Stanley Fish doesn’t like the idea of unrestrained academic freedom. And in a gesture against the idea of unrestrained academic freedom, Stanley Fish points at the case of a tenured professor in Canada who said all sorts of wild things about how classes on particular subjects should be taught on other subjects instead, and how students shouldn’t follow course curricula, and how grades are bunk, and how physics is out to get you, and on and on and on. The tenured professor stopped teaching the subject matter of his department and used his platform to do whatever he felt like.
At this, Fish waves his hands and wails about the shameful loss of standards in education:
Last week we came to the section on academic freedom in my course on the law of higher education and I posed this hypothetical to the students: Suppose you were a member of a law firm or a mid-level executive in a corporation and you skipped meetings or came late, blew off assignments or altered them according to your whims, abused your colleagues and were habitually rude to clients. What would happen to you?
The chorus of answers cascaded immediately: “I’d be fired.” Now, I continued, imagine the same scenario and the same set of behaviors, but this time you’re a tenured professor in a North American university. What then?
I answered this one myself: “You’d be celebrated as a brave nonconformist, a tilter against orthodoxies, a pedagogical visionary and an exemplar of academic freedom.”
But that professor, even though he was tenured, was not celebrated as a brave nonconformist, a visionary, an exemplar. His own department turned against him. His administrators responded to his academic irresponsibility. He was removed. He was fired. And when he refused to leave the campus, he was hauled off in handcuffs. Those seem like standards to me. Those seem like limits on academic freedom to me.
Read Fish’s essay and tell me if you can figure out what Fish is complaining about.