Blaise Pascal, Pense√© 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Areopagitica in the Free Speech Area: The Budget Crisis, Free Speech, and Faculty Consultation at Fresno State

Craig Bernthal
Free Speech Area Classes, Fresno State
Renaissance Literature (English  147) and Milton (English 187)
January 19, 2012

Milton’s Areopagitica and the Decay of Free Speech at Fresno State

Before I talk about John Milton’s great defense of freedom of speech,Areopagitica, I want to talk briefly about what has motivated me to conduct two classes today in the Free Speech area, (and while I’m at it, I’d like to note that there is no specific area of campus to which free speech is limited—the whole campus is a free speech area—even the faculty senate). I’m conducting these classes in the open, here, under the eyes of the administration, because I think free speech is gasping for breath on the Fresno State campus and because John Milton is the writer who has the most to tell us about why free speech is absolutely necessary for us to function as participating citizens in a university and a democracy.

Today, at Fresno State, the university is facing two crises: one is the ever diminishing allocation of state funding to higher education, and that’s serious; the second is shutting faculty out of their rightful role in university governance. As serious as the budget crisis is, the later problem is even more serious in its implications for how education will go forward at Fresno State. The faculty traditionally, and for good reason, has the major role to play in a university in deciding curriculum and instruction. Budget cuts and hiring patterns will affect that immensely. Therefore, the faculty not only has the duty to advise administrators on budget matters, but it just makes sense that administrators would want faculty input. To that end, we have a faculty senate which has three committees that ought to be highly involved: the university budget committee, the curriculum committee, and academic policy and planning. The faculty elects the membership of these committees. But they have been virtually cut out of the budget decision-making process during the last year.

Now, when I say that the faculty has been shut out of its right role in decision-making, I mean that in two ways. First, the information that the faculty needs to participate in a discussion about the budget crisis has been so slow in coming, so deliberately slow in being supplied, so sketchy, so opaque, that now, in the eleventh hour of decision making, we have really been denied a voice. Second, the process that has gone forward, while looking like faculty consultation, has largely been nothing but wallpaper—the sham of consultation in what has been a profoundly undemocratic process. In fact, what we had was a special, cherry-picked Budget Task Force—not elected by the faculty for the task but picked by Provost Covino and Michael Caldwell, the chair of the Academic Senate. The Task Force was given a very narrow charge, and as a Task Force, has not been given any genuine opportunity to have a dialogue about its recommendations with the faculty.  (My point is not to impune the integrity of people on the Task Force; I know and admire some of them. My point is that we have a democratically elected committee in the Faculty Senate to do this job.) These recommendations include the merger of the colleges of Arts and Humanities with Social Sciences, and the virtual destruction of the School of Sciences and Mathematics by splitting it between education, engineering, and agriculture. Now, I will get back to all of this in more detail, but for now, let’s go to John Milton, who in 1644 faced a problem that was perhaps even more serious.

John Milton (who was born in 1608 and died in 1674) set out at an early age to become the greatest epic poet in the history of England. He eventually made good on this promise by writing Paradise Lost. His career, however, was broken in half by the English Civil War. Risking his own artistic ambitions and finally, his life, Milton diverted his energy from poetry to politics, becoming the public intellectual for the parliamentary cause in England, and putting his poetry second for nearly twenty years while he wrote prose tracts defending the revolution, Protestantism, freer divorce laws—and free speech. Milton’s Areopagitica stands today as one of the foundational documents in defense of free-speech and the free-market of ideas. 

One of the reasons why John Milton got behind the forces rebelling against the Stuart King, Charles I, was that he hated the censorships laws of the Stuart regime, as he hated Catholic censorship and banning of books on the continent of Europe. After the victory of the parliamentary forces over the Stuart royalists, in 1644, the censorship laws of the Stuart regime were repealed, only to be replaced by the licensing laws of the protestant winners. Milton watched, aghast, while the side he had fought for in print, the side he hoped would usher in a new age of liberty, proceeded to enact its own licensing laws, silencing its own opponents. Milton wrote Areopagitica in response—once again, sticking his neck out for what he believed was right.

Now, there are a lot of things to be said about Areopagitica. The beauty of its rhetorical structure and style—the complexity of its style—Milton’s immense grasp of classical and biblical sources, the historical context of the English civil war and the Protestant Reformation, and how a great deal of Areopagitica finds its way into Paradise Lost. Don’t worry Milton students. We will get to all of that, but not here, today. What I propose to do now is to go through some of the most important arguments that Milton makes for free speech by looking at some of the most significant quotations, and I have these on a handout, along with quotations from some of the people throughout the last three and a half centuries that Areopagitica influenced.

I will mention one more piece of background though: that weird title.

Areopagitica. Where does that come from? It comes from the Areopagus—Mars Hill, in Greek. The Areopagus is a bare, marble hill in Athens. It got its name from a mythological trial in which Mars, or Ares, in Greek, the God of War, was put on trial for killing the son of Poseidon. In pre-classical times Mars Hill was the site of the council of elders of Athens, who functioned like a senate, and in classical times, it was the site of the chief homicide court in Athens. So the Areopagus was always a place in which controversies were resolved and oratory presented. Most famously, it is the site where St. Paul addressed the philosophers of Athens, recorded in Acts 17, and most obviously, it refers to a speech of the same title, Isocrates’ Areopagitica, in which he urges the reform of the Court of the Areopagus. You now begin to see why the title appealed to Milton. The Areopagus was a place of debate, and as we will see, Milton believed that truth emerged out of debate—out of debate that brought new facts and arguments to the surface—the kind of debate that is also a prerequisite for a just legal system, in other words, a fair trial. The kind of debate you can’t have if one party controls the flow of information and turns the spigot to drip.

What Milton says about free speech in Areopagitica goes way beyond the specific situation he was confronting, which was the licensing of books. This is called today a “prior restraint” on speech: the requirement that books be OK’d by the government for publication.  The motive for OK-ing books prior to publication was to eliminate material that would corrupt the public mind: religious tracts that were heretical, political tracts that were seditious. Somebody smarter than you always wants to make sure you are not being influenced toward vice or falsehood—at least that’s what they tell you, when they deny you access to books.

In the twentieth century much of the action in 1st Amendment cases had to do with pornography—to what extent ought the public be protected from porn? Thus the book Ulysses was at one time banned in the United States as pornographic, which by today’s standards is incredible. Sometimes cases involve slander and libel—we do not have freedom to destroy people’s characters by telling lies about them, but to protect discussion, if you are a well-known public personality, your protection on the basis of libel and slander is much less than if you are a typical citizen. 

Milton’s main point in Areopagitica is that people are far better judges of what they should read than the government, and that truth is much more likely to emerge from a contest of ideas—a real debate—than if the government decides ahead of time what side is right and tries to “protect” you from being influenced by the “wrong” ideas. The truth is much more likely to emerge—the best course for policy to take is much more likely to be decided—if everyone lays their cards on the table.

Let’s take a look at the first quotation from Areopagitica:

  1. 1.Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse.

This is the best summation I could give as to why I became an English professor. It was to commune with reason and the true master spirits of the human race. It defines the importance of everything we do at Fresno State. When you read a calculus textbook, you are not just learning mathematics. You are having an encounter with the spirit of the two inventors of calculus, Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfied Leibnitz. If you are taking a geology course, you are communicating with the spirit of an 18th century Scottish farmer, James Hutton, who is commonly credited with founding the science. Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Camus – John Milton: the meaning of our lives is grounded in these writers, and to some extent in the meanest scribblers that you can find on the shelves of the John Madden library. The various departments of knowledge at Fresno State help put you into contact with these master spirits, as I hope happens in my Renaissance Literature class and my Milton class. 

Now, exposure to a broad range of master spirits occurs when you have a broad range of interests and viewpoints in the faculty and when the faculty decides on curriculum, as it is supposed to. It has often bothered me that the one place where diversity really matters to the intellectual life, in a diversity of classes taught and viewpoints offered, that our own academic orthodoxies and creeds lead to narrowness. As much as this bothers me, however, it worries me even more when hiring decisions for faculty—and therefore curricular decisions—tend to concentrate in one man, and that would be the provost, Bill Covino, who with cohort hiring (during a putative “hiring freeze”) threatens to control who gets hired and therefore what gets taught, for years to come.

What is cohort hiring? The way cohort hiring seems to work, in brief, is that the provost comes up with a theme. “Water Resources,” “Diversity” is one of this year’s cohorts, and what that could mean, I have no idea, since we’ve been doing diversity hiring ever since I got here, 25 years ago. To get these hires, departments and schools have to advertise for someone who fits into the cohort to get the provost’s permission to hire. As a carrot to hire a cohort faculty member, the provost promises to pay—and no one seems quite sure about how much—either 50% of the first year salary or 50% of the faculty member’s salary in perpetuity.  None of the deans wanted to hire under the cohort restraint. None of the department chairs wanted it. And none of them can resist it, because it’s the only way they can hire or afford to hire, unless they can prove some other absolute emergency need. 

The faculty has a good handle on who it needs to hire. Plant science, for instance, is situated in the one of the biggest nut and citrus producing areas on the planet. For four years they’ve wanted to hire a professor in pomology: a fruit and nut specialist —instead, they have to settle for a cohort hire in irrigation and water management, which is not their biggest priority. Why does the provost, whose background is rhetoric, know more about Plant Science’s needs than Plant Science? If English decides it desperately needs a secondary education specialist, or a Shakespearean even, since the three of us who do that are bound to retire sometime, we might have to take whatever is available to fit into the cohort.

The first part of the problem is that the provost doesn’t know more than we do about what curricular needs are. The second is that he is way out of the boundaries of his job description in this incursion into hiring. Once again: CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FACULTY. This year there are 28 searches in process for new professors. 6 to 7 are cohort hires. That is an immense impact.

There might be a good place for this kind of hiring if the initiative came from departments working together, and it is well within the provost’s brief to make constructive suggestions for hiring into cohort groups, especially when there is an established interest in the faculty, such as in Water issues, and an interdisciplinary problem to tackle. But the extent to which this is going on more than trespasses on a function properly left with the faculty—it stomps all over it.  It is particularly bad during a putative hiring freeze. And if the faculty wants to survive as a genuine voice in this university, rather than a rubber stamp, it has to draw the line right there, and it has to be drawn this semester, in the academic senate. 

  1. 2.Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental whiteness. . . . Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? 

This is the heart of Areopagitica. Milton reminds us that we are not living in Garden of Eden before the fall, before Adam tasted the forbidden fruit. Rather, we have to have the knowledge to navigate through a fallen world. Here, Milton’s Christianity comes out loud and clear, especially his reliance on St. Paul and how human beings must run their race in a sinful world. The theory of people who want to control what we read is that they can somehow enforce purity on people—keep them from sinful thoughts and sinning—by protecting them from sinful ideas. In Milton’s eyes, Catholic censorship, and its index of banned books, was the most extreme example of trying to keep people pure by shielding them from impurity.

Well, Milton says, this is absurd. We come into the world impure (and here he has the Augustine’s doctrine of original sin in mind, which derives from St. Paul) and we live in an impure world. We cannot be protected from impurity. We have to learn to deal with it as adults, and if governments and clergymen try to protect us from evil by controlling what we read, we’ll just become stupider and more likely to go wrong. The “true warfaring Christian” as Milton says, must understand evil and how it works and how to resist it. We cannot be kept in the nursery.

We have to have a good sense, not only of what is evil, but what is wrong-headed. You get a sense of that by studying not just success, but by studying failure. Moral failure, political failure. This is about developing judgment, and although experience, in my estimate, goes farther than book learning, what we get from books plays an essential role in helping us to understand our experience. Protecting people from life, from reading, is to assure that when they fall, which they will, the fall will be much harder.

Let me offer one story from my own life. When I was in junior high and high school I started frequenting the Bad Axe Public Library, which was located above the fire department. It was always a thrill, while I was reading, to hear the fire alarm go off underneath my feet.  The library had a weird collection of books, probably derived from the weird donations of Bad Axe, Michigan readers. For instance, they seemed to have every book on UFOs every published, and I checked out most of them. They had dozens of paperback sci-fi books with covers of scantily clad women being carried off by robots and lizard men to unimaginable—and one would hope, genetically impossible—fates. I embarrassed my mother by checking these salacious books out by the stack. When I was in high school, probably ninth grade or tenth grade, I checked out James Jones’ The Thin Red Line, which is about the battle of Guadalcanal. Months later my father told me that the night I brought it home, he had read a good deal of it. The Thin Red Line has scenes of homosexuality—a very taboo subject for a Lutheran boy to be reading about in the 1960s—combat mayhem, deaths by friendly fire and accident, stupid officers, corruption: it turned out to challenge every romantic idea I had about war. When my dad finally talked to me about the book he said, “I was thinking of not letting you read it—but then I decided, you might as well know the truth.” That was one of the best gifts my father ever gave me—that access and that confidence. 

I am tempted to say, “if only the president and the provost had confidence in the faculty,” but I don’t want to pay them the complement of casting them as father figures. They are partners with the faculty. In matters of curriculum and instruction, they are junior partners, and at their best, facilitators of what the faculty initiates, not initiators of what the faculty is then ordered to facilitate. What scares the faculty, in every campus like Fresno State, is that we are slowly but surely—and not so slowly either—being relegated to the role of employees in a corporation run by professional administrators. That we are becoming cogs in what is essentially a corporate conglomerate offering the Palazzo, World Federation Wrestling and Monster Car Rallies at the SaveMart Center, big-time semi-pro athletics, and, by the way, education.

  1. 3.Many there be that complain of divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?

When choice is denied to us, we are denied our status before God as moral creatures. For Milton, the fall of man in the garden of Eden is always the felix culpa, the fortune fall, because it is only after that fall that we can pursue our true vocation: the development of the capacity to choose good over evil, to choose God rather than Lucifer, and not just to choose good over evil but to distinguish between the two. When people license books, Milton is saying, they deny you your spiritual vocation because they try to put the essential moral tests by which we grow toward God out of our reach. Furthermore, since we will have to face those tests anyway, all that licensing does is make us ignorant of evil, and therefore less likely to pass the test. 

  1. 4.And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?

This is perhaps the most controversial passage of Areopagitica because of Milton’s confidence that if Truth gets onto the field, it will win. And yet, it has been taken up by some of the most famous men to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Listen to how this is echoed by Thomas Jefferson and then by Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis:

First, Jefferson:
"Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,"Thomas Jefferson, Inaugural Address.

Then Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissenting in Abrams v. U.S. 250 U.S. 616 (1919):
“[W]hen men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”

Lastly, Louis Brandeis, in Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357 (1927): 
“Freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth,” and in the case of bad ideas or falsehoods, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.” 

But will Truth win if it gets the field? Is it a sure thing? That is a hard question to answer. Over the long haul, I think that truth has a very good chance. In the pressure of the moment, however, I think that truth may be ignored or defeated. Truth is hard to recognize, and some people argue that truth is just a matter of point of view; I am not one of those skeptics, but I do believe that truth is tough to find and subject to subversion. Lincoln recognized this. “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time,” he said. His faith was that you couldn’t fool all of the people all of the time. One thing I am sure of—if Truth is not allowed onto the field, it never will have a chance. And that brings me to the last thing I want to talk about: Truth and the Fresno State Budget crisis.

Last year the provost formed a Budget Task Force to recommend ways to save money in Academic Affairs—that’s the side of the Fresno State budget that includes all the colleges, all the classes taught, and other academic programs, such as the Center for Continuing and Global Education, and one which is supposed to help us teach better, CSALT. The most controversial recommendations of the Task Force, which were released to the university on 26 October 2011, were the merger of the colleges of Arts and Humanities with the College of Social Science, and the virtual dismantling of the College of Science and Mathematics by sending Psychology to Education, Mathematics to Engineering, sending Biology, Chemistry, and Geology to the College of Agriculture. These mergers were said to save $250,000 per college or $500,000 altogether. I should point out that there are a lot of people on the faculty who question those savings.

These mergers are alarming from an educational point of view. As the schools stand, they make sense as divisions of different branches of learning. People who come up through one of the departments in arts and humanities are the people who become deans of art and humanities. They have a commitment to the branches of knowledge taught in their schools and fight for them. Arts and Humanities deans that I’ve known, Luis Costa and Vida Samiian know and value arts and humanities and understand something about what they need to be effective in a university. The same is true of the deans in all the schools. To use an extreme example, would it make sense to have an engineering school dean who was a professor of Art History? Does an agronomist have a good feel for what makes a department of chemistry function? Will he look after it with the same care and understanding and commitment that he looks after Plant Science? These suggestions by the Task Force frankly scared the daylights out of faculty in both Arts and Humanities and Sciences and Mathematics. 

The Task Force had ten members. None of them were elected to the Task Force by the faculty. Five of them were picked by Bill Covino, the provost. These included 4 deans and the chairman of the faculty senate, Michael Caldwell; Michael Caldwell then picked five faculty members. Now this has to be put a wider context. 

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the senate has a committee, the university budget committee, elected by the faculty, specifically, to address budget issues. This is the charge to the University Budget Committee, set forth in the book that acts as a constitution for governance in this university, the academic policy manual:

The University Budget Committee shall be the deliberative body of the faculty on budget and resource use as they affect the University and including but not limited to instructional budget, allocation of faculty positions, allocation of space, institutional support budget, the athletic budget, facilities planning and self-support programs. The Committee shall be responsible for recommending on all university budget decisions affecting instruction. 

Note that it does not say there will be a Budget Committee and a Task Force. It says “The University Budget Committee shall be the deliberative body of the faculty on budget committee and resource use . . . including instructional budget.” 

Had Provost Covino wanted a democratically elected core for his Task Force, he could have used the budget committee and added four administrators to it. But the university budget committee has been cut out of the process entirely. The Task Force has not shared information with the budget committee. It is true that one of the Task Force members was the chair of the budget committee, but he did not share Task Force deliberations with the budget committee. In fact, this year, the budget committee didn’t even get the normal budget data that it usually gets. At the beginning of each school year, the budget committee is usually given the entire budget of the previous year, AND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, WHAT WAS ACTUALLY SPENT IN THE PREVIOUS YEAR. This year, they did not get this information. They still have not gotten it, as is true of the entire faculty, except, perhaps, for the Task Force

The budget committee has members who have great expertise in the budget and who have served on it for many years. Pedro Amaral from philosophy possibly knows more about how the budget actually works than anyone else on campus. He volunteered to be on the task force and was turned down. Why would they – i.e,., the provost and Michael Caldwell—turn down our most knowledgeable colleague?

The Task Force never met with the budget committee. It was never been made available to the senate for a question and answer session. Although last semester the provost did hold open meetings at which the task force was present, little information was provided. 

Now I would submit that what the Provost Covino has done with the Task Force simply violates the clear rule of the Academic Policy Manual by replacing the Budget Committee elected by the faculty with his own Task Force. And President Welty is just as responsible: the buck stops with him.

At the end of last semester, some of us on the faculty became quite alarmed about the dearth of information available. The week before finals, at one of the provost’s forums, I asked that faculty be provided with the same information that the Task Force had been given. Michael Caldwell, rather testily, assured me I’d be provided the information the next day, if that was soon enough. I said that was fine. Over a week later, on the Friday after finals, it was received, after 5 pm, by Joe Diaz, the associate dean of arts and humanities, for a special committee in Arts and Humanities that has been trying to respond to Task Force recommendations. What they got was a bare bones budget sheet, of what had been spent in Academic Affairs in the previous year, providing no explanation of any of the budget categories. Then, you might say, school adjourned—except that it had already adjourned the day before, we all had finals and papers to grade, and the holidays coming up—we were effectively stalled until January. 

So over break I started looking for other sources of budget information and checked the Fresno State website.  Now, a budget book has been published for 2010 to 2011, BUT IT DOES NOT CONTAIN FINAL EXPENDITURES FOR THAT YEAR, IT ONLY SHOWS THE INITIAL BUDGET. This is despite the fact that the fiscal year for 2010 to 11 ended on July 1, 2011. Does it really take them over six months to tell us what they actually spent? The faculty as a whole was in the dark, as was their elected budget committee. I sent off a series of questions to Dean Vida Samiian, who knew some of the answers, but not all; so she referred the questions to Dennis Nef, the undergraduate dean. He provided some of the specific information. There are plenty more questions to be answered, believe me.

This is not consultation: this is adversarial. When you feel sick and you consult with your doctor for help, do you refuse to tell him your symptoms? Do you make him pull the facts out of you inch by inch. Where does it hurt? Well, gee, I’m not sure. You must have some idea. Oh, I guess it’s my foot. Well when did it start to hurt? Oh, I guess last Wednesday, but I’ll get back to you in a week on that. Oh come on, what happened? Well, I might have fallen down the stairs, but you’ll have to check with my wife . . . That is not a consultation. That is an adversarial proceeding. That is what one lawyer has to do to the other side with interrogatories, depositions, and hostile witness examinations, straining to get at what they know. This is what it has been like for the faculty, except that a lawyer would eventually get what he needed by following discovery rules, but we don’t have a court to make sure we get what we need. 

How do you get the result you want if you are an administrator, but make it look like you’ve consulted? Do you go to a democratically elected committee of faculty budget experts? No. You create your own Task Force. You pack it with administrators who can’t say  “no” if they know what’s good for them. You try to find friendly faculty. You give the Task Force a narrow charge and tell its members that certain funds—like cohort hiring funds—are not relevant because they would be used for hiring in any case. You isolate the Task Force from faculty questions until it’s so late in the game that nothing can be done—and that is exactly what has happened.

So what might John Milton tell the faculty senate and the students of Fresno State, if he were here today?
I think the first thing he would tell you is how lucky you are—lucky to be in the United States in the year 2012, still the freest, most open country in the history of the world, where you can get on the internet or walk into the library and have access to books and information on a scale that Milton could not even dream of.

I think he would tell you that you are ungrateful fools if you do not put these resources to the utmost use in your own lives to become better citizens, more moral human beings; not just independent distinguishers between right and wrong, truth and falsity, but informed and conscientious distinguishers, who use what they know to act in the world.
I think he’d tell the faculty that they had done their students a disservice by not being better models of people who demand the truth, who demand their rightful role in getting the information that assures them a responsible voice in faculty government.

Finally, I think he’d tell the faculty that liberty can slip away almost as soon as you’ve gotten it. You get rid of one group of censors only to find out that you’ve installed another. The price of liberty really is eternal vigilance. You have fallen prey to Prospero’s Disease, in which you’ve let your governmental duties slip to spend more time in your study, and you are about to be marooned on an island you may never get off of. Therefore, get off your cans and get to the next faculty senate meeting, and do something about it. 

I want to say one last thing as a reader of Areopagitica. I believe that Milton makes an assumption, which is virtually on the surface throughout the tract, that error itself can be productive. Error, promulgated in a free society, can inspire others to come forth with the truth, or at least what is closer to the truth. Immanual Kant said that he wrote because David Hume had roused him from his dogmatic slumbers. If what I’ve said today about the budget and about consultation is not completely correct, at least is has been said out in the open, and said in the open, it can then be corrected in the open. And this is the biggest reason why, once we’ve done the best we can to find the truth, and we can go no farther, we ought to speak and publish, without excessive fear of being wrong. Our error may make the occasion for someone else to be set us straight—and also many others who think what we think, but have not spoken.

No comments:

Post a Comment