Comment of the Day: JEC: "Any Community... Flourishes only When Our Members Feel Welcome and Safe...": "I see a couple of persistent misconceptions in this discussion...

...("This discussion" to be read broadly, not as a reference to the comments on this post.)

The first is that the concept of "academic freedom" means that the university is supposed to be a sort of real-world 4chan, someplace whose core function is a total absence of standards of discourse. That almost exactly backwards. Universities exist to provide an environment which excludes most forms of discourse, in order to provide a space in which a particular form of discourse -- evidence-based, reason-based, and so forth -- can flourish.

Perhaps the most wrong-headed survival of the Enlightenment era is the notion that evidence-based, reason-based discourse is uniquely robust and powerful. Again, the opposite is true. Appeals to almost any aspect of human nature easily drown out the quiet voice of "reason." Academic freedom is very much a "freedom from," notably freedom from the incessant roar of tribalisms.

The second major misconception is that the fact that no set of standards is magically self-executing means that all standards are somehow illegitimate or -- worse still -- dispensable. That the question "Who watches the watchers?" is literally unanswerable (since any answer can be eviscerated by repeating the question) is the stuff of sophomore philosophy. We know that. Perhaps it troubles us. But we're pretty much over it.

Yes, rules and standards are interpreted and implemented by people, and, gasp, they might do it wrong! Yep. Cope. If you have difficulty, try coping harder. Also: pay attention to the views and choices of those appointed to make the hard judgment calls, and try to stack the deck with people who agree with your understanding of the standards and how to implement them.

But the point of the university is not, and never has been, "anything goes." A university is a place for a very specific type of discourse, one that requires vigilant protection from certain easily aroused passions and prejudices. And while "no rules" sounds a little like "freedom," it is, in fact, a recipe for the dominance of some very specific types of bullies.