Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Better to reign in academia than serve in business

Hell . . . Hell is for students

Stanley Fish is on a roll, and MoneyLaw is making the most of it. Having just posted Fish's observations on a new book on academic freedom, I now have occasion to reprint the brilliant opening to Fish's latest column on this subject, The Two Languages of Academic Freedom:
Last week we came to the section on academic freedom in my course on the law of higher education and I posed this hypothetical to the students: Suppose you were a member of a law firm or a mid-level executive in a corporation and you skipped meetings or came late, blew off assignments or altered them according to your whims, abused your colleagues and were habitually rude to clients. What would happen to you?

The chorus of answers cascaded immediately: “I’d be fired.” Now, I continued, imagine the same scenario and the same set of behaviors, but this time you’re a tenured professor in a North American university. What then?

I answered this one myself: “You’d be celebrated as a brave nonconformist, a tilter against orthodoxies, a pedagogical visionary and an exemplar of academic freedom.”
Lest Fish's sarcasm elude this audience — MoneyLaw's readership is overwhelmingly academic, after all, and the members of our profession often have a hard time viewing themselves with honesty, let alone humor or humility — it's worth bearing in mind one judicial observation quoted with approval by Fish: “Academic freedom is not a doctrine to insulate a teacher from evaluation by the institution that employs him” (Carley v. Arizona, 1987).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post about better to reign in academia,

Your blog is great, regards

2/10/2009 4:09 AM  
Blogger Mr. B. said...

A fair number of university presidents would not get to first base in business. I say this having worked at 3M for ten years before returning to the U of M.

Many arrogant department chairs would be chopped off at the ankles in business. Although business can have its bad sides also, performance counts and, eventually, poor leadership is exposed.

Bill Gleason

2/10/2009 10:41 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

I tend to agree with Fish, though the example he uses is unduly extreme. There is a certain richness, however, in Fish supposing the answer to a question he is incompetent to evaluate -- never having worked in, or studied, law firms or corporations. (I have personally worked with partners and corporate executives who fit exactly the profile he sketched.) Indeed, try asking "What law firm would entrust the education and training of its young associates to an expert on Milton"?

Note too that Fish does need to defend the relative efficiency and responsibility of academic administrators, which this blog was otherwise prone to question. Even outside law schools, there are grounds for skepticism -- maybe, in addition to Milton, he should study Dilbert.

2/10/2009 3:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ah, I loved this post--sometimes we forget that academic freedom isn't the same thing as unfettered freedom.

2/10/2009 5:46 PM  

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