Monday, August 1, 2016

Finkelstein. Transcript. Iran, Tehran, Institute of American Studies. Unknown.

  Unknown: Welcome to [some Farsi] and also apologise for being late. This is an institute which Work about the United States in different fields, social economy, political, Literature and different fields of study about each and every states of the United States.
  Finkelstein: I want to speak a little bit this afternoon about what’s called in the United States Academic Freedom. In University Life, in Colleges, Academic Freedom is considered a very important Value. I want to first discuss it in Theory, what does it mean? Then I’ll give a few practical examples. Of course I hope to hear from you, exactly how Academic Freedom works in Iran. There are two aspects to Academic Freedom. The first aspect has to do with who decides who is going to teach at a University. The Principle of Academic Freedom says that your peers, your equals, the members of your Department, say if you’re in a Physics Department or you’re in the Chemistry Department, or if you’re in the History Department, the Person or Persons who are most qualified to decide who should teach are your peers, the members of your Department. It took a very long time in the United States for this Principle to be established, because basically it means that nobody outside the University can decide who teaches. People from the outside the University, for example, politicians, for example, religious Leaders like Church Leaders. The Principle says nobody outside the University, whether you’re a politician or a Church leader that you have the Right to decide who teaches. It’s only the members of your academic discipline that can make that decision. The technical term for that - if you have trouble translating, just ask me and I’ll try to simplify - the technical term for that is Professional Autonomy. The professional People have the Autonomy, the Independence to decide who is and who is not competent to teach. There’s a second aspect to Academic Freedom and that has to do with issues of Liberty of speech. The first thing Academic Freedom says is it’s a basic Principle of trying to get to Truth. You have to allow everybody to speak their Mind. The only way you can reach Truth is to let different points of you compete and then whichever one is most successful in the Competition, we say that’s the one that’s probably the closest to Truth. Probably the most famous expression of this idea is John Stuart Mill on On Liberty, which I hope to be teaching here in a few days. There’s another aspect on Freedom of Speech when it comes to Academic Freedom and that aspect is whatever you say outside the University, whatever you say as a professor, whatever you say outside of the University should not in any way limit your Right to teach. An academic professor should have complete Freedom to say or think what he or she wants when he or she is not in the classroom. Another way of saying that is if you’re competent to teach Physics, if your Department says you are competent to teach Physics, you are competent to teach Chemistry, then whatever you say outside of the University, even the most outrageous Things, you should be allowed to say.
  There are some limits on this Freedom of speech and we have to be clear about the limits that exist. The first limit is if you are in a University, you’re writing a doctoral dissertation, you are applying for a Job. You’re applying for a Job in the University, it’s going to be your peers, the other members of the Department who decide, is he qualified to teach? Is her dissertation worthy of a doctoral degree? You’re always bound, limited, by the Values and the Perspectives of your Department. To take practical examples, in order to get your dissertation approved by your Department, you have to get the approval of your advisors. If you want to get a Job teaching, you have to publish articles in respected Journals. These Journals are called in English, it’s hard for a translation, are called Referee Journals. It means that you write an Article for a Journal and then the editors to the Journal send it to other experts to get their opinion. They are refereed by other experts. If you want to get a Job at a University, you have to publish a Book with a prestigious publisher. That means you submit a manuscript for a Book, and they send it to other experts to decide whether this should be published by Cambridge University Press or Oxford University Press. Very early in your Career as an academic, even when you’re in Graduate School, you very soon realise that you better not say this or you better not say that, because you won’t get the approval from your advisors, you won’t be able to publish in a prestigious Journal, you won’t be able to get your Book published by a prestigious Press. People learn - nobody tells them - they learn, they feel, better not say this, better not say that, because I won’t be able to get it published. [Mnemotechnique. Émy Guerrini. Ariane Tabatabai. Alejandra Morrero. Paul Krugman. Pepe Escobar.] Personally, I don’t consider that Censorship. It may result in Censorship, because everybody here who’s attended School knows you have to maintain quality control. Not everybody can teach Physics. Who’s the best to decide? The other People in the Department. There is no way to maintain quality control. Do you understand the expression quality control? There’s no way to maintain quality control unless someone is making these Judgements. It’s inevitable. What’s the second part of what you said? I said in order to maintain quality control, it’s inevitable that some Persons are going to be making Decisions about what’s Good Scholarship and what’s Bad Scholarship. The problem is the People who are making the Decisions usually are making Decisions which preserve the Values that exist, preserve the Systems that exist. The result is in turns into a form of Censorship, it’s just inevitable. As I said, I still think it’s necessary. You cannot have an academic system without quality control, and you can’t have quality control unless you have experts making judgement.
  I said there are 2 limits on Liberty of speech. The first one is the limits that are placed on you when you are trying to make a Career in Academia, which I just discussed. There’s a second limit. The limit is what you are really allowed to say outside the classroom. Here I’ll give a practical example, a famous one from the United States. It has to do with a professor, a famous intellectual, probably the most famous intellectual in the West, in the 20th century, namely Bertrand Russell. Do most People here know the name Bertrand Russell? Okay. By profession, Bertrand Russell was a philosopher, a mathematician and a logician. He was a very rich Mind, he was a classical thinker. He wrote on all topics. On everything, Bertrand Russell not only had an Opinion but an informed Opinion. It’s useful to remember that he got his Nobel Prize not in Math and not in Logic and not in Philosophy. He got it in Literature, because he was a brilliant writer. He had many controversial opinions on Social Matters. On everything from Religion to Marriage. He had unusual Opinions for his Era. Because Bertrand Russell refused to serve in the Army in World War I, he had a a lot of trouble finding Work teaching. He came to the United States around the 1930s and ‘40’s looking for Work teaching. The University in the City in which I live, the City of New York University, they hired Bertrand Russell to teach Philosophy, Logic, and Mathematics. The Catholic Church in New York at that time was very powerful, and the Catholic Church said the City of New York is a public institution and it would be outrageous to allow Bertrand Russell because of his views on Religion and also his views on marriage. It would be outrageous to allow him to teach. Eventually the case came to court and it turned out that probably one of the greatest philosophers in the 20th century, he was denied the Right to teach in New York.
  There were two different kinds of defense of Russell. Some People like the most famous American philosopher, John Dewey, some People like John Dewey said everything that’s being said about Bertrand Russel is not true. His opinions are being misrepresented, and in fact he’s a very decent human being. Bertrand Russell himself took a different position. He said even if everything the Catholic Church says about me is true, everything they say about me is true, he said it’s irrelevant, because I’m being asked to teach Mathematics and Logic and Philosophy. It happens that those People who defended him on the grounds that his views were misrepresented, they were not being honest, because his opinions on Religion and Marriage were outrageous for his Time. Russell’s own defense was I think much more honest, and this is what he said. He said, and now I’m quoting him, “I claim two things. Number one: the decision who should teach at a University should be made by People who have competence and who have a technical knowledge.” That’s the first Principle of Academic Freedom. He says I’m teaching Mathematics, Logic, and Philosophy, it should be the math-professors, logicians and philosophers who decide whether or not I teach and not the Catholic Church. Then he said, “Number two: what I do outside the classroom is nobody’s business. I should be free to express my opinions whatever they may be.” Then he said in the famous letter to the New York Times, he said, “In a Democracy, it is necessary that People should learn to endure having their sentiments outraged.” That means in a Democracy, the public has to accept that sometimes People will say Things which the public thinks are outrageous but they have to accept it.
  Obviously we’ll have time to discuss it, but I think that on that particular issue, Russell’s position is not really realistic. An Administrator, somebody, a principal of a School must take into account what a professor does outside of a School when he decides who to employ and who not to employ. This critic says it’s not really possible to take a Person’s opinions outside the classroom and the Person inside the classroom and separate them altogether. The critic says when a Student enters a classroom, the Student looks at a teacher, not just for his or her professional competence, but also as a kind of role model, the kind of Person you would want to aspire to be. When you give a Person the title of a professor, you are setting an example for the Students. Therefore, what you say outside the classroom, how you carry yourself, how you act outside the classroom has to be a consideration when a University decides whether or not to hire you. You can’t simply say he’s a very competent philosopher, she’s a very competent mathematician, they’re very competent logicians, but the Things they do outside the classroom are completely crazy and insane. That, to me, is a realistic opinion, but we also have to remember, I said earlier, I do think it’s true, professors have to make Decisions about what is a Good Book, what is a Bad Book. In the same way, I do think an Administrator has to make a decision which professor is setting a Good example for Students, which professor is stetting a Bad example for Students. I also said when the professors decide what’s a Good Book and a Bad Book, a Good Article and a Bad Article, it ends up in the form of Censorship, because if you’re a Student, you think I better not write that because it won’t get published. The same problem arises when an Administrator decides, because the way this Person acts outside the classroom, we shouldn’t give them a Job. Even if the Person is competent.
  I will end on an example. I remember when I was trying to get Tenure at a University. Tenure. When I was trying to get Tenure at a University I remember somebody, a professor, calling me to his office, and he said to me, “You know, Norman, if you get Tenure, now you will be representing not just yourself, but the University.” He said, “You know that on your website,” because I have a personal website, “On your website,” which is not the University website, it’s mine, he said, “You know you say a lot of outrageous Things.” He said, “But now everything you say on your personal website, it’s going to reflect on the University and therefore it’s not realistic anymore for you to say whatever you want on your website.” To be honest, I have to say, he had a point. Then it means I end up having to censor myself. When Bertrand Russell says a teacher should be free to express his opinions whatever they may be, I won’t be able to. Okay. We’ll leave it there.

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