Academic freedom

Artists don’t live in an alternative universe

The current saga of Roman Polanski, who aspires to the lofty category of "artist," reminds us of the old Puritan suspicion of actors as immoral. It may shock people of all persuasions to learn that all artists–and scientists as well–were subjected to withering criticism by that patron saint of modern liberalism, Jean Jacques Rousseau. "[T]he depravity [is] real," wrote the author of the Discourse that won the prize of the Academy of Dijon in 1750, among peoples whose "souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts toward perfection."

Critics of Rousseau were quick to point out that he did not miss any of Moliere’s plays and thought they had espied a hypocrite. But Rousseau’s main concern was the popularization of the arts and sciences, retaining immense respect for those with genuine talents. He feared that these disciplines, if freed altogether from social or political control, threatened not only to corrupt the nations that indulged them but degraded art and science themselves.

More, as artists and scientists gain prominence they regard themselves as beyond criticism and become indifferent to the fate of their fellow citizens. They even become toadies of corrupt regimes as long as they are left free to do as they please, and those who lived under monarchies were willing to glorify them.

Rousseau believed that the passion for distinction could find an outlet in the arts and sciences no less than in politics and war, and saw clearly that many whose ambitions far exceeded their talents would attempt nonetheless to reap the rewards of celebrity and fame.

Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist that "the love of fame is the ruling passion of the noblest minds," convinced that the greatest among us would perform great deeds so as to be remembered for all time. The patriots of 1776 founded a republic and thereby won lasting fame.

However, Abraham Lincoln warned in his famous Lyceum Speech of 1838 that those who seek fame are as likely to win it by destroying republics as by establishing them, indicating that moral virtue in our leaders was necessary to avoid the fate of ancient Greece and Rome with Alexander and Caesar, and modern France with Napoleon.

Lincoln’s political critique applies to no less to other famous people, particularly artists and scientists. Is it difficult to see the passion for fame in Charles Darwin’s challenge to the natural law teachings of the founders of modern science with his theories of random chance in the biological world? Of Pablo Picasso’s revolutionizing of painting as no longer a representation of the visual world?

The dime store versions of these talented but misguided souls are persons who advance their careers by endorsing the "consensus view" in the learned academies, such as the dangers of "global warming," and Hollywood producers who confuse their passion for pushing the moral and political envelope with genuine talent.

People who seek distinction from being contrary to what the majority of their fellow citizens believe or support have convinced themselves that they are "a cut above" all those they regard as dummies, and use their status as a free ticket to a life of unaccountable behavior.

Polanski illustrates this perfectly. He committed a heinous crime and fled the country before sentencing, living on the lam in Europe for over 30 years. He and his "artistic" friends believe that his status entitles him to immunity from laws that govern everyone else. No one exposed this vanity better than The Nation's Katha Pollitt:

"The widespread support for Polanski shows the liberal cultural elite at its preening, fatuous worst. They may make great movies, write great books, and design beautiful things . . . But in this case, they're just the white culture-class counterpart of hip-hop fans who stood by R. Kelly and Chris Brown . . . "

Wasn’t Polanski in Switzerland, a neutral country, and attending an international arts festival, a world of the immortals? Who are these narrow-minded law enforcement officers who think they can arrest the producer for something that Whoopi Goldberg informed us was not "rape rape?"

The arts and sciences are among the greatest gifts of our Maker to the human race, but every gift should be treated with the respect it deserves and not used as an excuse for vicious acts and cults of personality. Whether or not they make people corrupt, it is clear that they are no barrier to corruption. Morality remains central to civilized life.

UCCS vs. Privilege & Oppression!

We all know America's campuses are loaded with Ward Churchill clones, lefty individuals and whole departments. But have you stopped to think that's even true in conservative Colorado Springs? Here's an example of your tax dollars at work at UCCS. The Knapsack Institute will run again this summer as it has for the past decade. It was inspired, the website says, by a 1988 paper on "White Privilege and Male Privilege," authored by Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College, where she confesses:

"I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks."

The UCCS web page continues as follows. You'll be glad to learn that having built their beachhead of soft-Marxist guilt and reeducation in higher ed, the Knapsackers now intend to clear down through the school grades to kindergarten, with forays into the oppression-ridden world of nonprofit organizations as well. But hear it in their own words:

    The Knapsack Institute is offered every summer at UCCS, and can also be brought to your campus or institution. While K-12 teachers and non-profit staff members have participated in the UCCS KI, and are welcome to continue to do so, we are in the process of developing a KI specifically for each of these populations, to be offered during 2009. These institutes will address the same issues detailed below, but focus specifically on the K-12 and non-profit contexts. If you or your organization is interested in participating in one of these new programs, or in bringing a KI to your organization, please contact Dena Samuels (

    In this Institute we will discuss the concept of unpacking our "invisible weightless knapsacks" of privilege, and in so doing, we hope to provide you with a knapsack full of useful tools to use as you begin (or continue) to teach the concepts of privilege and oppression in your classrooms. The Knapsack Institute welcomes ALL faculty committed to improving their teaching around issues of privilege and oppression.

Scholars group decries Churchill verdict

"Anything goes" in college classrooms: that's the message of Ward Churchill's legal victory this week, according to Stephen Balch of the National Association of Scholars. Balch said the win for Churchill, whom he called "the poster boy for academic irresponsibility," worsens the disconnect between the academic freedom's obligations and its protections.

Here's his full statement as posted Thursday at

The decision for Churchill will only further attenuate an already fraying relationship between the protections of academic freedom and their corollary obligations. Churchill is the poster boy for academic irresponsibility in both substance and style. That he wins today in court, helped somehow by his very notoriety, can only fortify the sense that anything goes.

If there is a lesson here it is that universities must be proactive in the enforcement of standards. Waiting for a public scandal with all its attendant complications is hardly the policy of choice. Universities must build a culture of responsibility that affects every aspect of institutional operation, but especially scholarship and teaching. Faculty members must realize from the beginning of their employment that their institution, and their peers, care about issues of intellectual integrity, foster a consciousness of scholarly ideals and good practice, and apply these at every level of professional review.

The outcome of the Churchill trial is unfortunate, but it was a trial that in a better academic world would never have occurred. The best point at which to protect professionalism is not career exit, but career entrance and stage-by-stage thereafter. If that’s the lesson learned from this sorry result, academe will still be able to recoup its loss.

The National Association of Scholars is America’s foremost higher education reform group. Located in Princeton, NJ, it has forty-seven state affiliates and more than four thousand professors, graduate students, administrators, and trustees as members.

Disclosure: Stephen Balch and I serve together as board members for the Center for Western Civilization at CU-Boulder, headed by classics professor Christian Kopff.

'Rest of story' suffers with Rocky gone

Just in the first week since the Rocky shut down, think about the state and local stories that were covered less robustly in the absence of a competing metro daily. Three for starters would be: ** Senate Dems seek to bust the 6% constitutional spending limit.

** Senate Dems endorse college subsidies for illegal aliens.

** CU students welcome plagiarist Ward Churchill and terrorist Bill Ayers.

Nothing against the solid reporting and commentary we've read in the Denver Post about these events, but they contain so many deeper levels and cross-currents that no single newspaper can possibly do them justice.

There's a reason people have two eyes and ears; a reason we say two heads are better than one; a reason Scripture says wisdom needs many counselors.

At 90, Paul Harvey, the founding father of opinion radio, was going to leave us one of these days. But how fitting that we lost him on the same weekend when Coloradans lost some of our access to "the rest of the story" with the Rocky's demise.