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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Update: OSU Librarian

This is a stitch. The OSU librarian got an official letter from the university saying that the charges of harassment were unfounded yesterday. It was dated April 6th, but postmarked April 18th. I guess they didn't want to rush to judgment.

But this is the cool part. The two accusers were Professor Norman Jones and Professor James Buckley. The letter sternly advises the librarian (Scott Savage) not to retaliate, and recommends:
Promote frank, open and respectful discussion among faculty and library staff, in particular and among all staff in general. Dr. Jones had indicated that maybe he could be a liaison person to spearhead this effort.
One of the persons who filed the harassment claim might be leading the remediation? Suppose I were working with a person, and I filed a charge against that person. The company then investigated and determined my charge to be unfounded under the company rules. Do you really think it would promote "frank, open and respectful discussion" in the office if I were then appointed as the liaison person to facilitate the effort? I'd say my falsely accused coworker would take it as a message from management that no one had better sneeze in my general direction, wouldn't you?

One thing confuses me. This WND article keeps referring to this as action against a Christian. Apparently this Scott Savage is a Quaker, but I don't see anything anti-Christian in this whole deal. For example, before recommending "The Marketing of Evil", Savage recommended "Freakonomics". Maybe I need to read the book that caused the flap. This Inside Higher Ed article provides more information, but still doesn't clear up why this is being presented as an anti-Christian thing.

Volokh has three posts on the subject and all of them have interesting comments. For example, the post on the clearing of Savage contains this comment:
I agree with Public Defender. Perhaps Savage should not be fired for the stated reasons. he should be fired, though, for basic incompetence at his job. Had I been his supervisor, I would have overruled his decision to recommend the book, and then given him a severe dressing down and inform him of what his job is and what it is not: It certainly is not a place to spread lies about an entire community.

At that point, Savage could either hold his ground, and that would be grounds for termination,or he could capitulate. If he capitulated, and there were no further incidences of incompetence, I would keep him on, figuring he learned his lesson, and no harm done. If, however, he holds his ground, then fire his ass.

Every employer has the right to have the type of employees he wants, provided he does not discriminate on race, creed, etc. But as to the views of the employees, well, that's an employer's perogative.
Remember, Volokh is a legal blog. I don't know whether this commenter is a lawyer, but OSU is a government institution. As a government institution, it doesn't have a right to dictate the views of the employees. If Savage had actually committed some overt act personally directed toward one of the professors making the complaint, that would clearly become conduct, which may be regulated. But if recommending a controversial book to a committee (he states in his email that he hasn't read all of the four books, so he may not even have known much about it) amounts to harassment, then discussing any ideas which may offend someone could be construed as harassment. That would foreclose an immense amount of debate. It's interesting to me that many of the posters view the harassment complaint as being probably valid.

The original post contains 244 comments. Take this Public Defender comment:
The difficulty with gay rights issues is that your perspective on the merits determines your perspective on the rules of discussion.

All conversations have rules. All decent people would agree that it's OK to criticize pedophiles. All sane people would also agree that we have the right to punish* others (at least socially) for racist or anti-Semitic comments

If being gay is morally the equivalent of being Jewish, then it's OK to punish anti-gay comments. Wouldn’t everyone agree that a librarian should at least be criticized for trying include a book that treated Judaism as an evil on the Freshman reading list? But if you take the perspective that being gay is itself immoral, then a whole different set of rules apply.

Can anyone come up with a system of rules of discussion that does not depend on the speaker's view of the underlying merits?
You see, this was my original point. It is not valid to say that we can't discuss controversial books or ideas, so I disagree with the entire idea of punishing speech.
Person from Porlock responds:
If the purpose of the Academy is to provide students with answers, then 'correct' texts are important. But if its purpose is to teach critical thinking, then 'bad' texts are as important as 'good' ones, or maybe moreso.

The 'Protocols' may say nothing true about the Jews, but one understands the history of the Jews in Europe better by reading them; and the most vile racist rantings reveal the racist, if not his targets. We appear to be headed for a regime where, amusingly, it will be impossible to teach about bigotry (except that it's B-A-D) because the source documents will be verboten.

Whether "The Marketing of Evil" is in fact bigoted, I don't know. But if it is, then it's banning doesn't logically follow unless the object of education is Right Thought.
And this pretty well speaks for me:
I think that in many of the comments, a serious point has been lost.

It doesn't matter what book it was, what the title was, how evil or bad the book's contents were, or whatever.

The mere listing of an idea (in the form of the book's title, or even quoting the book itself) is not sexual harassment. It is not harassment of any kind. Period.

How many people can play this game? Will feminist professors who harp about the glories of womanhood and the evil of the patriarchy now be sued for sexual harassment? Who is safe in this universe? This revolution will devour its children. No thoughts, no expressions are safe, if this is successful.

I find it amazing that the liberal commentors on this blog don't understand that. Zeal for their cause has blinded them.
Many people in our society have been educated to believe that "wrong speech" should be punished by society. This is antithetical to the Constitution. It's very simple. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to have been sold this idea. This is what today's unversities teach, and it is a doctrine completely contrary to our survival as a nation.

can we ban court reporting because trial transcripts may be troublesome?

can we ban reporting on crimes in general for the same reason?
We'd have to ban just about all primary sources, wouldn't we? Of course that is not what they believe and that is not what they do.

Professors in our esteemed institutions of higher learning have written that the institution of marriage is a remnant of a patriarchal conspiracy and should be totally banned. That's not grounds for harassment. Stating that all male/female sex in marriage is rape is not grounds for harassment charges. There are plenty of professors out there (like Dawkins) who argue that religion itself is a dire influence which should be eliminated from society. That's not grounds for a harassment charge. I have seen sociological arguments that raising kids with traditional Christian beliefs amounts to child abuse. That's not grounds for harassment charges. Stating that the Republican party is an evil conspiratorial institution is not grounds for harassment charges. Expressing the most complete anti-Semitism is not grounds for harassment charges, although it is hard to conceive of a group that has a better claim to victim status than Jews.

These people are dedicated to "right" thought and nothing else. They don't even realize that they are intellectual fascists.
Oh - I have also read that the entire criminal justice system is a conspiracy to oppress the downtrodden. So I would guess that some would like to ban not only the reporting of crimes against property but the prosecution of them.

Btw, in the UK the police were recently told to let first-time burglars go with a warning.
"Dr. Jones had indicated that maybe he could be a liaison person to spearhead this effort."

That's like asking Dr Mengele to be on the medical ethics advisory board.
If this had happened to you, how would you feel?
Just one further footnote re OSU, toward the obvious point that the degree of academic freedom one is accorded by the university community is selective, based on content. Christopher M. Fairman is a professor at OSU's law school. He has recently published an article with a one-word title. The abstract of the article can be found at:


That one word is, well, the queen mother of all swear words, the f-bomb itself. Prof. Fairman makes a point is avoiding the euphemisms I've just deployed. He jokes that he decided to write the article only after he became tenured and then earnestly explains, in footnote 16, that his academic freedom at OSU has never been impinged upon in the slightest. I'm confident he's right about that. The extent of academic freedom at OSU appears to depend upon, as Prof. Fairman might put it, what the fuck you're saying.

His observations on how taboo functions are interesting and strikingly relevant to the librarian's situation:

"Fuck is a taboo word. The taboo is so strong that it compels many to engage in self-censorship. This process of silence then enables small segments of the population to manipulate our rights under the guise of reflecting a greater community. Taboo is then institutionalized through law, yet at the same time is in tension with other identifiable legal rights."
I think I'm going to have to read the article. On the face of it, it looks pretty incredible.
Hypothesis: there is a number, X, such that when more than X% of the members of a given society are university professors, that society will self-destruct.

(It's possible that only humanities and social sciences professors (as opposed to hard-sciences professors) should be incuded in the measurement.)
David, I can't counter that hypothesis based on observations from this chain of events. Perhaps the meaningful distinction between hard sciences and other disciplines is that evidence provides a meaningful counter that shakes up hard scientists on a regular basis - whereas it is possible to build your own castle in other disciplines and raise the drawbridge so the dissenting peasantry can't mess up your beautiful construction with messy dissent.

Assistant Village Idiot wrote about the distinction between purely political advocates and those who actually work with clients in social work:
How hard is it to sit among people who think you are doing the work of angels and strategize how you are going to convince legislators and administrators to do what fits your vision of how the world should be? There is no failure anymore. If the state legislature doesn't officially recognise the rights of your favored group to get more money or be given their own government agency to get them stuff, you haven't failed. The stupid legislatures have failed. Society has failed. You're still just fine. Sure you didn't get that big gambling hit of winning the lottery, but you cashed a few scratch tickets and you were darn close this time.

Of course if you are working with actual clients, they are an intrusion onto any subset of reality that you might build for yourself.

Maybe I'm far afield.
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