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Academic Freedom or Academic Honesty?

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The seemingly perennial debates surrounding Catholic universities in actualizing their claimed Catholic identity seems to revolve around the concept of "academic freedom." To be frank, higher education in general succeeds and is a benefit to society when all questions can be asked and people are free to inquire and research.

The problem is that academic freedom, as it is currently preached, is not truly practiced. Most universities, in general, hold to a secular humanist ideal where the mere mention of religion is restricted. Entire departments and fields on inquiry are restricted to one particular position. Try to get tenure in cellular biology and dissent from the embryo-destroying stem cell research dogma. Try to defend the traditional family and get hired into a sociology department. Good luck.

For decades, left-wing professors and administrators have silenced debate on their closely held doctrines. As a result, they simply don't have any way to defend them because they don't have to. Question affirmative action on campus and they cudgel you with racism charges. Speak out against gay marriage and you're an intolerant homophobe. In some places, donating to a Republican campaign is a career-ending decision.

There would be nothing wrong with liberal professors or liberal institutions on campus… if they were actually open to debate. With panel discussions being mostly political rallies, something has got to give. In the context of Catholic universities, there are plenty of critics of the Catholic Church in higher education. Most places simply don't allow any defense of the Catholic Church.

The higher education system works largely because of they great diversity of universities in the system. There are plenty of colleges to choose from if you want to be thoroughly immersed in the secular humanist ideal. Why is the system under such great danger if a Catholic institution wants to be actually Catholic?

If a university is honest about its perspective and disposition with new students and new faculty, there is nothing wrong is being true to its claimed identity. Professors who wish to thoroughly investigate why the Catholic teaching on abortion is wrong will find a home at a near infinite number of religious studies departments across the country. Yet, when a Catholic college wants its faculty to be actually Catholic (or at a minimum take Church teaching seriously) then they are waging a war against academic freedom. Whatever happened to academic honesty? If you don't really believe it, don't teach in an environment that claims to.

These fights have started and grown in intensity because the university system has largely banned conservative lines of questioning. Far from trying to take over the university systems to indoctrinate, it's time to really have the free exchange of ideas. If this can't take place in the context of a campus, at least allow universities to exist that allow for those lines of questions.

No ideology grows and thrives when it seeks to eliminate any and all criticisms of it.

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About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • Steve

    It’s my experience that folks who are unwilling to allow others of differing viewpoints to share their views, are worried that they might be proven wrong.

    After all, if you’re sure you are right, what harm could it do to your case to prove those other folks wrong?? Their position only makes sense if they know full well that what they say is true has not actually been proven. They don’t want folks finding out that their emperor has no clothes obviously.

  • Bob Jones

    Catholic Campus’ are figting a noble battle but doing it the wrong way.

    Nobody wants any campus to be cleary biased one way or the other, it is clear the majority have an anti-Catholic agenda but by propping up a clearly pro-Catholic instituion merely gives a target for anti-Catholic rhetoric – like Fox News, they are fighting against bias against one side by being biased against the other.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    The problem is that they ARE biased, for one, and secondarily that it’s probably impossible to have a campus that would really approach things from every perspective.

    If an institution clearly says it comes from a Catholic perspective, what’s the problem? It’s the secular universities that apply only one perspective yet insist they are for “free inquiry” that are deceptive. As long as their is truth in packaging, I don’t see the problem. Mostly because universities do colloborate and they aren’t closed systems in themselves.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Duke De Mondo

    hmm. it’s somewhat poetic, how the Catholic Church, who for centuries sought to silence academics, is now putting itself forward as the victim of academics.

    somewhere, Galileo is chuckling a touch, i dare say.

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    John,
    could you tell me the names of universities where professors and others have gotten shunned for being Republicans? Do you have some examples?

    thanks

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Perhaps you should learn about Galileo instead of reading somebody else’s talking points…

    Your grasp of the facts is somewhat off there…

  • Steve

    Of course, what people often forget is, most of the scientific establishment was also against Galileo’s theory on that particular issue in his day.

    I have to say, I prefer it when the church and the scientific community are not in cahoots with each other frankly.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    I agree… they do have *slightly* overlapping spheres of activity, however, when both basically stick to their realms and there is an appropriate balance, all works much better.

    For instance, scientists should pontificate on whether we *should* do embryo-destroying stem cell research (which is a moral question) and religion probably ought to stay out of the intelligent design debate.

  • JR

    John Bambenek: For instance, scientists should pontificate on whether we *should* do embryo-destroying stem cell research (which is a moral question) and religion probably ought to stay out of the intelligent design debate.

    Wait, you’re saying scientists should pontificate on moral questions?

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    should not.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Duke De Mondo

    “Perhaps you should learn about Galileo instead of reading somebody else’s talking points…”

    John, i’m not sure what you’re getting at here. What should i learn that would make that, admittedly off-hand, statement any more or less relevant? your post suggests that the catholic church are being in some way mistreated by academics and scholars. i’m saying that the catholic church is the last institution that has any right to be hollering anything of the sort. Galileo is just one particularly infamous example of their opposition to, and supression of, the progression of ideas throughout history. i detect a certain irony in this recent cry, is all. a certain poetic justice, even.

    that galileo had supporters and advocates within the church is, of course, true, but advocates who were willing to lend a half-hearted support to his ideas only if he altered them significantly for publication. he was placed under arrest for gods holy sakes!

    that the church later shrugged apologetically and came to accept galileo (albeit a touch too late for him to have much benefit from it) is, i would venture, purely on account of embaressment.

    the catholic church isn’t the only religious institution guilty of the like, obviously, but since that’s who we’re talking about here, that’s what i got to considering.

    so, again, tell me what to learn and i’ll surely go seek it out. And tell me whose talking points i’ve been nabbing, also.

  • JR

    John Bambenek: Try to get tenure in cellular biology and dissent from the embryo-destroying stem cell research dogma.

    Well, I’m not sure what the dogma is, or if it even exists. But if you think scientists should not be pontificating on moral questions, then it stands to reason the departments shouldn’t be giving tenure to those who are outspoken on the issue. Don’t ask, don’t tell, right?

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    Well, perhaps, John. Discrimination of excellent researchers based on their values is unacceptable. But don’t forget that “left-wing” professors were purged and blacklisted in the Cold War and continue to be so at many places, depending on how one imagines “left-wing,” a very floating, flimsy, expansive sign for much one disagrees with or is frightened by, and the same goes for “right-wing.”

    Some of the social sciences and humanities have as their very basis the critical-reflective understanding of traditional ideas, structures, institutions, values. By definition, conservative speaks to preserving (in its worst cases irrationally)tradition and the status quo. It is against change of existing power structures (from slavery to women’s suffrage, to environmental regulation). “Liberal” presumptions are toward change and criticizing the status quo and tradition (in the worst cases, irrationally).

    It would make sense that such departments would be leary of _any_ position. They are based on historically changing rigorous methods of investigation. Faith and its values/behavioral codes conflict with that the spirit (the late world-acclaimed sociologist P. Bourdieu has a book called “A Troubling Sciene”[sociology]. If someone does research, abides by the professional standards for that research, defends the traditional family and then can’t get tenure, then that’s discrimination. But to say, for example, as some do, that faith-based theories of creation should be taught in science classes is problematic, to say the least, given that our societies are in large part driven by the bodies of knowledge produced by researchers/experts in various fields who have to abide by strict professional norms of investigation. One can not use the scientific method to argue for creationism, again, to use an extreme example. However, creationism seems completely valid to study in religous studies and sociology of religion. The university has not banned conservative lines of questioning. They have banned SOME conservative lines of “reasoning” (or liberal or any form of “reasoning” that is purely ideological and not in the form of rational argumentation). Besides, when was the last time you heard institutional economic analysis or neo-Marxism in economics departments. And there have been several historically recentinstances where allegedly “left” academics have been ostracized and harassed for their views, esp. post-9/11.
    There may be many causes of why you are not hearing conservative voices in the university as you see it, JOhn. Perhaps, many conservatives are attracted to higher paying careers instead of the service one gets poorly paid for rendering esp. in public universities? Or consider the possible reasons I offered above about the demands of critical, rational investigation. Perhaps One could try and investigate the possible reasons for the lack of your conservative voices in SOME depts. (as I said, I do not agree that such an absence is true across the curriculum). But simply claiming that it comes from left-wing discrimination may not be convincing to a broad, critical audience.
    best wishes,
    Jayson Harsin

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    Well, perhaps, John. Discrimination of excellent researchers based on their values is unacceptable. But don’t forget that “left-wing” professors were purged and blacklisted in the Cold War and continue to be so at many places, depending on how one imagines “left-wing,” a very floating, flimsy, expansive sign for much one disagrees with or is frightened by, and the same goes for “right-wing.”

    Some of the social sciences and humanities have as their very basis the critical-reflective understanding of traditional ideas, structures, institutions, values. By definition, conservative speaks to preserving (in its worst cases irrationally)tradition and the status quo. It is against change of existing power structures (from slavery to women’s suffrage, to environmental regulation). “Liberal” presumptions are toward change and criticizing the status quo and tradition (in the worst cases, irrationally).

    It would make sense that such departments would be leary of _any_ position. They are based on historically changing rigorous methods of investigation. Faith and its values/behavioral codes conflict with that the spirit (the late world-acclaimed sociologist P. Bourdieu has a book called “A Troubling Sciene”[sociology]. If someone does research, abides by the professional standards for that research, defends the traditional family and then can’t get tenure, then that’s discrimination. But to say, for example, as some do, that faith-based theories of creation should be taught in science classes is problematic, to say the least, given that our societies are in large part driven by the bodies of knowledge produced by researchers/experts in various fields who have to abide by strict professional norms of investigation. One can not use the scientific method to argue for creationism, again, to use an extreme example. However, creationism seems completely valid to study in religous studies and sociology of religion. The university has not banned conservative lines of questioning. They have banned SOME conservative lines of “reasoning” (or liberal or any form of “reasoning” that is purely ideological and not in the form of rational argumentation). Besides, when was the last time you heard institutional economic analysis or neo-Marxism in economics departments. And there have been several historically recentinstances where allegedly “left” academics have been ostracized and harassed for their views, esp. post-9/11.
    There may be many causes of why you are not hearing conservative voices in the university as you see it, JOhn. Perhaps, many conservatives are attracted to higher paying careers instead of the service one gets poorly paid for rendering esp. in public universities? Or consider the possible reasons I offered above about the demands of critical, rational investigation. Perhaps One could try and investigate the possible reasons for the lack of your conservative voices in SOME depts. (as I said, I do not agree that such an absence is true across the curriculum). But simply claiming that it comes from left-wing discrimination may not be convincing to a broad, critical audience.
    best wishes,
    Jayson Harsin

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Professor Haysin-

    It’s obvious you don’t know what conservatives stand for, don’t pretend that you do.

    In fact, I’d like to point out two conservative institutions/icons were against slavery long before “enlightened Europe”… one, the Catholic Church, who wrote against it in the 1500s and ever since, and two, Abraham Lincoln who is firmly ensconsed on the right side of the political dial.

    If you want to compare dirty laundry, might I suggest we look at the four worst genocides in human history: Hitler (socialist), Stalin (communist), Mao (communist), and abortion. All vicars of the left.

    So before you start criticizing the conservative position, it would help to know exactly what ideas they hold because you are wholly incorrect. Repeating known false data isn’t exactly good academic work.

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    Dear John:
    Are you saying you have finally defined the word “conservative” for the world (though perhaps I missed something but all I see is begging the quesiton in your post). But despite whether we are supposed to be reading your mind, if you’ve got it, I would suggest you notify Merriam-Webster.
    Merriam Webster’s online:”Main Entry: 1con·ser·va·tive
    Pronunciation: k&n-‘s&r-v&-tiv
    Function: adjective
    1 : PRESERVATIVE
    2 a : of or relating to a philosophy of conservatism b capitalized : of or constituting a political party professing the principles of conservatism : as (1) : of or constituting a party of the United Kingdom advocating support of established institutions (2) : PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE
    3 a : tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : TRADITIONAL b : marked by moderation or caution c : marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners
    4 : of, relating to, or practicing Conservative Judaism
    – con·ser·va·tive·ly adverb
    – con·ser·va·tive·ness noun”

    I would ask you, John, to engage in a civil manner here and refrain from accusing those who wish to discuss serious political issues as “pretending.” Why try to discredit me through demeaning address and accusations of deliberate falsification? I didn’t disrespect you that way. Why not just make an argument? If you think I don’t understand “conservatism,” why not define what you mean by it and then explain why I don’t get it. That sort of tone rarely convinces anyone.

    That said, it doesn’t appear that you respond to my points at all. You simply accuse me of not understanding conservatism and then tell me that “left-wing” types are responsible for the genocides you cite. Are you really serious when you cite Hitler as on the left? There’s an equivocation in your attribution of socialism. National Socialism was hardly social democracy or democratic socialism. Do we really need to re-visit the history of Nazi Germany here? Or Abe Lincoln, that arch-conservative?
    The issue was your claims of academic intolerance, with the example of a sociologist defending “the traditional family.” Will you answer?

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    conservatism
    One entry found for conservatism.
    Main Entry: con·ser·va·tism
    Pronunciation: k&n-‘s&r-v&-“ti-z&m
    Function: noun
    1 capitalized a : the principles and policies of a Conservative party b : the Conservative party
    2 a : disposition in politics to preserve what is established b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change
    3 : the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Notice “preferring gradual development”…

    That’s hardly insisting that slavery stay in place simply because it was in the past.

    It’s not a civil discussion if you misdefine terms to construct straw men to burn down…

    If I wanted to have a discussion like that, I’d be on FoxNews or CNN.

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    Sorry, was away for a bit. Did anyone answer my question? Is there a specific example of a conservative professor not getting promoted or being denied grants because of his/her views?

    As in can I know what the research was, what the institution was, and what the decision in question was?
    thanks

  • John Q. Public

    There seems to be a point people are missing here. Isn’t this whole bogus issue really centered on the fact that these Catholic universities want to preach their viewpoints, religious ones, but still collect federal funding?

    Pretty it up however you like. You can’t hide that simple fact.

    Another pitiful attempt at framing an issues in anything other than the reality of the situation.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Federal funds aren’t “given” to higher education (generally, with the exception of pork), you compete for grants and that money is given for projects, not institutions. There is a reason private universities charge so much tuition, they make up for no direct government funding. There’s also a reason we call private colleges “private”.

    By the way, you like universities? Our invention. You’re welcome.

    Here are some examples of discrimination:
    aaup.org
    professorbainbridge.com
    ehrensteinland.com (and another citing the NYTimes)

    That’s from a quick google serach.

    [Mr Bambenek: I assume your enthusiasm led you to forget the BC protocol about making links active… Thanks. Comments Editor.]

  • JR

    John Bambenek, Comment #15: If you want to compare dirty laundry, might I suggest we look at the four worst genocides in human history: Hitler (socialist), Stalin (communist), Mao (communist), and abortion. All vicars of the left.

    John Bambenek, Comment #18: It’s not a civil discussion if you misdefine terms to construct straw men to burn down…

    Indeed.

  • JR

    John Bambenek: By the way, you like universities? Our invention. You’re welcome.

    “Our”? A bit late in the day for you to take credit, isn’t it?

  • John Q. Public

    For John in 21,
    You correctly mention grants and pork. It is precisely this type of funding that I was speaking of.
    These are federal taxpayer dollars, and there are conditions on schools receiving such.
    If these Catholic universities do not want to abide by such rules and regulations, then they do not receive said funds. Just that simple, really.
    If they do accept the funds, then they must abide by the terms.
    As for the links you provided, the very first one is quite different than what you allege. In fact, it blatantly states in the first few paragraphs that it is speaking of limited allegations, then goes on to delve into just how complex this issue actually is.
    Truth be told, in a much more in depth and insightful fashion than your own article here.
    You might want to give it a read.

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    From JB’s comment #21: “Notice “preferring gradual development”…

    That’s hardly insisting that slavery stay in place simply because it was in the past.

    It’s not a civil discussion if you misdefine terms to construct straw men to burn down…

    If I wanted to have a discussion like that, I’d be on FoxNews or CNN.”

    JH writes:
    “A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “set up a straw man” or “set up a straw-man argument” is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, because the opponent’s actual argument has not been refuted.”

    Notice the rest of the definitions you choose to snip, totally avoid, like the overall questions I posed to you in my two sets of comments.
    Slavery was a very small part of those comments, to which you never even deigned to respond. Do you really think those who defended the institution of slavery shortly before its abolition could be politically called “liberal” or “progressive?” That you personally identify some historical figures you think are conservative who were against slavery, hardly proves that slavery wasn’t a conservative position and institution. You’re missing your equivocation based on the definition I offered you, which you reduce to “gradual development.”

    It’s not a civil exchange, indeed, if you call disagreements with you “straw men” when you don’t even establish your claim as such.

    If you don’t want CNN/Fox start respecting norms of civil exchange and rational argument, and leave the fog and mirrors games to the immature and reckless players who are destroying American democracy.

    (p.s. If you don’t want to be addressed as “Bambi,” I suggest you not ever try caricaturing your opponents’ names in order to discredit their arguments. Blogcritics deserves better.)

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Jayson-

    Conservatism is a political philosophy whose definition (or the definition of any political philosophy) is unsuited for a dictionary sound-bite.

    If you can’t pick up one authentic conservative book to figure out what we really think, is there a point to continuing this discussion?

  • http://www.pearlsbee4swine.blogspot.com jayson

    If you can’t communicate without using ad hominems (“personal attacks” which are supposed to be unacceptable on BC–you’ve never apologized about the instances I’ve already raised)then you’re right, there’s no point in continuing with you at all. Conservatism, is a historically specific ideology (many professional philosophers would hardly accept it characterized as a “philosophy”) and a transhistorical concept (to which I was referring in the “soundbites,” as you call them. In other words, conservatism in the U.S. now is not even a coherent belief system or ideology. There are differences between those who call themselves conservative there and across other societies. But the definition that is less historically specific, to which I was referring, needs no contemporary bestseller to prove itself, as Merriam-Webster’s is aware.

    Finally, I repeat, you convince no one of your beliefs/ideas, John, by embedding your claims in insults (the latest being your claim that I am I need of a contemporary reader that explicates conservatism). Again, you may get congratulations from those who already share your beliefs, but you will have a very hard time convincing others with claims attached to ad hominems. Claim, evidence, backing, and civility. Don’t you think you have an example to set? The BC comments policy:”Please think of the comments as a conversation between individuals and interact with civility.

    We will edit/delete spam comments, duplicate comments, unsupported accusations, personal attacks of any kind, and terms offensive to groups when used in a pejorative manner.”

    I’m hear because I think the policies to structure comments here are good ones. I don’t care to hear your patronizing about how I should read a book. I’ve read many, of course. I repeat, make a claim, support your argument. Leave your personal attacks for some other forum.
    JH

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    John,
    thanks for the links.
    they all seem to be allegations without a lot of proof. I know this is the nature of columns and blogposts, but I was hoping to see something a little more substantial.

    The Berkeley example might be a bit odd in that it wasn’t clear to me that the “course” offering was a regular university class. There is a tradition on the “open university” side of letting the instructors (in this case a grad student) write up their own course descriptions. Berkeley also happens to be the same school where a law professor came up with the “torture exceptions” for the Bush administration. He’s tenured at Boalt. I wouldn’t say that for every George Lakoff there’s a conservative humanities professor there, but there are a number of very conservative professors across the campus.

    When I was in college we had a professor who gave an open university course on Eugenics.(students protested, but the administration let him teach his class) A few years later Condoleeza Rice was the provost. Both seemed to do pretty well in a place that’s often accused of being too liberal.