detest. How so? This is not a speech restriction that the state is imposing on the public. It is essentially a policy choice by an administration whose job is to make policy choices. There are civil service laws that limit these powers but, like tenure, they violate the fundamental republican principle that the people are supposed to be able to throw the bums out.

Neither am I impressed by arguments that if leftists are fired for their views, then conservatives, who are far rarer on campus, will be more likely to be fired for their views. Firing is a university decision, not a department decision. As it stands now, university's have almost no power to control departments. Once the leftists get a majority in any department, they do what leftists do and refuse to hire anyone who is not a leftist. There is at present NO MECHANISM for EVER breaking these monopolies. If the entire country becomes conservative, the leftists can still keep academia in the hands of the few remaining leftists.

The correct answer to the threat of leftists firing conservatives is for the people to take control of their universities through the electoral process and get administrators in place who will hire and fire so as to bring faculties into line with the desires of the electorate.

I believe the key issue here is the libel of the survivors of the WTC and Pentagon by Churchill. Remember, he is a "pedagogue" so this was no mere opinion when he accussed them of being so particularly culpable of genocide as to deserve death.

Libel is not protected speech. It is a betrayal of free speech and in this case a betrayal of the trust of the people of Colorado in granting tenure to this academic fraud.
I don't agree that bringing "faculties into line with the desires of the electorate" is necessarily a good idea. There should be principles to which academics are held accountable but they should not be the whims of the public unless you want universities to turn into reflections of popular culture. Academics should be judged through their contributions to their field, not through democratic processes. Many of the greatest contributors to science over the years were deeply unpopular during their time.

I agree that tenure can be counter productive but I disagree with almost everything else you wrote on the subject, particularly your contributions to the demonising of unions. It is my opinion that people should not be viewed as just another commodity.
Thanks for the comment Dionysus. The problem is that the very institution of public education, at any level, violates the fundamental principle of republicanism: that sovereignty--the ultimate power to decide what is to be judged right or wrong--resides with the people. With public education, the government presumes to tell the people how they should judge. Ideally, all education should be private. If there are externalities to education, creating a market imperfection that calls for govermnent intervention, the correct intervention is in the form of subsidization, not socialization.

We already blew that. We have granted government this vast unrepublican power to tell the people how they should think. If we don't fix that, any solution is a compromise. So you are right, there are dangers in giving the people control over public universities. Public universities should not exist! But in this situation of compromise, the question is which is the greater violation: to have public universities that are under the control of the people, or to have an unaccountable goverment power telling the people what to think? Clearly an improper role of government allowed without accountability to the people is worse than an improper government role of government with accountability to the people.
I read a blog on here that those who leak and report on issues of national security should be executed for treason.

Now I am pro-free speach but what ignoramous Ward Churchill said is treasonous and seditious and I feel he should be tried for these crimes and if found guilty setenced to death,
I completely agree with the last contributor, not only should people be executed for breachng national security but also for flag burning and verbal insults to the republic, including critism of the president. We've go on for far to long letting people say what they want, it only hurts the courtry.
It is an interesting question, whether the only people prosecuted for "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" should only be those who actually engage in espionage or acts of war. In earlier times, people were executed for propagandizing for the enemy. (Lord Haw Haw after WWII.) It seems that today, the West has decided that propagandizing for the enemy is okay.

I think that both sides of that debate are tenable. To me, Michael Moore sits right on the dividing line. In peacetime, freedom of speech encompasses all kinds of freedom to be dishonest, but in war, I think there is rightly an extra obligation to honest in one's criticisms. Someone like Michael Moore, who is doing his utmost to make malicious disinformation about the nation's war effort sound true, really is committing treason.

Neither does freedom of speech, as a constitutional value, trump treason. Punishment of treason is also an explicit concern of the Constitution (Article III, section 3).

Still, these two need to be balanced. I could go either way on Michael Moore being sentenced to death for treason, but that is not an appropriate starting point. We should start with enforcing the treason statute on those who are leaking national security secrets: the editors and reporters of The New York Times and their many leak sources in the intelligence agencies.
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