Blogs > Cliopatria > Wherein I Tell You Why My Friend, Michael Bérubé, Is OK; But My Friend, Hiram Hover, Is Full Of S**T

Oct 11, 2006 7:48 am

Wherein I Tell You Why My Friend, Michael Bérubé, Is OK; But My Friend, Hiram Hover, Is Full Of S**T

Thanks to the energetic efforts of Liberty & Power's David Beito, we are near having enough signatures in support of the resolution against speech codes that restrict academic speech to get it on the agenda of the AHA's business meeting. Near, because some of us will need to have renewed our memberships as of 15 December in order to qualify. In case some of the brothers' and sisters' pockets won't cover dues by then, we need a few additional signatures. Simply copy the resolution into an e-mail, indicate your support of it and your status as an AHA member, and send it to the AHA's Sharon Tune: stune*at*historians*dot*org, with a copy of the e-mail sent to David Beito, dbeito*at*history*dot*as*dot*ua*edu. David has made effective use of posts at Liberty & Power and appeals on various H-Net lists to recruit support. Thanks also to Michael Bérubé, whose public service announcement took no position on the issue, but offered information and links.

After deleting the names of several earnest souls of whom the AHA office has no record of their ever having been members, here's the list:

David Beito, University of Alabama
Chris Beneke, Bentley College
Michael Burger, Mississippi University for Women
Larry Clayton, University of Alabama
Don Cregier, University of Prince Edward Island
Donald T. Critchlow, Saint Louis University
John Kyle Day, Quincy University
Jonathan Dresner, University of Hawai'i at Hilo
David M. Fitzsimons, John Carter Brown Library/Brown University
Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University
Alonzo L. Hamby, Ohio University
John Earl Haynes, Library of Congress
Kemal Karpat, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ralph E. Luker, independent historian
Robert MacDougall, University of Western Ontario
John Majewski, University of California at Santa Barbara
J. Patrick Mullins, Saginaw Valley State University
Charles W. Nuckolls, University of Alabama
Jerald Podair, Lawrence University
Jon M. B. Porter, Butler University
William Ramsey , University of Idaho
Jonathan Rose, Drew University
James Ryan, Texas A&M University at Galveston
Ellen Schrecker, Yeshiva University
Melvin Small, Wayne State University
Mark M. Smith, University of South Carolina
Richard Stillson, George Mason University
Lawrence Squeri, East Stroudsburg University
Jonathan W. Wilson, Syracuse University
Raymond Wolters, University of Delaware

Now comes my friend, Hiram Hover, who I called out on this issue several days ago, to explain his opposition to the resolution. You can read his explanation for yourself. I hardly know where to begin, but here's an effort at it.

First – most importantly – the burden of justifying any restrictions on speech in academic communities rests – not on those who oppose them -- but on those who would restrict and have restricted it. I've yet to see a cogent explanation of why speech in academic communities should be any less free than it is in society at large. That is, the notion that academic communities should be" comfort zones" in which speech is more narrowly circumscribed than in society at large is just nonsense. Why should it be? If anything, it should be more free. And academic people should not have to be reminded of that.

Secondly and unfortunately, the courts have had to do that. In finding after finding, in case after case brought by FIRE, the courts have told public institutions of higher education that their speech codes are, simply, unconstitutional. I'd prefer to think that freedom of speech is a value so close to our academic bones that we wouldn't need to be told by the Constitution and the courts that it is an inalienable right, but apparently we've finally reached a pass where we do. Here and there, we pay homage to the freedom of academic speech with"free speech zones," but why shouldn't the university and college community, itself, be such a"zone"? Private institutions have greater latitude in self-governance than public institutions do and the struggle for free speech rights will be fought out in them on a case-by-case basis, but organizations like the AHA need to remind its membership in private institutions that the presumption of freedom takes first priority.

Thirdly, my friend, Hiram, labors under the burden of having been conditioned by the culture wars of the past twenty years. He's ready to take up arms against David Horowitz's"Academic Bill of Rights," but he sees merit in other kinds of restrictions on academic speech – or, at least, not enough demerit to oppose them. In the first place, the current resolution doesn't belabor ABOR as an issue because every one of us at the AHA's business meeting last year put the organization on record as being opposed to it. That is already the official position of the AHA and it is so, in part, because when our substitute resolution against both ABOR and speech codes was defeated last year, David Beito, I, and every one who had voted with us, nevertheless finally voted for the resolution against ABOR alone. Had we wanted to obstruct it, we could have done so with other parliamentary maneuvers, but we did not.

Yet, Hiram's post and his objection to our resolution finally resolves itself toward a conclusion that this year's resolution is the fruit of a right-wing cabal. Sacre bleu! Jonathan Rose, author of the prize-winning The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes has fallen victim to a Horowitzian conspiracy! Holy Karl, pray for us! Lloyd Gardner and Ellen Schrecker have joined the enemy camp! Remind yourself, if necessary, Hiram, that Berkeley's"free speech movement" had its origins on the Left. And ask yourself, by what reasoning process, did its children begin to inhibit speech as soon as they rose to power in academic communities. This is not about the culture wars. It is possible for academic people of good will to find common cause in the struggle for academic freedom and against restrictions of it that we have brought upon ourselves.

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Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2006

I'm at a loss to understand, Professor Schrecker, why the speech of historians and other part-time instructors, which is constitutionally protected off-campus, must be restricted by unconstitutional constraints merely by reason of the fact that institutions of higher education have marginalized and exploited them.

Ellen Schrecker - 12/18/2006

I signed the resolution because as a serious supporter of freedom of expression, I believe the more debate the better. But, I do not support the resolution itself. FIRE has way overexaggerated the threat to freedom of speech on campuses from such things as speech codes. There are many more serious threats that come from outside political groups seeking to censor people in certain fields and from the structural changes in the university that now have 65% of all college courses taught by part-time and non-tenure-track faculty members.

Hiram Hover - 10/14/2006

You say something about drawing “a straight line” between FIRE and Horowitz. I don’t know what that means. I acknowledged differences among a variety of groups but pointed to what I see as some important similarities. Your rebuttal consists of asking me if I see no merit in FIRE’s work—which seems a strange approach, since I wrote above that “FIRE has done some genuinely good work.” I’ve also explained that FIRE, in my opinion, spends far too much time playing Chicken Little, which in turn supports the false and pernicious view of higher education that I also discussed above. But since you missed the first part of what I said about FIRE, you no doubt missed that part too.

Anyway, we’ve been going in circles here for some time, and that obviously isn’t going to change. This is an important issue, and I regret that we weren’t able to have a more productive conversation about whether the AHA is the right body to address it, and whether your resolution is the best way for it to do so. So I’ll just I’ll sign off by saying that I look forward to hearing what happens in January.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/13/2006

In point of fact, Hiram, if you look at the last paragraph of your post here, you claim to be uncertain whether Ralph, David, and KC are in cahoots with David Horowitz and his only-marginally-less-awful allies. You found it offensive when I called that "s**t". Now, you assure me that you do know that that's what, in fact, it was. Good. We may be getting somewhere.
I do not agree with you that there is a straight line from D'Ho to FIRE. You draw one, but it's drawn in the air. If you don't see merit in FIRE's careful, insistent attack on bureaucratic infringements on freedom of speech in the academy, then we simply disagree. And you have refused to engage with the fact that FIRE has the Constitution and the courts on its side -- at least so far as public institutions are concerned.
And what are you defending? The pitiful legacy of "comfort zones" and "free speech zones" that speech codes have bequeathed us? I don't know how you manage to make all of your students "comfortable" all of the time. I know that I'd rather teach in an environment in which that isn't my first obligation or I answer to the Dean for having failed to do so. And when university police arrest peaceful demonstrators against George Bush's appearance on their campus -- simply because they haven't remained safely squirreled away in your "free speech zone," don't bring your complaint to me. You've defended your administration's right to sanitize space where Bush and any other powerful idiot can appear, without any challenge, in their own "comfort zone."

Hiram Hover - 10/12/2006

Since you apparently mean to call me “sloppy” and “wrong-headed” in a friendly way, it would help if you'd address those insults to specific arguments I made, and not just sling them around in a general way. I never said that the alphabet soup of conservative watchdog groups is the product of a conspiracy or cabal. And so yes, those groups have different politics, different methods, and different focuses. While it’s true that not every group makes the fight against “speech codes” its top priority, the issue does matter in some important way to most of them. FIRE, ACTA, NAS, and SAF are all products of the campus culture wars of the 80s-90s, in which battles over “speech codes” figured prominently. The fight against “speech codes” is FIRE’s raison d’etre. ACTA, NAS, and ISI (the Cold War era organization that gave birth to ACTA) focus more on issues of curriculum today, but seldom miss a chance to take potshots at “speech codes” as well. In his on-line bio at FPM, Horowitz claims that his Individual Rights Foundation “led the battle against speech codes” in the 1990s; feel free to ignore the self aggrandizing claims about leadership, but the issue is obviously important to him.

In any event, my larger point was that these groups, broadly speaking, share and disseminate a common narrative about higher education today—about the liberal/radical bias of the faculty, about the politicization of the classroom and curriculum, and about professors and administrators who regularly and mercilessly suppress contrary points of views. The bugaboo of “speech codes” is an important part of that overall story, even if it’s not the part that every group highlights.

There’s just enough truth in that narrative that it’s not an absolute and utter fairy tale. Still, it’s false in its overall thrust and pernicious in its effect. And it makes solving the problems that do exist in higher education harder, not easier. That’s why I think it’s imperative for your “academic people of good will” to dissociate themselves from the narrative, and one way to do that is not to avoid using its very, very loaded terminology.

As for where you fit in all this: even if there were a cabal, Ralph, I’d know that you weren’t a part of it. And frankly, you know that I know that, because you know that I called Horowitz the Ric Flair of academic freedom after that attack on you, KC, and David. But since this isn’t really pro wrestling, you might leave off all the huffing and puffing for the cameras about “smear tactics.”

Ralph E. Luker - 10/11/2006

Hiram, Our experiences may differ. In my experience, sometimes only your best friends will tell you that you're full of s**t. Your call for evidence resolves itself into a demand that I cite 70 cases in which speech codes have infringed on the free speech rights of professors. That, it seems to me, is excessive; and it comes after you've publicly charged me and those associated with this resolution with being D'Ho-symps. That's way over the line -- an apparently unashamed smear on your part -- since, in the first place, Horowitz has never made much of speech codes much as an issue and he has publicly accused David Beito, KC Johnson, and me of "hypocrisy and intellectual cowardice." You've done a sloppy Lefty's slight of hand, lumping Horowitz/ACTA/FIRE into an enemy camp and it's as wrong-headed, mistaken, and apparently only propagandistic in intent as when the Right does the Liberal/radical/Maoist equation. Just for starters, why not acknowledge that the courts have repeatedly told public colleges and universities that speech codes are unconstitutional?

Hiram Hover - 10/11/2006

I don’t think you’ll persuade me to support this resolution, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some common ground, and perhaps that’s worth emphasizing.

One place where we may just have to agree to disagree, tho, is over your use of the phrase “speech codes.” I’ve explained why I think it’s problematic—both because of its vagueness and because of the political charge it carries—and why I think it ought to be avoided in an AHA resolution. I’m sorry if you feel you’ve been smeared, but that doesn’t really address the substantive argument. In any event, it’s a difference more over the language of the resolution than its intent.

My objection to your resolution has less to do with intent than jurisdiction—is this a legitimate area for the AHA to act? That’s why I’ve pushed you about the ambiguity of your resolution—does it apply only to academic freedom, or to all expression on campus?—and asked you about the numbers and types of cases. I’ve read all the articles you cite above. Just so everyone’s clear, they provide 5 examples—not 70—of actual denial of or punishment for speech on campus. And 4 of the 5 examples have nothing to do with teaching or research, in terms of professors or students.

Nowhere did I say that the rights of students don’t matter, or that the abridgement of non-academic speech doesn’t matter. What I have repeatedly and consistently argued—since you and I first discussed this last year—is that it’s important to distinguish between academic and non-academic expression. One reason it matters is because the former indisputably falls within the purview of the AHA as a professional organization; the latter, in my view, doesn’t. It’s my sense that these speech cases overwhelmingly involve non-academic expression, and the cases you cite seem to bear that out. And to that extent, I’ve questioned whether this is a job for the AHA. Actual infringements on non-academic speech are not nearly as frequent as the Horowitzs of the world would have us believe, but yes, I think they’re frequent enough to be an important issue. But just because the issue is important doesn’t make the AHA the right vehicle to address it.

So what is the right vehicle? FIRE has done some genuinely good work, but they’re not a membership organization, and I don’t subscribe to their broader view of higher education anyway. And they spend at least as much time in Chicken-Little mode—over-interpreting university regulations and imagining violations where there are none—as they do in pursuing actual cases of abuse. The AAUP is another possibility, and has a statement on these issues that embodies some useful principles. So far as I know, though, the group hasn’t done anything beyond issuing that statement. That’s unfortunate, because I think it would be a more appropriate and potentially more effective vehicle for dealing with such cases than the AHA.

That doesn’t leave us with any tidy resolution, but I hope it makes clear that we’re not as far apart as your hostility suggests you think.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/11/2006

Dear Hiram, David, KC, and I put the evidence you ask for together in a series of articles last year: __________"The AHA's Double Standard on Academic Freedom." Perspectives, XLIV (March 2006): 46-48;

__________ "A Time to Choose for the AHA in Philadelphia: Speech Codes and the Academic Bill of Rights." History News Network, 26 December 2005;
__________, "Consulting All Sides on ‘Speech Codes'." OAH Newsletter, XXXIII (May 2005): 11; and History News Network, 9 May 2005;
__________, "Who's Undermining Free Speech on Campus Now?" History News Network, 11 April, and Inside Higher Ed, 13 April 2005. Republished in Gary Goshgarian, ed., Exploring Language. 11th edition (Longman); and

__________, "Why We Are Dissatisfied with the OAH's Report on Repression." History News Network, 15 November 2004. Republished by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education at

Frankly, I am discouraged about any chance of persuading you that the resolution is needed. You have opposed our efforts two years in a row despite: a) FIRE's success in persuading the courts that speech codes are unconstitutional in public institutions in cases addressed to your concerns; and b) our having mobilized just the sort of evidence you appear to be asking in a series of articles last year. By the time you finish, we're told that we must cite 70 instances in which faculty members' free speech rights have been violated. Nice maneuver -- students' free speech rights don't count and the key strokes citing 70 instances for you is a daunting requirement -- especially since we did the strokes last year and you appear not to have been persuaded. Instead of bothering to read the articles we published you repeated a McCarthy-like smear, associating us with David Horowitz. You've done that two years in a row now. I pointed out in this post that you've associated our resolution this year with Horowitz and a right wing cabal, despite the fact that a number of people who've endorsed it have a long, strong opposition to such things. That gives you no pause. You wonder why I despair of persuading you?

Timothy James Burke - 10/11/2006

Gotta renew my AHA membership before I sign...

Hiram Hover - 10/11/2006

or this could have gotten nasty quickly.

You come out with an impassioned defense of academic freedom and free speech on campus more generally. To which I can only reply: Huzzah! I didn't argue against either one.

What I did argue is that there’s a burden on you, in asking the AHA to go beyond its existing statements on academic freedom, to a) demonstrate that a harm exists sufficient to merit its doing so, and b) tailor your resolution specifically to address it. Your original post didn’t meet either part of that burden, and this post, frankly, doesn’t even try.

Still, I’ll give it one more shot:

As to a): The preamble of your resolution asserts: “Administrators and others have used campus speech codes and associated non-academic criteria to improperly restrict faculty choices on curriculum, course content, and personnel decisions.” I asked you for evidence to support that claim, and I’m still waiting.

Two clarifying points: first, I’m not saying it’s never happened, and when it does, it’s rightly a source of concern. But I think there has to be a certain threshold here—of frequency, severity, whatever—for the AHA to single out “speech codes” as a specific threat that requires going beyond its existing statements on academic freedom. I’m sure we’d agree that the threshold ought to be low, tho we could probably debate how low. But if the AHA passes this resolution, it’s making a declaration not just of principle—that we’re for academic freedom—but of fact—that this problem is sufficiently widespread that it requires this resolution. All I did was to ask you for some proof of that fact in advance.

Clarifying point #2: In my post yesterday, I distinguished between issues of academic freedom—that is, expression as it relates to teaching and research—and other issues of freedom of expression on campus, and I pointed out that most publicized cases (including most that you’ve identified yourself) relate to the latter, not the former. Both are important, but they’re not the same thing. If you think the distinction is mistaken, I’m eager to hear you explain why. If you want the AHA to go on record against restrictions on both, well, I’d like to hear the argument for that too. But there’s ambiguity in the resolution itself, and even more in how you’ve discussed it in your post today.

As to b): my point was that “speech codes” is a vague, overbroad, and very, very loaded term, and that using it runs the risk of giving aid and comfort to Horowitz et al. If the AHA is going to speak on these matters, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that it speak as precisely as possible and avoid such a politically charged and obfuscatory term.

I won’t be at the AHA this year, but I suspect you’ll face similar questions about your resolution there. Perhaps by then you’ll be ready to answer them.

Your friend, Hiram

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 10/11/2006

...just as soon as I pay my dues, which should be soon.