Sensible Stanley Fish
? That's a phrase I would have thought was an oxymoron. But this article
by Fish, calling for more separation between teaching and political activism, is very sensible, and almost, dare I say it, Aristotelian (which to me seems odd for a Post-Modernist like Fish):
Kerrey wants to be a virtuous citizen, and there are venues in which this worthy ambition can be pursued, but as president of an academic institution, the virtue he should be professing and protecting is the virtue of the academy. Academic virtue is the virtue that is or should be displayed in the course of academic activities -- teaching, research, publishing. Teachers should show up for their classes, prepare syllabuses, teach what has been advertised, be current in the literature of the field, promptly correct assignments and papers, hold regular office hours, and give academic (not political or moral) advice.
Researchers should not falsify their credentials, or make things up, or fudge the evidence, or ignore data that go against their preferred conclusions.
Whoa! Is Fish channeling Alasdair MacIntyre
all of the sudden?
But this is the money section:
The unfettered expression of ideas is a cornerstone of liberal democracy; it is a prime political value. It is not, however, an academic value, and if we come to regard it as our primary responsibility, we will default on the responsibilities assigned us and come to be what no one pays us to be -- political agents.
It is entirely appropriate that special places and times (teach-ins, panel discussions, student rallies) be set aside for the airing of views on disputed matters, but such occasions should be understood in the strongest sense of the term as extracurricular; valuable and interesting to be sure, but not the point of the enterprise. Not everyone shares this understanding. Witness the instructor who included in his course description a request that conservative students go elsewhere, and the professor who, in the name of "openness," requires her students to subscribe to the tenets of tolerance and multiculturalism.
However, these lapses in individual judgment pale before the collective lapse of those who put pressure on universities to change practices of which they personally disapprove. In this category I would include the various calls for divestment, the movement to police the workplace conditions of the factories that supply the campus store with sweatshirts, the demand that sneaker manufacturers bring their labor practices into line with the preferences of student activists.
I am not saying that putting pressure on South Africa or Israel and agitating for workers' rights are not legitimate political actions. I'm just saying that political actions are what they are, which means that not everyone (either in the polity or the academic community) would approve them, which means that in endorsing them a university aligns itself with a partisan position, which means that sectors of the general public will come to regard the university as a special-interest lobby and decline to support it.
When people go around asking why the public is reluctant to "fully fund education", well, a good quip is "why should someone else fund your political causes"? A lot of people, myself included, are much more supportive of universities when we see them doing what universities ought to do (a telelogical argument - what is the purpose of a university? To provide a venue for the promulgation of partisan politics
? Or to do the things Fish describes? I lean towards the latter).
No, teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or obedience or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or antinationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host. Of course they can and should teach about such topics -- something very different from urging them as commitments -- when they are part of the history or philosophy or literature or sociology that is being studied.
The only advocacy that should go on in the classroom is the advocacy of what James Murphy has identified as the intellectual virtues -- "thoroughness, perseverance, intellectual honesty" -- all components of the cardinal academic virtue of being "conscientious in the pursuit of truth" (The New York Times, September 15, 2002).
Which is just so. Indeed, guys on the right who have often used Fish as a whipping boy should perhaps instead re-think their attitudes towards him as well. Any movement to restore academic standards and re-draw the boundaries between teaching and political indoctrination, between scholarship and activism, which doesn't have a political agenda of its own would include anyone voicing the views Fish is voicing here.
If this is "cats and dogs living together" then all I ask is that I get to be the dog. *_+
: Oh, and I know, that "technically" he can't be "channeling" Alasdair MacIntyre, because MacIntyre is still alive. It was just my little way of saying he was making an argument that was a lot like one MacIntyre might make. I wasn't being literal - in no small part because I don't believe in "channeling" in the first place.