Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Self-muzzling academics?


In the Washington Post, my former student Danielle Allen, currently the holder of an extremely prestigious professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study, explains why the Obama administration withdrew her nomination for the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities:

"But in the end the White House decided not to move my nomination forward. There were two reasons. First, taxes. In 2009 and 2010, the years of my divorce, I filed my taxes late — four weeks and 10 days, respectively. Second, I was not willing to commit to never criticizing the administration, nor to restricting my publishing agenda to topics that were unlikely to be controversial. There is just no point trying to be a public intellectual if you can’t speak your mind. This requirement was conveyed and discussed through phone calls; I have no written record to prove it. But that was how it went."

I compare this with my own experience. I was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by the first President Bush and to the President's Council on Bioethics by the second President Bush. No one in either administration ever even came close to suggesting that I "commit to never criticize the administration." Had such a thing been suggested, I would have refused to make such a commitment, just as Danielle did. I'm proud of her for setting an example of integrity.

But I cannot help but ask:  What is with this administration??? Why this fear of criticism? Why this paranoia? And what about the people who are serving as its appointees on the NEH and other boards?  Did they agree not to criticize the administration? If so, and if they are professors, I believe their deans, provosts, or presidents---or at least their campus newspapers---should ask them whether they agreed to muzzle themselves as a condition for their appointments. Such self-censorship by an academic on the NEH board or on a federal commission would be disgraceful. But if it was a condition of Danielle Allen's appointment, then it was likely a condition of the appointment of others, as well, don't you suppose? Shame on those who accepted the conditions.

"It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the entire world. But for Wales?"



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