Monday, September 24, 2007

Academic Freedom

It's been kind of a screwy week stateside for academic freedom. First, the University of California at Irvine hired, then fired, then rehired a dean for its new law school (all before the doors opened on the thing). The party in question seems to be guilty of publicly holding a number of rather liberal opinions, and may have been subject to a campaign from the right.

But all's well that ends well, right? Well meantime, over at UC Davis, ex-Harvard President Lawrence Summers had his invitation to speak on campus rescinded. Summers is now best remembered for getting himself run out of Cambridge, Mass after some comments he made a few years ago about racial and gender differences among natural scientists, and their correlation with rates of publication, success at achieving tenure, etc.

Summers' comments may well have been inappropriate or downright offensive (I'm not directly familiar with the details myself). They were certainly outside his area of expertise (he's an economist). In any event, no one much seems to agree with him. But doesn't the very straightforwardness of his inaccuracy make lynching him a bit wrong? Aren't there better ways to address this--like letting him speak and questioning him then and there?

So that's an even split on the question of academic freedom (both stories are recounted here). However, a third story out of New York throws things the other way.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been invited to speak at Columbia while he's in town for the opening of the UN General Assembly. The invitation has been the subject of ongoing controversy, but Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger has to date stood by the decision. For his comments on this in a press release, see the link above and scroll down. They're class itself.

So two out of three aint bad, I reckon.

Meantime, the Iranian president has been barred from visiting Ground Zero while in NYC. This has been roundly applauded by almost all of the presidential candidates. Marginal Democrat Mike Gravel seems to be the only exception. His comments are here. His reasoning isn't quite mine, but this is an intelligent, principled stand. His party should be so lucky as to have more of this.

Update:

Looks like Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia went ahead as planned. Protesters were out in force, but seem to have been intelligent enough. They even broke their speeches for an hour and half so they could listen to an audio feed of his address. Have a look at the video on the link above. The students interviewed, while they generally oppose what the Iranian president stands for, are thoughtful, intelligent, clear, and well informed in their criticism. Maybe an Ivy League education aint so bad after all. President Bollinger was a bit, well, rude in his introductory remarks, but the fact of the event ought to outweigh the less than ideal tone it took on.
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