Ellen Schrecker, honored for her research on academic freedom of expression, responds when the academic freedom of expression of colleagues is threatened: Take your honors and shove them.
Because more than 70 percent of all the instruction in American institutions of higher education is now in the hands of men and women with part-time or temporary positions, academic freedom is particularly at risk. … Freedom of expression on our nation’s campuses is too fragile – and too important – for us to allow it to become hostage to external political forces with repressive agendas and an academic community too spineless to stand up against them.
“Tenured radicals,” the concept made popular, and used as a book title, by radical-leftist-turned-radical-rightist David Horowitz, are almost a myth. There are few true radicals teaching in American colleges and universities today, and fewer still with tenure. Barely more than one in four American college instructors anywhere on the political spectrum holds a tenured or tenure-track position. Most of the rest can be fired about as swiftly as a landscaper or bartender.
Moreover, we live in an era in which some of the most important ideas are under fire from powerful, monied interests who are threatened by those ideas, in areas as diverse as climate change, economics, worker safety and gender issues. Just to add a soupçon of irony, these interests often are even more adept at playing the victim than the real victims are, and when our national media aren’t too brain-dead to know the difference, they’re too hung up on “telling both sides of the story” to remember that that isn’t their job, that their job is to tell the truth.
So I thank Ellen Schrecker for standing up for freedom of expression. It probably won’t make a difference in Tony Kushner’s life one way or the other — the guy who wrote Angels in America probably doesn’t have to lift a finger again the rest of his life if he doesn’t want to. But it might make a huge difference for a lot of talented instructors you’ve never heard of and never will, some of whom might one day teach you or your children.
UPDATE, 5/10/11: The executive committee of the CUNY Board of Trustees has overturned the overturning. Kushner gets the degree. Sadly, the board member who prompted the vote of a week ago to try to rescind the award gets to keep his seat. Jackass.