Not Many Defenders of Academic Freedom to be Found
Academic Freedom, Colleges and Universities, Cornell Law School, Courage, University of Rochester, W. Allen Wallis, William Jacobson
David Henderson observes that when the pressure is on, not many have the courage to resist the mob.
At Cornell University Law School, a number of people are trying to bully the Dean into firing law professor William Jacobson over 2 of his criticisms of Black Lives Matter. (Disclosure: I read Professor Jacobsonâ€™s posts at least once a week because I find them informative.) The Dean, to his credit, defended Jacobsonâ€™s academic freedom, but to his discredit, made a nasty attack on Jacobsonâ€™s posts, managing to badly misstate the posts in the process. Itâ€™s interesting how easy it is to win an argument when you badly misstate what the person youâ€™re arguing against says. Dean Eduardo M. PeÃ±alver will not soon be winning any ideological Turing test awards.
Professor Jacobson appears to have received little public support from his colleagues. He writes:
None of the 21 signatories [of a public letter denouncing him], some of whom Iâ€™d worked closely with for over a decade and who I considered friends, had the common decency to approach me with any concerns. Instead they ran to the Cornell Sun while virtue signaling to students behind the scenes that this was a denunciation of me. Such is the political environment we live in now at CLS.
Iâ€™m not surprised. The reason has to do with an â€œahaâ€ moment I had in the summer of 1979. I was leaving the University of Rochesterâ€™s Graduate School of Management even before my tenure clock was up. I had become friends with W. Allen Wallis, the Chancellor of the university, and he invited me to lunch in the nicer section (the part that served booze) of the faculty club, housed in the Frederick Douglass building. Early in the lunch, I realized that this wasnâ€™t just a warm good-bye, although it was that too, but also an exit interview. So I ordered a whisky sour and loosened my tongue.
Allen wanted to know what I thought of the management school. I said that it had a lot going for it. The Dean, William H. Meckling, was great and there were a lot of strong faculty, especially in finance. But, I said, it could be so much better, even with existing faculty if there were a more open discussion and not so much kowtowing to Michael Jensen, the most prominent member of the faculty. Everyone had figured out that Michael was Billâ€™s buddy and so the majority were hesitant to challenge him in workshops or faculty discussions about policy issues. I said that I was one of the few willing to do this. (I didnâ€™t name Richard Thaler, who was also one of the few, because he had left and it looked as if he wasnâ€™t returning.)
Then I said, â€œMy view is that in a faculty of 40 people, you should have 40 independent minds.â€
Allen started laughing and I felt hurt. â€œWhy are you laughing at me?â€ I asked.
He answered, â€œMy view is that if in a faculty of 40 people you have 2 or 3 independent minds, youâ€™re doing well.â€