03/21/05 — Free speech: A privilege of certain approved academicians

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Free speech: A privilege of certain approved academicians

A university is a marketplace for ideas. So says an essay in a University of Michigan newspaper.

But, says the writer, academic speech is being discouraged by politics. As an example, the essay cites the Ward Churchill controversy.

Churchill is the University of Colorado professor who has declared his hatred for America in several ways, including calling some of the innocent 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns.”

It is true that some conservatives have called for Churchill’s hide, but that hasn’t stopped him from disgorging his drivel at every opportunity. Nor should it. He does, after all, have freedom of speech, as the University of Michigan essay said.

Churchill should not be fired because he is a wild-eyed heretic. Perhaps he should be fired because of the lies that he has used to advance his position at the university, but not because of what he has added to the marketplace of ideas.

Likewise, the president of Harvard University,Dr. Lawrence Summers, made an interesting contribution to the marketplace of ideas. Some months back, he speculated that there might be an “intrinsic difference between men and women” in relating to scientific matters.

This ignited a firestorm of indignant protest that culminated last week in a vote by the Harvard faculty declaring that it had “no confidence” in Summers.

That vote, in effect, amounts to one slice of academia seeking to eliminate another academician for his contribution to that sacred marketplace of ideas.

The reality of that marketplace is that there is no freedom of speech for a person whose ideas happen to conflict with those of the majority of academicians. Ward Churchill has freedom of speech that must be protected, but Lawrence Summers’ freedom of speech is diminished because of what he believes.

Published in Editorials on March 21, 2005 12:37 PM