Great blogpost on civility

From the Sooty Empiric.

The idea is that given that Trump et al. obviously don’t care about civility norms, you’re fruitlessly tying your hands behind your back to insist on upholding them when in dialogue with the brutes. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, don’t obey Queensbury rules when they’re hitting all and only below the belt, etc etc. One can see the intuition here fairly well; incivility is evidently a powerful weapon of rhetorical warfare (Trump is president!) and we shouldn’t surrender it to people who will use the power they attain by it to do very great harm to a very great many people. I think that once upon a time I would have agreed (so, vain as I am, I certainly don’t think this is an obviously wrong headed or foolish take or anything of the sort), but I’m now inclined to disagree. This post is about why I changed my mind.

Read on!

Academic freedom and ‘controversial speakers’

Great stuff!

Recall: academic freedom is the freedom for university members who participate in scholarly fora to freely inquire, research, teach, learn, collect, curate, speak, and disseminate. This is a special family of freedoms that goes beyond constitutional protections of free expression. It is the university members’ roles in the university’s central mission of pursuing truth and advancing knowledge that affords them this special class of freedoms. Further, the scholars themselves — in virtue of their roles and their qualifications — are the ones who define the particular mission of their university through the process of collegial governance.

Academic freedom is both broader than constitutionally protected freedom of expression, and more focused. It is broader in the sense that it covers not only expression, but also inquiry, methodology, learning, curation, etc. It is more focused in that it is not laissez-faire but purposeful — the purpose is the advancement of knowledge.

A university president who effectively communicates these core ideas of the source and distinctiveness of academic freedom and the attendant notions of collegial governance and institutional autonomy goes a very long way toward helping the public to understand choices about which kinds of outside events to permit on campus.

“We didn’t permit that rental because the associated event flew in the face of our mission of advancing knowledge,” such a president might say. If the public asked “how so?” the president could reply that not only was the planned event unscholarly but that, by fostering a toxic campus environment, it compromised the ability of the university’s scholars — especially its Indigenous and racialized scholars — to flourish, and to play their part in advancing the university’s scholarly mission. And so on.