spacious world than Dworkin’s or Said’s may be left wondering about the future of the intellectual privilege that they often don’t enjoy. Academic freedom is not, in fact, a right but a very special professional privilege, reserved essentially for the tenured \(assistant professors can always be sandbagged the strongest voice in determining what aspirants shall be admitted to their ranks, and they also claim, unblushingly, that “only [their] peers are competent to judge [their] is argued, is justified by the unique function of “communities of the competent” in finding and teaching truth. All too easily the privileged academic forgets the world outside the circle of his privilege. Insecure assistant professors, part-timers, teaching assistants, and unemployed Ph.D.s do not revere the claims of haughty seniors, and working stiffs afraid of layoffs question angrily why eggheads should have lifetime jobs. The future of tenure and academic freedom is likely to be determined by much less exalted considerations than disagreements between Richard Rorty and John Searle. The great problem faced by defenders of academic freedom and of tenure as its protection is that an isolated intellectual priesthood must justify its status by service to the society that maintains it. Why, for example, should the public pay geologists to find oil and ore for private exploitation? Why should the harried taxpayer provide fat salaries for a public university’s star humanists when the stars shun the college classroom to elaborate their unintelligible musings? Conceivably, on the baby-andbathwater principle, both defenders and attackers should concentrate on correcting the abuses of the existing system before they debate the abolition of the system itself, but many abuses are unfortunately obvious to all but the abusers. On a highly selective list, the first item might be the research universities’ refusal to recognize that truth discovered has no public effect until it is somehow publicly disseminated. Teaching plays second fiddle in research universities. Researchers complain of heavy teaching loads, as if teaching were a burden; yet \(at least in the humani26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER but the researchers. So publish-or-perish to the exploitation of hordes of adjuncts and teaching assistants, for whom academic freedom is as improbable as decent pay or perks. A further result, in many departments, is a repugnant hierarchy inimical to the very idea of democratic education. The stars look down on the professorial journeymen; the tenured look down on the untenured; the untenured but tenurable look down on those not on the tenure track; and the teaching assistants, mimicking their “betters,” yearn for the day when they can look down on someone beside freshmen and janitors. As in the Old South, it’s wise to know one’s place THE GREAT PROBLEM FACED BY DEFENDERS OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND OF TENURE AS ITS PROTECTION IS THAT AN ISOLATED INTELLECTUAL PRIESTHOOD MUST JUSTIFY ITS STATUS BY SERVICE TO THE SOCIETY THAT MAINTAINS IT. to exhibit rudeness and subservience in accordance with the pecking order. The hierarchy of professional roles is paralleled by hierarchies of subjects, institutions, and associations. In the humanities, the most useful subjects, like freshman composition, are despised by the literati, who used to cheiish a rigmarole called “theory” but now theorize about theory’s death. The established research universities speak slightingly of their wannabes, who in turn sniff at mere colleges; and all the institutions that detain their victims for four years or more consider themselves superior to the community colleges, which serve the unwashed public best. Not that the community colleges are models of democracy. They tend to be staffed by excessive numbers of full-time administrators, who lord it over part-time teachers. As for the professional associations, the butt of most jokes is probably the Modern Language Association, but an eminence of the MLA would risk status by addressing the National Council of Teachers of English, which even the comp teachers are thinking now of leaving. Part of a graduate student’s training is to master such distinctionsto learn, for example, that one paper for the Linguis tic Society of America is worth three for the American Dialect Society. The academic professions, of course, wax wrothy at any questioning of their virtues or efficacy. The surest way to professional oblivion is to suggest the obviousnamely, that professions serve professions. Critics are silenced, if silencing is possible, and the unsilenced are treated as nonpersons. They speak, and perhaps speak truly, but no good professional hears them. Academics can make academic freedom empty. Yet academic freedom should be defended, though successful defense seems unlikely. Free voices grow all the more necessary as the cry “Financial exigency!” echoes across campuses where scores of millions refurbish athletic facilities. Buildings may memorialize rich patrons, but honor belongs to the omnipresent minority of the professoriate that lives up to Said’s high ideal. James Sledd is Professor Emeritus of En glish at the University of Texas at Austin. WORLDWISE DESIGN ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip FEBRUARY 14, 1997
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