ACE Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities

If you haven’t see this statement by the American Council on Education, it’s worth taking a look at, given the effect it will have at most of our institutions. There is something troubling and perplexing to me about it, however.

The statement consists of five principles, the first two of which emphasize diversity and pluralism of ideas. Horowitz cheered when seeing these. The last two focus on the obvious fact that not all ideas have equal merit, and the autonomy of each institution to set standards for merit and excellence.

What’s troubling to me is the bone that the document throws to the Horowitz crowd. When read carefully, neither of the first two points emphasizing diversity and pluralism says anything offensive or objectionable, but given the political climate at present, the principles will certainly be lifted from the context of the other principles and be used to generate support for legislative attempts by Horror-witzers.

As I read the document, it seems best taken as having a dialectical structure as follows: diversity and pluralism are important values, but these are not suitably decided by governmental groups but rather by academic institutions applying the standards appropriate to each discipline. But the document shows a lack of political savvy here, I think. When you use bulleted items, you automatically lose this sense of dialectical structure, and you create a document particularly suited to misuse by the politically inclined.

In one way, none of this is surprising: academicians have a hard time in political spheres, most of the time displaying Uriah-Heep-ish obsequiousness in political matters, at least publicly.

Below the fold is a mildly humorous story about speaking to a crowd that didn’t know what ‘obsequious’ meant (below the fold because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of this post).

So I use the word ‘obsequious’, and someone in the crowd says, “what does that mean?”, and there is murmuring approval of the question. I say, “Oh, sorry, let me see… you remember Uriah Heep? You know, “David Copperfield”?” What hopeless pedagogy! They are now thinking about a magician and a 70’s rock group, wondering how that is supposed to explain the word…

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