Readers Note: It will help you understand the letter which follows to Duke's Political Science Department Chair and professor Michael Munger if you've read Munger's letter to The Chronicle, my posts here and here and those posts' threads, and Munger's post at his blog (not a Duke site) and its thread.
Dear Professor Munger:
I appreciate your commenting at your blog and on JinC threads regarding your Chronicle letter responding to critics of the harassment of former presidential aide Karl Rove during his recent Duke appearance.
You say (on thread):
If I had had Karl come to my classroom, you can bet that I would have shut any protesters up immediately. And anyone who shouted insults would have been punished.I assume a principal reason, if not the principal reason, you’d not tolerate protests and shouts in your classroom is because they’d interfere with the presentation of information, including opinion, and orderly discussion of same.
A public lecture is different. Protests and shouts are part of the show, as long as they are not too intrusive. And these protests and shouts were NOT, in my opinion, intrusive at all.
Why shouldn’t the same conditions hold for a public lecture at a university?
Why shouldn’t the rest of the student body, the faculty and others have the same chance to hear Rove under the same reasonable circumstances you’d enforce in your classroom?
Why could they only hear and interact with Rove and he with them in the face of harrassment which you justify as part of "the show?"
Universities frequently spend ten of thousands of dollars to bring speakers such as Rove to their campuses, we’re told for educative purposes.
Why not treat the appearances of such people as academic events?
I hope you come to agree that others at the University and those who traveled to Duke for the event should have had the chance to hear and question Rove under circumstances similar to those you’d have assured for your own students.
Further along on the same thread you made a second comment which included this:
The context of my [Chronicle] letter may matter. Some people at Duke had called for the shouters to be brought up on charges of violating the honor code. I think that is wrong, and said so. That was my point: no criminal charges should be brought against people who shouted "liar!"I don’t know enough about what constitutes an honor code violation in the circumstances we’re talking about to comment on that matter. Also, I’m not clear as to why criminal charges might be involved.
I placed your comment in this post because you felt it was important to offer that explanation, and I wanted to give it more attention than it would get on the thread.
You mention I said your standard for civility was too low.
I hope I was clear that I was not speaking about your personal conduct.
What concerns me about your letter and some of your subsequent comments is that you are, IMO, setting the bar for acceptable public conduct on campus much too low.
For example, when you say, as you did in your letter, the Rove evening was “as close to flawless as you are going to get with a controversial speaker.”
The evening was certainly much better than the recent event at Emory during which administrators and police, fearful they could no longer assure the safety of David Horowitz, convinced him to break off his speech and leave the campus.
And as regards the invitation to Rove, almost all Duke faculty showed themselves more tolerant than the University of California system faculty who recently pressured the Board of Regents into cancelling their invitation to former Harvard President Larry Summers to be their dinner speaker.
But just because something is not the worst or near worst of its kind, doesn’t make it acceptable or deserving of praise.
I’m one of those concerned by the growing intolerance, including violent acts, on many campuses; and by the threat that intolerance poses to something both wonderful and vulnerable: The Academy.
I hope you decide to respond to this post. If you do, I’ll put your response on the main page as a stand-alone post with only a brief explanatory introduction added.
John in Carolina