THE GROVES OF ACADEME – AT 10:15 A.M. ET: We like to write about the shortcomings – thousands of them – in the academic world.
One thing I've noticed is that the academic world can rarely be depended on to handle ethical and intellectual questions in mature and reasonable ways. There's a long history here, from the cordial relationships between some American universities and Nazi Germany in the 30s, to the equally disturbing relationship between the American academic establishment and leftist and Muslim dictatorships today.
Note please the marked contrast between the mature and professional handling of the Duke University lacrosse case by the North Carolina bar, which moved in quickly to correct the railroading of three innocent boys, and the pompous, arrogant and entirely inadequate behavior of Duke in protecting its own innocent students, who did not happen to belong to politically correct groups.
Now a famous university faces a dilemma, as noted by Michael Rubin at Commentary:
There is now little question that Fareed Zakaria is guilty of plagiarism. He has admitted copying a portion of a New Yorker essay and apologized. Time, where Zakaria works as a columnist, has suspended Zakaria for a month, and CNN—owned by the same parent company—has suspended him pending an investigation. This represents a mere slap on the wrist for someone whose standard speaking fee is $75,000.
As Yale University lecturer Jim Sleeper notes, however, Zakaria has a perch not only at CNN and Time, but also at Yale University, where he sits on the Yale Corporation, the University’s governing board and policy-making body. There is no greater academic sin than plagiarism. Students can be expelled for plagiarizing papers, and professors can be fired. To let Zakaria off the hook on his own recognizance would be to eviscerate the principle of academic integrity for which Yale says it stands.
Whether Yale President Richard Levin will do the right thing, however, is another issue. While Levin has distinguished himself as a master fundraiser, he has also shown a disturbing willingness to undercut free speech (ironically, with Zakaria’s acquiescence), compromise academic integrity to foreign interests, and embrace fame over principle. Seldom is an issue as cut-and-dry as Zakaria’s plagiarism. Unless Yale seeks to demonstrate that cheating is acceptable and that there is no principle to which it will not turn a blind eye, then it really has no choice: It is time to give Zakaria the boot.
Right on. In a similar case, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin had to resign from Harvard's Board of Overseers, the governing body, when she was similarly found to have copies passages from another writer's work.
The academic world does not receive the scrutiny it should receive from the American media, whose illustrious leaders sit around and wait for their honorary degrees, or their invitations to deliver commencement addresses. The Wall Street Journal publishes a wonderful quote, our quote of the day, from an academic who recalls an encounter with the conformity and pressures that envelope faculty members in the hallowed halls:
Prof. Janice Fiamengo writing at pjmedia.com, Aug. 2:
I will always carry a memory of one of my colleagues, a genial and intelligent scholar of Renaissance literature and a tenured professor at a mid-sized prairie university, casting furtive glances around and behind him in order to see how others were voting, his hand mid-way into the air. We were voting in a hiring contest, a contentious one, and my colleague was looking to his friends for direction.
I don't know the history of the departmental practice of public votes. A friend there once commented that she had always believed we should have courage enough to declare our preferences openly in matters affecting the department.
But few did. In those public votes, we raised our hands for a number of reasons—to form or consolidate alliances, to prove our ideological bona fides, to earn credit to be redeemed in a later decision we hoped to influence—but rarely to express our rational and considered preference. Most often, we sought, as in the case of my careful colleague, to vote on the winning side. . . .
Can it be that, even free of threat or compulsion, many intellectuals will choose to surrender their independence of thought? C.S. Lewis wrote about the seductive pleasures of belonging in "The Inner Ring," brilliantly highlighting the desire planted deep in the heart of every human being to be approved, acknowledged as "one of us" by people we admire. To get into that charmed circle, Lewis warned, many of us will assent to nearly anything.
COMMENT: I'm afraid that's true. Conformity in universities is an awful thing. It destroys the very core of academic inquiry, but I'm afraid conformity is the trend these days. If you buck political correctness, you simply won't get very far in too many places.
As a nation, we spend billions on higher education every year, including federal aid to already-rich universities. But we ask few questions, and most Americans have little understanding of the way many of these places operate. It is another case in which the media has failed us.
August 13, 2012