Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Summers Flap Won't Go Away

Maybe it is just that so many bloggers (and other editorialists) are using the Summers flap as a launching pad to pontificate on other topics. Many people wrote things about the situation over a month ago. But more articles and editorials keep appearing.

Among the latest, Becker and Posner use the case to discuss university governance, an interesting example of the principal-agent problem if I ever saw one, since nobody can even agree on who are the principals and who are the agents at most universities. For more, see this and this by the Emirates Economist about the B&P postings. Especially amusing is his reference to one of the commenters:

There are 1437 words in this post about university governance. Not ONE of them is the word "student."
Of course, to be fair, it is about Harvard and Harvard has very little to do with its students.

Another recent piece, by Ben Shapiro [thanks to the other BenS for the link], uses the Summers flap to point out the hypocrisy of most of us in academia. We support academic freedom to say things we agree with, but we know there must be limitations of some sort.

So why the difference in treatment [of Larry Summers in comparison with Ward Churchill]? It would be difficult to claim that University of Colorado professors are more open-minded about academic freedom than are professors at Harvard University. No, this question comes down to politics, pure and simple. Ward Churchill said something professors believe should be said; even if they don’t agree with his statements, they feel that his radical, treasonous anti-Americanism belongs in the classroom. Larry Summers said something professors believe should not be given any forum; he challenged the prevailing P.C. notion that women and men are the same in all respects.

It would be nice if we could all keep meta-constraints in mind rather than addressing issues of academic freedom on a piece-meal basis -- a sure way to get bad policy about academic freedom.

Update: Sparky, at SCSU Scholars, makes this point very well here. And Stephen Karlson at Cold Shop Springs has an excellent piece on these issues here.
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