Posts tagged ‘first ammendment’

I Called The Ward Churchill Verdict

On several occasions, I have (unpopularly) argued that Ward Churchill's firing from his tenured faculty position at the University of Colorado was unjustified, as the termination seemed to pretty clearly be due to his remarks about 9/11 rather than any academic mis-conduct.

While Colorado has tried to argue that they fired him because his academic work was weak, I have argued that it is no weaker than much of the work done by any number of high-profile racial and gender studies departments  (Duke University being just one recent example).  Racial and gender studies professors are generally evaluated based on their political activism, not their scholarship, so firing Churchill was both wrong on a first amendment basis and wrong because his statements on 9/11 were merely conforming to the standards of his chosen academic discipline.

A jury seems to agree:

A jury found on Thursday that the University of Colorado had wrongfully dismissed a professor who drew national attention for an essay in which he called some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks "little Eichmanns."...

The jurors found that Mr. Churchill's political views had been a "substantial or motivating" factor in his dismissal, and that the university had not shown that he would have been dismissed anyway.

If you don't believe me about activism trumping scholarship as a criteria for hiring racial and gender studies professors, just listen to Churchill's lawyer:

Mr. Lane, Mr. Churchill's lawyer, said his client had been a spokesman throughout his academic career for disempowered people and causes "” a trait, Mr. Lane said, that never made Mr. Churchill popular with people in power. "For 30 years, he's been telling the other side of the story," Mr. Lane said.

Missing are terms like study, research, investigation, etc -- this is activism, pure and simple.  And Colorado knew it and wanted it when they hired him, so it was wrong for them to fire him for it.

Don't Dance on the Times' Grave

Recent circulation numbers showing continued, substantial declines of traditional newspapers give me an excuse to make a point I have wanted to make for some time. 

I am a frequent critic of newspapers.  I think they have lost focus on the hard-hitting investigative journalism which used to be their highest and best calling, instead considering reiteration of an activist's press release sufficient to check the journalism box on some particular issue.  When investigative reporting does occur, it almost always is focused to support the dominant or politically correct outcome, rather than to really challenge conventional wisdom.   Media coverage of any technical issue involving science or statistics or economics is often awful, in large part because journalism is too often the default educational path of folks who want to avoid numbers.  Any time I have been on the inside of some issue receiving coverage, I have generally been astounded by how little the print descriptions matched reality.  Now that I am interviewed more as a source for articles, I never think my views are well-quoted (though that may be my fault for not talking in sound bites).  And, like many, I get irritated that the media's arrogance and self-referential reporting seems to increase in direct proportion to their drop in circulation.

All that being said, the world without healthy newspapers is a bad thing. 

First, we bloggers can blather on all day about being the new media, but with the exception of a few folks like Radley Balko, we're all editorial writers, not reporters  (I consider my role at Climate-Skeptic.com to be more like journalism, but only because there is such a glaring hole on that topic in traditional media).  I couldn't do what I do here, at least on this particular blog, without the New York Times and the Washington Post.  I'm a remora feeding on their scraps.  I can't bring down the big fish by myself, I can only feed on the bits they miss.

Second, and perhaps more important in this world of proposed reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, print media is the mode of speech best protected by the First Ammendment.  This isn't the way it should be -- all speech should be equal -- but in reality goofy regulatory regimes for radio, TV, and even the Internet all offer the government leverage points for speech control they don't have with the print media.  It's why half the dystopic sci fi novels out there have a world dominated by TV -- because that is where government has the most control of speech.

So here's hoping you guys at the NY Times get your act together.

Mourning the Loss of Free Speech Through November 7, 2006

Blackribbon

In a stunning beat down on one of America's longest-held and most sacred principles, your first ammendment rights to criticize incumbent politicians, at least on radio and TV, are suspended from now until the November 7 election.  Congress has decided, and incredibly the Supreme
Court has concurred, that only members of the media, including intellectual giants like Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann, can legally criticize sitting politicians on TV and radio in the runup to the election.  These restrictions also came very, very close to applying to this and all other blogs.  John McCain, Russ Feingold, and everyone who voted for this un-American incumbent protection act need to be voted out of office at our next opportunity. Update:  Nice roundup here.
(This post is sticky -- newer posts are below)

Clear Thinking

I think that that FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, does a really nice job defending speech across the political spectrum on campuses.  I was struck in particular by this post on their blog, about Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a private university in Massachusetts.   Speech rights at private institutions (such as on the job) are often an area where "civil rights" groups trip over themselves.

I thought FIRE did a nice job with its WPI analysis:

as a private institution, WPI is not bound by the U.S. Constitution, and WPI
takes full advantage of that by stripping its students of their First Amendment
rights. WPI doesn't try to hide this fact, either. Unlike many private
universities, its website makes no promises that students will have the
constitutional rights that they enjoy in society at large. Moreover, it prominently
advertises
that "[s]tudents enter WPI voluntarily"¦If they do not like some
of the rules, regulations, traditions, and policies of WPI, they do not have to
enter," and
that
"membership in this particular academic community is freely sought and
freely granted by and to its members, and"¦within this membership group certain
specific behaviors that may be accepted by society in general cannot be accepted
within an academic community without hindering the explicit goals of that
academic community." 
 
As a private institution, Worcester is acting within its rights: it
advertises its repression and censorship right up front.  WPI doesn't promise
you free speech, and you won't get it. That's why FIRE doesn't rate WPI a "red
light""” when a private university states clearly and consistently that it holds
a certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE does not
rate that university. But we still think you should know what to expect when you
get there.

Good for FIRE.  It achnowleges that WPI as a private institution has the right to set its own rules and terms and conditions, as long as those are clear up front.  FIRE doesn't like these rules (I don't particularly either) but it limits itself to speaking out against them, rather than filing legal actions as it might in the case of public universities which, by law and by court precedent, can't place artifical limits on first ammendment rights.

Exhibit #1 for the FEC v. Club for Growth

The FEC is suing the Club for Growth for campaign finance violations, basically arguing that they are controlled by the Republican Party and therefore not an independent political group (or whatever, I can't really be bothered to understand just what argument the FEC is using to trash the First Ammendment).

So I have Exhibit #1 for the trial.  Yesterday I published a blog piece blasting the Republican Party, concluding:

The Republicans are lost.  Combine this kind of spending with their
Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching
intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre , and I find nothing at all attractive about the party.  Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power.

If the Club for Growth is a subsidiary of the Republican Party, then why are they linking my post today from their home page?