Academic Justice, Anyone?

An editorial by Sandra Y.L. Korn in the Harvard Crimson, “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom: Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice,” has commenters wondering whether this is an Onion piece or if the author is trolling, but she appears to be serious. The fact that she is a “joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator” (concentrator is apparently what majors are called now) lends some credence to her seriousness.

You really need to read the whole thing (and peruse the comments), but I think the crux is this quote:

If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

If you don’t immediately see the problem with the above quote, it’s that not “put[ting] up with research that counters [y]our goals” is not a valid reason to not put up (aka, not ban) research projects. Good reasons to ban research projects would be poor methodology, inhumane methods, fudged results, etc.

Ms. Korn begins by recounting a Harvard Professor in the early 70’s who “claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race.”

Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with a bullhorn and leaflets. They tied up Herrnstein’s lectures with pointed questions about scientific racism. SDS even called for Harvard to fire Herrnstein, along with another of his colleagues, sociologist Christopher Jencks. …

This, Herrnstein seems not to have understood, was precisely the goal of the SDS activists—they wanted to make the “certain kinds of views” they deemed racist and classist unwelcome on Harvard’s campus.

If you’re not familiar, the SDS, whose most radical faction became the Weather Underground, was not a moderate group as evidenced above. They didn’t debate opposition, they did their best to shut it down.

The author then comes to this conclusion about the important question to ask:

 Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.

Another paragraph and then:

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

It goes on, but to get back to my point, what is the meaning of:

  1. SDS: They wanted to make the “certain kinds of views” they deemed racist and classist unwelcome
  2. Define oppression: When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

?

Long story short, I think Ms. Korn is nuts, but I appreciate her opening such a frank dialogue. And I’ll quote a commenter whose username is “libtard”: “The proper way to combat offensive research is to disprove it

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