There isn’t a college professor alive who doesn’t believe, with all her heart and soul, in academic freedom. At least for her, because hate speech isn’t free speech, you know. But with the caveat that academic freedom must be exercised on the right side of orthodoxy, it must be protected. Even Jonathan Turley says so. At length.
The issue in this case is really not the merits but the threshold question of whether academics should be allowed to express their views on such issues regardless of their objectionable or questionable content. If not, it is difficult to see where the line is to be drawn between permissible and sanctionable speech. There are obviously a wide array of pro and anti speech related to Palestinians and Israeli policies or conduct. Much of this speech is heavily steeped in historical, religious, and political viewpoints. The emphasis should be on whether there is evidence of bias displayed toward students. Obviously, Oberlin is not a state school and thus does not fall under the rules government government parties. Yet, free speech is the coin of the academic realm. It is essential to learning that students and faculty feel free to exchange views as part of an open and robust debate.
Yup, you guessed it. Oberlin prof Joy Karega is back on the docket, but the focus has shifted from her exercise of free speech and academic freedom to the fact that she’s batshit crazy and needs help badly. Who? Her:
Is it because she supports Palestinians? Nope. She’s allowed. Is it because she hates Israel? Nope. She’s allowed that too. So what distinguishes her speech from free, if hated, to insane?
Joy Karega, an assistant professor of “rhetoric and composition” at Oberlin College, claims the Jewish state secretly planned the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and that its national intelligence agency, the Mossad, formed the terror group.
The problem is that she has lost touch with reality. Put aside, for the moment, that her hatred is consistent with the social justice flavor du jour, and consider the situation if she was a “sovereign citizen,” who was teaching her students in her crim law class that judges in courtrooms with fringed flags had only maritime jurisdiction. Or that a UCC 1-308 is the magic trick that will save you from government control.
Absolutely batshit crazy? Of course. But what if some professor believes it anyway? What about her academic freedom? What about her right to free speech? What about her right to teach it to the children?
The question is whether there is a line between academics believing in far out things, things that are so palpably false that expressing them, teaching them, raises significant questions as to the academic’s intelligence or sanity, and refusing to adhere to the orthodoxy. One is good. The other, not so much. How does one tell? Where is the line drawn?
Take, for example, a bedrock principle of our society (and our law), that there is no difference in intelligence based on race. Charles Murray questioned whether this truism was true. He was not universally adored for his efforts.
Columnist Bob Herbert, writing for The New York Times, described the book as “a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship.” “Mr. Murray can protest all he wants,” wrote Herbert; “his book is just a genteel way of calling somebody a nigger.
Resolving the distinction between what is a legitimate belief or area of inquiry and what is just totally off the wall isn’t nearly as easy as it would seem. At risk in the inquiry are students, those young, impressionable mush minds, waiting to be molded into something. Will they emerge smarter, better, more capable people? Will they be indoctrinated to believe some cockamamie nonsense?
What makes this question so difficult is that sometimes, cockamamie nonsense is correct, but current trends compel most of us to accept whatever passes for accepted objective truth. Sometimes it’s easier than others, like 2 + 2 = 4, and other times it’s not so easy, such as the earth is round when everyone knew that it was flat.
[Karega] added “This ain’t even hard. They unleashed Mossad on France and it’s clear why.” She explained that the massacre was part of a conspiracy to stop French support for Palestinians. She also posted a statement that Islamic State is not Islamic, but rather “a CIA and Mossad operation” and even frustration that “there’s too much information out here for the general public not to know this.”
The issue for Joy Karega is twofold. First, she’s entitled to express any view she wants, no matter how batshit crazy, because that’s how America rolls. But second, she is not entitled to hold a position of pedagogy if her views are either so dangerously wrong that she will teach her students to look for the fringes on flags, or she lacks the intellectual capacity to perform her function as an academic competently.
For most of us, the answer lies in our own beliefs. That which confirms us is not only acceptable, but mandatory. We’re right, and so people who agree with us are right too. Then there are beliefs with which we may not agree, but are within the realm of what we perceive to be reasonable possibilities. So even if we aren’t too thrilled with the idea that someone is spreading ideas we believe to be wrong, we’re hesitant to call them out and allow for them to be within the parameters of possibly justified scholarship.
And then, there are ideas that we deem so outside the realm of reality that we refuse to tolerate their being taught to students. More importantly, because we believe them to be so obviously refuted by objective truth, anyone who holds these ideas must, by definition, be [ableist slur].
No doubt some are nuts. No doubt some lack the intellectual capacity to be allowed anywhere near impressionable young people. But it’s not nearly as easy to decide who they are as one would think. Unless, of course, the solution is that any academic who doesn’t adhere to whatever prevails as common wisdom be deemed crazy and wrong. But if so, then we’ll never break out of the box of the moment’s orthodoxy. So yeah, it’s a problem. And Karega is still nuts.