Re: [xmca] University & Conformity

From: E. Knutsson <eikn6681 who-is-at>
Date: Mon May 26 2008 - 01:12:34 PDT

Mike: you're right - I share your hope for multiple voices, even though the
topic is, perhaps, too "sensitive" or "delicate"...

As for autonomy, academic freedom, homogeneity of intellect, conformism etc.:

"To be sure, the universities had autonomy from government, but for a very long
time, the universities did not extend that autonomy to the individuals within
them. In fact, the university accommodated, often with the help of the
professoriate, prevailing social pressures. Conformity has always been the wall
against which academic freedom throws itself. The same tends to be true in both
Canada and the United States. During the First World War, the president of
Columbia University made it absolutely clear that professors unable to espouse
complete, enthusiastic, and patriotic support of the war effort would be
unwelcome in the university. Similarly, in the 1930s, the leader of the
opposition in the Ontario legislature insisted that there should be no anti-
British sentiments expressed in universities. Canada was a British colony and
therefore had no room for anti-British expressions. More significantly, he went
on to say that this issue was not one of freedom of speech but rather an issue
of the basic conception of the role of the university in a British society. He
said that just as a priest who went outside a church and ridiculed religion
would clearly have no place as a priest in the institution of the church, a
professor who promoted decolonization and Canadian sovereignty should not teach
in an Ontario university. Again and again, under the pressures of changing
social values, professors and administrators inside the university redefine the
boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Put differently, even though you can only
be fired from a university for 'cause,' moral turpitude has always been the
primary cause for which you can be fired, and moral turpitude gets redefined in
each generation and in each moral crisis of the culture. During McCarthyism in
the United States, the same problem arose. Universities needed to eject people
who were considered unpatriotic without seeming to jeopardize academic freedom,
so they worked out a way to get rid of all the people who took the Fifth
Amendment. When some investigating committees demanded to know whether certain
professors were Communists, and when these individuals failed to disclose
whether they were Communists, such faculty members were said to lack candour.
Clearly, it was argued, if you are going to be in a university, you owe an
obligation to your colleagues to disclose your political affiliations. If you
are not going to be candid and if you are not going to answer to the
inquisition, then you are by definition unfit to be a professor.
Suddenly, 'lack of candour' became the new form of moral turpitude" (Kahn,
Sharon E. (ed.). Academic Freedom and the Inclusive University. Vancouver: UBC
Press, 2001, 79 – 80).


On 2008-05-25, at 20:12, Mike Cole wrote:
> I am actually interested in what others think on this issue, Erik. I hope
> multiple
> voices with multiple experiences will contribute from many countries. (In a
> way,
> that is my view of the function of XMCA in general and it is a goal several
> XMCA members are working on actively, if slowly and not too effectually).
> For the moment I will confine myself to noting that it is very difficult,
> either concurrently
> or prospectively to determine what the most innovative and critical aspects
> of social
> life are at any given historical moment/context and that Weber's point vis a
> vis
> chance certainly applies in my own case. The number of absolutely
> unanticipateable (sp?)
> contingencies that shaped my academic career is a constant source of wonder
> to me.
> mike

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Received on Mon May 26 01:13 PDT 2008

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