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Bharath Vallabha

An experience I often had when I was in academia was the feeling that though my teachers and colleagues were nice people, they often did not inspire me. When I became a professor, I found myself not inspiring myself either. I have wondered why this was.

The general academic reaction to "the Salaita affair" helps me understand my own feeling. It is hard to be inspired when people, who have privilages in their jobs which most people could not even fathom having, think that they are entitled to complain about any constraints put on them. When they act as if the constraints not only limit their particular actions, but limit the grand pursuits of truth and justice, of civilization itself. When they act as if they speak for the culture of the society even while defending, what is surely not irrelevant, their own personal positions.

An injustice has been done to Salaita and that UCIC should reinstate him. But academic freedom and constitutional rights are not the reasons why.

Obama has a constitutional right to say anything he wants. But he would be doing a disservice to his job and to himself in that job if he exercised that right all the time. Because, for better or worse, he represents the nation as a whole. Though obviously not like Obama, but most people in jobs are in something like this situation.

But what about the academic? Isn't it her job to pursue the truth wherever it leads? So how can she have any such constraints?

It is the academic who most has such constraints. Imposed not from the society, but from their own standing for peace, truth and justice. Perhaps it is ok for Salaita to tweet what he did; it is certainly understandable, though there must be a line between righteous indignation and seeming hateful. But it does raise the hard question: what does it mean for an academic to be neutral in the pursuit of truth? Perhaps it includes being able to tweet as Salaita did. Or not. I am suspicious of anyone who thinks the answer is obvious one way or the other.

It is inspiring when people address this hard question, realizing that it might complicate questions of academic freedom and what kind of a "social compact there is between society, citizens and academics." What is not inspiring is academics turning this into an us versus them issue, and behaving like any other group which feels threatened. It is hard to really convey to academics how ridiculous the latter approach looks to non-academics. And how uninspiring it is, even if it feels inspiring to academics to try to build solidarity among themselves.

Eric Schliesser

I find your response extremely cynical Bharath. It's not as if I don't acknowledge the question of privilege (did you even read my post or did you just decide to share your feelings?); I do not claim that any constraints on academia are problematic. (In fact, the post starts with my reluctance to get involved in this issue.) I certainly do not claim that one can simply tweet whatever one wants if one has tenure. There are indeed complicated issues in the vicinity here. (The reason why I call your comment 'cynical' is that I have a lengthy history of blogging about what I call the 'Socratic Problem'--that is the public role of experts/philosophers/teachers.)
But I am here responding to the claims by Wise and the very senior UofI administrators; just because you were not inspired by your teachers, it does not follow that their policies are not very dangerous. I could be wrong about that, of course, and I am open to argument.
Finally, I don't think there is a neutral pursuit of truth in our world (maybe in some ideal possible world, yes); I think take your comment helps explain why.

Bharath Vallabha

Eric, a request: don't psychologize about my motives. I often found and do find academia uninspiring, not just my teachers. And that speaks not just to my psychology or feelings, but to broader realities. And I certainly don't think, due to some supposed resentment I might have, that what Wise is doing is ok.

I realize you have a long history of blogging about the "Socratic problem". Which is why I was puzzled by your post, and its focus on why Wise, et al. are so problematic (killing the golden goose). For if the issues are complicated, and if there are open questions about the public role of teachers, then shouldn't there be some openness to the possibility that there is something to be said in defense of both Salaita's and Wise's positions? That if one is going to say Wise's policies are "very dangerous", then one could say something similar for Salaita's manner of being a public intellectual? And if there is no neutral pursuit of truth, what kind of freedoms should academics have, and why? I raise these questions as examples of what, as a non-academic, I would love to see academics talk about, instead of how academia is under attack or is being killed or how this or that policy is dangerous.

This is my last comment on this post. Thanks for letting me express a few thoughts. Am I cynical? I think not. As a wise man once said, "the comedy of life is constituted by potentially contrary impressions."

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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