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Klocek Case at DePaul:

Very disturbing accounts over at MarathonPundit about the case of Thomas Klocek, an untenured professor suspended for the rest of the semester for essentially arguing vigorouly with student manning a pro-Palestinian booth in the student union. I'm sure all the left-wing bloggers who've been agitating on behalf of Columbia Middle East Studies professors accused of less-defensible conduct will soon be on the ramparts defending Klocek. Right, Juan Cole? Brian Leiter? (Actually, I'm not holding my breath, but I'd be quite pleased to see Cole, Leiter, and others on the right side of the Klocek case).

UPDATE: Just noticed that David French of FIRE made the same Columbia/Klocek analogy a couple of weeks ago.

DePaul Adjunct Professor Suspended for Speech That Causes "Loss of Intellectual Empowerment":

I've looked at the items to which David points, and I share his concern. I haven't seen any real allegations of threatening behavior by the professor (for instance, express or implied threats that he'd somehow retaliate against students for their pro-Palestinian views). The only retaliation for viewpoints that I see is the retaliation against Professor Klocek. And if the Chicago Jewish News story is correct to say that Klocek is being charged in part for "verbally attack[ing]" the students for their "religious beliefs and ethnicity," "demean[ing] their ideas," "dishonor[ing] their perspective" and "press[ing] erroneous assertions," that is very bad indeed: It proves that DePaul really is going after him for expressing ideas that it disapproves of.

DePaul is a private university, and is thus not bound by the First Amendment. But as with most private institutions that aspire to being serious academic centers -- a status that necessarily involves people criticizing others' beliefs, sometimes in harsh ways (or in ways that are ambiguous but could be interpreted by one side as harsh) -- DePaul has voluntarily embraced academic freedom norms: "Academic freedom is guaranteed both as an integral part of the university's scholarly and religious heritage, and as an essential condition of effective inquiry and instruction."

It is theoretically possible that a university could preserve academic freedom and still impose evenhanded rules that require debate to remain civil. Some such rules turn out to be necessary in the classroom, where, for instance, professors may refuse to call on students who have proven rude (or even mark them down for consistent rudeness, if there's a class performance component to the class); I think that administrators also must have some authority to stop professors from saying rude or personally insulting things when those things make it harder for students to effectively learn. That's necessary for the school to succeed in teaching students.

But outside the classroom, the rules do much more harm than good, precisely because the boundaries of civility are so vague, and these vague rules will necessary interfere with debate. What's a "verbal attack" on people for their "religious beliefs," and what's a forceful argument that some religious beliefs are wrong or evil? What's a "verbal attack" on their "ethnicity," and what's the delivery of unpleasant truths about the behavior of members of certain groups, whether Israelis or Palestinians? What's "demean[ing]" someone's "ideas," and what's simply arguing that those ideas are wrong? What's "dishonor[ing a] perspective" and what's a proper argument that some perspective is indeed dishonorable? And of course what's an "erroneous assertion[]" in debates where most of the assertions are about hotly contested moral questions and ambiguous empirical generalizations?

For this reason, I highly doubt that DePaul would routinely punish professors for harsh speech criticizing Republicans or Israel or pro-life or pro-choice forces. It is likewise quite wrong for DePaul to do so here.

Again, all this turns on the specifics of what Klocek said and why DePaul acted. If Klocek had, for instance, threatened the students' grades or bodies (as opposed to their psyches), and DePaul punished him for that, that would be quite proper. But the stories that David points to, and two others that I found when searching the DePaul student newspaper (see here and here), strongly suggest that DePaul is behaving wrongly here.

Finally, here's a striking item:

[Dean Suzanne] Dumbleton also emphasized the School of New Learning's dedication to the core values of DePaul and that she was deeply saddened by the situation and the loss of intellectual empowerment the students suffered. "We do not respect the unfair use of faculty power over students," she said.

I would think that one way of becoming intellectually empowered is by learning that when one is confronted with offensive ideas, the response is to argue against them, not to demand that the administration censor them. (The power to suppress bad ideas is indeed power, but it's not intellectual power.) And imagine what academic discourse would look like if academics could lose their jobs (or students their places in the school) when their speech causes "loss of intellectual empowerment."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. DePaul Adjunct Professor Suspended for Speech That Causes "Loss of Intellectual Empowerment":
  2. Klocek Case at DePaul: