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E-Pluribus | March 6, 2023
The other problem with the Roald Dahl revisions; fear over speech grows on college campuses; and the role of 'institutional neutrality' in the debate over free speech and academic freedom.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Matthew Walther: The Truth About the ‘Censorship’ of Roald Dahl
While downplaying the seriousness of the changes themselves in the recent revisions Roald Dahl’s publisher made to the author’s works, Matthew Walther at the New York Times sees a problem nonetheless. Walther writes that revisions to established works are not that unusual, but allowing such changes to be made outside of a literary context by those with political or cultural agendas is the real danger.
[M]aking changes, even rather sweeping ones, to classic works of literature is not as controversial as some would like to imagine. The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether it is ever reasonable but who should be able to do so — and in what spirit and with what purpose. (If a publisher issued, say, an edition of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for evangelical Christian home-schoolers that excised references to homosexuality, I suspect many of the people who freely edited Dahl’s books would suddenly be extolling the sanctity of authorial intent.)
In the Dahl case, the edits were not the result of academic deliberation, like the “corrected texts” incorporated into paperback versions of Faulkner novels. Nor were they an admixture of scholarship and financial incentives, like the Hans Walter Gabler edition of Joyce’s “Ulysses” that reset the novel’s copyright status in the 1980s. Here, it was a company treating Dahl’s beloved creations as if they were merely its assets, which they in fact were.
I, for one, do not believe that philistines should be allowed to buy up authors’ estates and convert their works into “Star Wars”-style franchises, as Netflix now seems to be doing, having purchased the Roald Dahl Story Company. In a saner world there would be a sense of curatorial responsibility for these things. “Owning” works of literature, insofar as it should be possible at all, should be comparable to a museum’s ownership of a Caravaggio. Clarify and contextualize, promote and even profit — but do not treat art like you would your controlling interest in a snack foods consortium.
Read it all here.
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Samuel J. Abrams: 40 Percent of Liberal Professors Are Afraid They'll Lose Their Jobs Over a Misunderstanding
It’s not only conservatives feeling the effects of campus censors. Samuel Abrams at Reason reports on a recent Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) survey that finds liberals are beginning to self-censor as well to prevent a job-threatening situation over what could be simple misunderstandings.
Illiberalism runs deep among young liberal faculty members, and their views regrettably resemble those of their students rather than their more senior peers. As newer and far less tolerant numbers of professors replace older faculty, colleges and universities may be in a true crisis if the higher education enterprise destroys its core values.
The research also finds that faculty members are self-censoring at higher rates. In 1955, at the end of the second Red Scare after World War II during the age of McCarthy and deep anti-communist fear, 9 percent of social scientists said they toned down their writing for fear of causing controversy. Today, 25 percent say they're very or extremely likely to self-censor their writing in academic publications.
More than half of faculty—52 percent—say they're afraid they'll lose their job or reputation over a misunderstanding of something they said or did, or because someone posted something from their past online. While almost three-quarters of conservative faculty expressed this year, 40 percent of even liberal faculty agree. That's staggering: two in five professors who are a part of the prevailing orthodoxy on campus are fearful of losing their jobs over a misunderstanding.
Read the whole thing.
Joshua T. Katz: Where’s the Line?
“Institutional neutrality” has not achieved buzzword status like “academic freedom,” but Joshua Katz writes at City Journal that it plays a part in the campus speech wars. Katz writes that an understanding of academic freedom requires context and that universities can undermine their own missions without some basic guiding principles.
The phrase “institutional neutrality” is inexorably associated with principles enshrined in the so-called Kalven Report, adopted by the University of Chicago in 1967. Part of the “Chicago Trifecta,” the report, which a faculty committee chaired by law professor Harry Kalven, Jr. issued in the midst of the Vietnam War and which has stood unmodified since, states that there is “a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day, or modifying its corporate activities to foster social or political values, however compelling and appealing they may be.” There is, however, an exception: the university may take a stand against actions that “threaten [its] very mission.” Though I am a fan of the Kalven Report, I worry that the vaguely worded loophole is ripe for exploitation. . .
[ . . . ]
What is academic freedom? Free speech is the right of an individual to speak freely—a right protected at public institutions by the First Amendment and, as FIRE regularly articulates, at private institutions by their own established standards. By contrast, in the words of the American Association of University Professors, “[a]cademic freedom rights are regulated by the collective—peers determine what constitutes disciplinary competence.” That is to say, professors determine the “mission” of their discipline.
[ . . . ]
[I]f Princeton adopts the Kalven Report, then individuals will still be able to say whatever they wish in a personal capacity, but the Department of Molecular Biology will not be able to issue a statement condemning or supporting the state of Israel. The Department of Near Eastern Studies, though, might—under the guise of academic freedom. And so, too, might the Department of English.
Read it all.
Wesley Yang with his take on transgenderism in a short thread after the Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles sets off a firestorm by declaring at CPAC that transgenderism “must be eradicated from public life”:
Via Politico and Betsy Woodruff Swan, details on a concerning Department of Homeland Security domestic intelligence gathering operation:
And finally, a reminder that our opponents are people too: