again with the academic freedom
I wrote a post on Academic Freedom, Dan responded, I responded to him, he responded to me, and this is my response to that.
1) Industry versus academia
First, to clear up one misunderstanding: I oppose (strongly) cracking down on gratuitous politicking in the classroom, but not because of the need to allow professors to say (for example) gratuitous antifeminist things. In fact, I'm against anything that I go out of my way to label "gratuitous". In fact, I'm against gratuitous antifeminism in the classroom as much as I'm against gratuitous feminism. Rather, I oppose such a crackdown because I'm afraid it will have the effect of chilling non-gratuitous, necessary and appropriate speech in the classroom.
But I certainly believe we need to allow free speech in the university (to non-captive audiences, as explained here), and I still think that nothing approximating this exists in industry. Dan claims that this blog is a counterexample, but I'm skeptical. Rather, I believe, its continued existence is due to its small readership. The typical IT employer is constantly bemoaning the lack of women in IT, and apologizing for it and saying: "we have to do more", and announcing efforts to make the workplace more woman-friendly. Now what would happen if a NOW type complains to the press about the horrible antifeminist attitudes of an employee of this hypothetical company? Would we have a simple statement from management such as "he has a right to express his opinions"? Or would there be a Summers-style blood-letting? The fact is that I see no well-known outspoken antifeminists in IT (although I have good reason to believe many antifeminists exist in IT) and I see no such controversies. To translate into the modern vernacular: the reason there are no protests is because the cartoons just aren't being printed (where enough people will see them).
I'm perfectly willing to admit that I might be wrong here, and I'd be happy if this were the case. I wish I could see a lot of serious public discussion about the whole "women in IT" issue from people in IT, but I just don't see it. Anywhere.
2) Which whistle-blowers should be on hiring committees?
Another misunderstanding, since I thought I said this. What standards should be used for choosing whistle-blowers? They should be chosen only as they are needed, and in a very conservative fashion. Since there is glaring proof in my department and my university of blatant, inappropriate discrimination against anti-feminists (and I am not referring here to indirect evidence, such as a shortage of antifeminists), antifeminists are needed as whistleblowers. There is no such proof (or even evidence) of discrimination against Elvis-sighters, and there is proof of nondiscrimination against the extreme left, so whistle-blowers for these groups are not needed. Whistleblowers should be used only in the most extreme and clearcut situations. (Why can't Dan believe I'm sincere about this, and not self-serving?)
Dan says, "if there are good, capable researchers and university-level teachers who are being denied an opportunity to enter academia because of political bias ..." (emphasis mine). Does he actually question whether or not this is the case? The Summers case (that I refuse to link to again) is an aberration only because Summers stepped out of line a wee little bit. Most of us never step out of line.
3) Why not competing "free-speech" universities?
Many people have noted that the market in high-quality, private universities has been frozen for many decades. None of these universities have shut down, and no new ones have started up. I don't fully understand the reason for this, but it is a fact and it is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. (Note, however, that it is possible for universities to change to take advantage of the existence of people desiring more free speech. George Mason University may be an example.) My guess is that when he is not arguing with me, Dan will readily admit that most current such universities are suffused with a stultifying, regimented, extreme-left atmosphere. The real difference between us is that Dan would be happy (I think) to have competing high-quality universities with different stultifying atmospheres, whereas I want an atmosphere where people feel free to speak (to willing audiences), and where people feel no right not to be offended. This difference between myself and Dan also exists in the realm of newspapers, where there really is a marketplace.
4) Can newspapers be improved?
Dan is happy (I think) as long as the marketplace gives us competing, ideologically different newspapers. I think that we (as a society) can do better. There are two reasons I prefer one newspaper that makes a reasonable effort to be relatively unbiased, to two (ideologically opposed to each other) that do not. One reason is that I often go to a news source to find out information -- not to be told something that I already know. I would like, therefore, a news source I can trust. The second reason is that I want both myself and my fellow citizens to have access to moderate, sensible reporting rather than two (or more) sets of screaming loonies. Dan seems to think my dream is impossible, but his only evidence is that it hasn't happened; more specifically, it has happened a little, but because of external pressures rather than because of internal discussions of opposing viewpoints leading to moderation.
Why has no internal mechanism worked? Maybe it's because it can't, but maybe because it's because it hasn't been tried. I would really like to know what goes on inside the New York Times. Imagine the discussion about what to put into the paper, that occurred just after Al Gore gave a speech in Saudi Arabia apologizing for the sorry state of civil liberties in the U.S. and advocating closer ties with the Saudis. Did someone at the table say: "Maybe Gore's speech is news. We've certainly ran enough stories accusing Bush of being too close to the Saudis, so let's run this story."? If no one said this, then there is no internal mechanism that can be accused of failing. Alternatively, if someone did say this but it had absolutely no effect on the mindset of the others, then my proposed internal mechanism has failed (at least in this case). Until we learn more, I'm still hopeful.