John Ensign on Marriage

by Harry on June 16, 2009

Its good to see that John Ensign is consistent on the issues: voting for a constitutional ban on marriage for same sex couples, and taking direct action against the institution of marriage for opposite-sex couples.

Are Ethicists Ethical?

by Harry on June 16, 2009

My colleagues will like this one:

Most of the 277 survey respondents reported no positive correlation between a professional focus on ethics and actual moral behavior. Respondents who were ethicists themselves shied away from saying that ethicists behave worse than those outside the discipline – generally reporting that ethicists behave either the same or better – but non-ethicists were mostly split between reporting that ethicists behave the same as or worse than others.

Even those ethicists who did rank their peers’ behavior as better than average said their moral behavior is just barely better than average – hardly a ringing endorsement.

The paper does not control for the possibility that the joke widespread within the profession that ethicists are the least ethical philosophers might have influenced responses (influencing ethicists to protest too much, and others to go with the joke).

On the Children of Garcetti

by Michael Bérubé on June 16, 2009

So I’m back from the AAUP national meeting, and I’ve decided that I’m a bad person for not blogging about <a href=””><i>Garcetti v. Ceballos</i></a> or <a href=””><i>Hong v. Grant</i></a> (.pdf) until now.  (Marc Bousquet was all over it <a href=””>more than a year ago</a>.)  The <i>Hong</i> case is just one example of what I call the Children of Garcetti, and if you teach at a public university in the United States (or if you know someone who does), you should know about <i>Garcetti</i>.

Here’s the <i>Oyez</i> <a href=”″>summary of the case</a>.  Since <i>Garcetti</i> involves the fate of a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who was whistleblowing with regard to what appeared to be a fraudulent affidavit, most people didn’t realize that it might have implications for academic freedom.  Ah, but not the AAUP’s legal staff!  They were on the case, so to speak, from the start (here’s a .pdf of <a href=””>the brief</a>).  Which is yet another reason you all (if you’re college professors) should have <a href=>joined the AAUP</a> by now, because (a) the AAUP sees these things coming when most of the rest of us don’t and (b) helps to fight ‘em in court.  Indeed, the AAUP/ Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression brief seems to have caught the attention of David Souter, who, bless his retiring heart, wrote in dissent:

<blockquote>This ostensible domain beyond the pale of the First Amendment is spacious enough to include even the teaching of a public university professor, and I have to hope that today’s majority does not mean to imperil First Amendment protection of academic freedom in public colleges and universities, whose teachers necessarily speak and write “pursuant to official duties.”</blockquote>

In response, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, citing Bugs Bunny, replied, “ehhhhhh … <i>could be</i>!”  Though the actual language was this:

<blockquote>There is some argument that expression related to academic scholarship or classroom instruction implicates additional constitutional interests that are not fully accounted for by this Court’s customary employee-speech jurisprudence. We need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.</blockquote>

In other words, <i>we’re leaving that door open, thanks — if any lower courts want to walk through it, just make sure they wipe their feet on the 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom</i>.

[click to continue…]

Pirates in the Parliament

by Henry Farrell on June 16, 2009

I’ve got a long post in the works touching on some of the same issues as John’s “recent piece”:, which began as a response to Larry Lessig’s recent silliness on socialism (which he has qualified in the meantime) but has since metastasized into something much shaggier and alarming. In the meantime, some speculation regarding a smaller question – is the Pirate Party’s presence in the European Parliament going to change anything? This is something that I wanted to talk about in a “bloggingheads debate”: with Judah Grunstein yesterday, but we got stuck into more general questions of copyright good or bad. Anyway – my answer to the question is yes, plausibly – but around the margins, and depending on what alliances it strikes.
[click to continue…]

The Disappearance of Childhood

by Harry on June 16, 2009

The criticism of philosophers in the discussion of Michele’s post, specifically from our own Daniel that not much of the discussion was about how philosophers might listen to people from other disciplines, reminded me that I have been meaning to say something about one of my favourite books that I didn’t read in graduate school, Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood. Like another of my favourite books I would notice it in piles of textbooks for other departments in the university bookstore while I was in grad school, and spurned it mainly for its title. About 6 years ago, my wife read it for a class on children’s literature, and her rendering of the thesis that childhood was socially constructed made it sound so preposterous that I was compelled to read the book.

[click to continue…]