Friday, September 24, 2010

Tenure, Academic Freedom, Broadcasting, and Bill Inserts

You do not hear much about academic freedom from law professors because they rarely say anything controversial that anyone hears about. In fact, wouldn't it be far more interesting if someone were listening to us? It may seem odd that there is so little controversy given the iron clad protection we have. The reasons for the quiet, I think, can be traced to the fact that straying ideologically or culturally from the mainstream (of law professors that is) means you may be labeled "difficult" or "uncollegial" and these are career killers as much a being labeled a racist, whether true or not.

In fact, what an upside down situation it is. The biggest threats to academic freedom are clearly the professors themselves. Many scrutinize candidates for hiring and tenure to make sure they will "play ball" and I do not mean Moneyball. They want to make sure you are "tolerant" but what they mean is will you tolerate their intolerance.

What also concerns me is that, in state schools at least, faculty use taxpayer money to promote their only political agendas. Pleeeze do not tell me it's a matter of academic freedom. Academic freedom is what economists call a free good -- my speaking out hardly interferes with anyone else's. On the other hand, resources are limited and promoting one view with University resources means, by definition, that the resources are not available for something else.

Given the political inclinations of the vast majority of law faculty it reminds me of issues about equal time that arose in the context of telecommunications and then later in the context of inserts in utility bills. (The terms Red Lion, Consolidated Edison (or was it Central Hudson) and Pacific Gas and Electric come to mind but I am too busy now pushing my own agenda to look it up.) The idea in these instances was that speakers had special access due to a government granted privilege.

Of course, those wanting parity in those cases eventually lost to the incumbents. Nevertheless, law professors at state law schools are like a combination of broadcast licensees and public utilities. They are permitted to promote their personal views using the money of others. When that happens shouldn't the institution be required to subsidize as well those who dissent? Don't you just have a hunch that those with the political philosophy that led them to press for equal access or time in those other contexts would not hear of such a thing when it comes to their own special status?

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