Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Iraq on campus

The Chronicle asks: "Should Faculties Take a Stand?" ("A stand" means "a stand against war with Iraq," which I take not as a sign that the Chronicle's biased but as a sign that it understands which way faculty senates, in general, would vote; "faculties" means "faculties as corporate bodies," i.e. faculty senates, not individual professors.)

I've quoted from it before, but I think there is much wisdom in it and I'll quote from it again. My university's Kalven Report, which has quasi-constitutional status around here, says:

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.
Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university
faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and
institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the
existing socal arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates,
will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student.
The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once
again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society,
a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an
independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true
to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest
diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit
great, purposes of teaching and reseacrh. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a
community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering
the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can
reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.
It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective
action, therefofre, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who does not agree with
the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach
positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out
of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to
cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in
the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action
and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide
a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

In other words: no.

UPDATE: The very next day, Stanley Fish quoted from the same passage here, in his Chronicle column on related subjects.

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