Saturday, December 08, 2007

Questions for Professor Munger

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.

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.
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.

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


Anonymous said...

Great post, John.

Two Duke parents

Anonymous said...

This double talk drives me NUTS. The radical leftists shout, demonstrate, carry placques, villify, and marginalize.

They scream about the war, about the government; they are racist, sexist, and biggoted, and they want their free speech to be protected by the civil, reasonable, articulate ( meaning they know more words and how to uese them than the leftists) people they are trying to squelch.

I am beginning to find it more than annoying. I am actually becoming somewhat alarmed.

It is feeling more like anarchy than democracy.

The leftists want freedom. But only for themselves.

Meanwhile, the nice polite civil intellectual types are loosing the battle.

I am not advocating we become like them. God forbid!

But I am advocating that we begin to be a good bit more proactive and skillful in winning the day.

Anonymous said...

Professor Munger says the Rove speech protesters were within their free speech rights. A former Duke students has an interesting take.
Rove Visits Duke
Some students in shock, others in awe.
by Stephen Miller

“……….it's good to know a student's right to interrupt scheduled proceedings on private property--like say a meeting of Duke's board of trustees--will be protected.”

Stephen Miller graduated in May from Duke University where he was executive director of the Duke Conservative Union and a columnist for the Duke Chronicle.

Anonymous said...

I’m a JinC Regular but this one wasn’t up to John’s usual high standards.

He let Munger off too easy. No asking Munger why, when a prominent citizen is INVITED TO DUKE BY THE UNIVERSITY to speak he isn’t “guaranteed a friendly, or respectful atmosphere?”

John at his best would have asked Munger: Didn’t Duke’s chief academic officer, Provost Lange’s office and Munger’s Political Science Department sponsor Rove’s appearance?

Since when did they start sponsoring “shows?”

Doesn’t Duke have a major events organization that sponsors shows?

Like I say, I admire John but on this one he --- I got to say it ---set the bar too low.

Duke ‘93

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No, not that Glenn said...

I'm with Anon 5:32. One begins to wonder just how bloody a battle Stephen Miller was fighting before he graduated.

I can only paraphrase Prof. Munger's letter as, "Good approach, guys. But you didn't shut him up. Work harder at it next time!" Other readings are implausible.

If Mr. Rove's speech wasn't disrupted, and Prof. Munger claims to have attended, consider him challenged to summarize what Rove said. We'll see how much attention he focused on the speaker.

Anonymous said...

If Munger comments again he should speak to why someone Duke invites to speak isn't guarennteed a respectful hearing.

Anonymous said...

Today's colleges and universities have forgotten a basic tenet of civilized bahavior: civility. I don't acre how strongly one feels, there is absolutely no excuse for shouting down a person who has been invited to appear in a public forum. Valid arguments can be made without acting like a trogolodyte. Most of these little twits are unable to say or do anything without being a part of a mob; get them one-on-one and they fold. Just like the pot bangers.

Anonymous said...

The last commenter is right.

Civility may be forgotten but, gee, Marx, Che and Mao are remembered while Jesse, Cindy and anyone tearing down America is a hero.

Ralph Phelan said...

I do not believe that Munger is a good example of the usual campus leftist double standard, and treating him as one runs the risk of making you look stupid.

(1) In my experience on campus, public lectures were more raucous than classes. You may think this is bad, but it was universal across ideology, so this does not look like a case of conservatives being unusually burdened. Lets stick to undeniable cases of conservatives being stifled, of which there are a plethora.

(2) It seems to me a perverse misallocation of effort to criticize one of the better members academia for not being perfect rather than criticizing the many who are awful for not being as good as him. Let's start with demanding the possible: equal treatment, before we demand the almost impossible: polite behavior by large crowds of young adults.

(3) Claims that Munger is "just another campus lefty" make those so claiming appear ignorant. Since the Rove lecture he has also sponsored a lecture by Rick Santorum - not a exactly a favorite of the PC types.

When it comes to treating non-PC points of view seriously and respectfully Munger appears to be one of the best in academia.

You may think that's a very low standard compared to the way you would like things to be, but as a practical matter it's the best you're likely to get in the near term.

As a matter of PR outside the university you'll get a lot more traction going after the indefensible, such as Kim Curtis.

As a matter of PR within the university attacking Munger will make you look like someone who can never be satisfied, so why should anyone bother even trying?

br said...

Why would Munger discipline protests in a classroom and not at a public event?

1 Consequences. Munger can give students a bad grade - something they care about. All he can do to protestors at an event is arrest them or kick them out - giving them more fodder for calling the ____ administration dictatorial.

2 Audience. Students have been filtered by the University. They have to have IQs over 140. An moron can walk in off the street and attend a public event.

3 Results. It is easy for Munger to discipline students because he has direct authority. To 'discipline' public protestors would require a lot of work (going to court, etc), and would have very little impact - kind of like this thread!