Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The professoriat and John Yoo

Posted by Charles II on May 7, 2008

First, some good news. A full professor at Berkeley has asked the Academic Senate to investigate whether John Yoo should be held to account under the faculty rules for having advised the Bush Administration that torture is acceptable. He asked that the Senate appoint an investigative panel with expertise in

moral philosophy, professional ethics, the role of the university, international relations, human rights, and constitutional law

The bad news: the request was rejected, and with a particularly specious argument, namely that

Creating the panel you recommend to examine Prof. Yoo’s conduct would be defamatory on the face of it. Besides that, there’s the practical problem of finding committee members with the expertise you outline.

Can one imagine a more ridiculous claim that the commission of a wrong cannot be investigated because the mere act of investigation would be defamatory?

Probably you can, because that claim is followed by the claim that Berkeley lacks experts in moral philosophy, constitutional law, and international relations. I guess these people don’t count:

  • Niko Kolodny (Ph.D., University of California–Berkeley). His main interests are in moral and political philosophy.
  • Samuel Scheffler (Ph.D., Princeton University). His research interests lie mainly in moral and political philosophy.
  • R. Jay Wallace (Chair) (B. Phil., University of Oxford; Ph.D., Princeton University). His interests lie mainly in moral philosophy and the history of ethics.
  • Kathryn Abrams. Abrams teaches feminist jurisprudence, voting rights and constitutional law.
  • Diane Marie Amann. Recent works have focused on legal responses to U.S. policies respecting executive detention at Guantánamo and elsewhere, on the use of foreign and international law in U.S. constitutional decision making
  • Jesse H. Choper Choper was one of the three major lecturers at U.S. Law Week’s Annual Constitutional Law Conference in Washington, D.C.
  • Ron Hassner – religious violence, Middle Eastern politics, and territorial disputes
  • Philip Tetlock – accountability systems, de-biasing judgment and choice, and political psychology
  • Robert Powell – game theory, deterrence
    Steven Weber – international organization, European integration
  • When dodges like pretending that Berkeley doesn’t have experts are used to avoid an unpleasant duty, one can say that academia is rotting out.

    10 Responses to “The professoriat and John Yoo”

    1. C’mon, Berkeley. Go borrow a spine from somebody.

    2. Maybe it is just me… but I would say it is defamatory to all those good professors when Berkeley says it would have a problem finding “committee members” with the expertise…Is this some sort of technicality that they are trying to raise? Can only “committee members” be involved in an investigation? Either they need to put some of those professors with the expertise on the “committee” or reach out to the experts in their own school who don’t happen to be on the committee…. I would guess that has been done in the past.

    3. Charles said

      The real problem, Candace, is that Law Dean Chris Edley– who, as an African American, knows better– has denied that Yoo has done anything wrong. All just a matter of academic freedom, according to Edley.

      The torture of detainees is a crime under US and international law. There could be cases in which mistreatment of a prisoner is arguably not torture. This is not one of them.

      So, Edley is claiming that it is OK for lawyers to counsel their clients to commit crimes, that it could be just a difference of opinion and therefore covered by academic freedom. Since Yoo didn’t actually pour water down a prisoners nose, there’s no moral equivalence between what he did and what those who actually conducted the torture did.

      Edley is Yoo’s boss. Academic organization is so weak that there’s no real way to discipline Yoo without Edley being on board, unless one can engage the Regents. That won’t happen unless the heat rises to very uncomfortable levels.

      The least destructive way to generate that heat is through the Academic Senate. Unfortunately, the chair of that Senate is in the tank. Unless the peasant-professors take up their pitchforks, the lords of academe are going to keep John Yoo from justice. And since most of the professoriat is just trying to make it to retirement, the odds of that are slim.

    4. Stormcrow said

      This is utterly typical behavior. It would not have surprised me 20 years ago.

      I’ve written before about how the funding issues have created selection pressures that pass on only the most gutless and spineless to positions of middle management within the academic hierarchy.

      When you select for something, don’t be surprised when that’s what you get.

    5. Charles said

      From what I can tell, Stormcrow, the generations of the 1930s and 1940s produced some very gutsy (and in cases radical) academicians, people like Stephen Jay Gould, who were committed to making the academy a place of genuinely free discourse. The McCarthy era produced a backlash that really damaged American universities. The 1960s and 1970s brought back some healthy resistance, but it gradually died. There are too few with tenure, there are as you say too many struggling for too little funding, and too many in administration who simply want to avoid controversy.

      The lesson from this, though, is not just that the professoriat is decayed, but that all of American society is corrupted. The Republicans are really just ripened rot.

    6. Stormcrow said

      Yes. I dislike saying this, but I agree. The Republicans, as they are presently constituted, aren’t a cause as much as they are an effect. A healthy political party would have rejected them. They were anathema to the Republicans as that party was constituted 60 years ago. But yet they were ultimately not only accepted, but became the Republican Party.

      When I try to trace this corruption back to root cause flaw(s), I simply keep going further and further back into history.

      I keep seeing the same pattern repeating over and over: expedient and brutal but ultimately self-destructive and stupid decisions, papered over with fairy tales.

      And I keep running into a fundamental contradiction. Humans build nations on myths. All nations have some myth that’s at the base: what makes “us” different and better than “them”.

      But this makes any attempt to run a nation, or smaller pieces like corporations or school systems or any other institution that makes politically sensitive choices, run right smack into “garbage in, garbage out”. If you buy into the state-myth, it corrupts your thinking and thus your decisions at the root.

      But it’s really worse than that.

      Every time reality becomes overly complicated and ugly, we flee into fantasy land. That’s what the society at large spends a great deal of time and effort teaching us to do. Just about everybody “gets” this message, to the point where it’s an utterly unconscious reactive response. Spend fifteen minutes on a randomly selected message board or blog “comments” section, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about very quickly.

      So –

      Just how in hell are we going to “fix” anything at all, if we keep looking away from the work under our hands?

    7. […] ill-equipped to make moral judgments (Yoo […]

    8. Charles II said

      Stormcrow asks, “Just how in hell are we going to “fix” anything at all, if we keep looking away from the work under our hands?”

      That’s why I do what I do, Stormcrow, witnessing to the wrongs and trying to uphold the right things.

      The question is what makes a number of individuals behave in concert to renew a society. There are very few historical examples of social renewals. Nations rise, become empires, and decay. Individuals from their old middle classes try desperately to revive the republic and fail. Some other country rises to become a light to the nations.

      What we need are large doses of truth. Truth about our financial condition. Truth about the decline of our scientific establishment. Truth about the environmental costs of our profligacy. Truth about the crackpot movements–the anti-taxers and the end of the worlders– that are sucking the life out of political discourse. Truth about what racial division costs us.

      Once people know the truth, they usually know what to do.

    9. jo6pac said

      late because of travel but at UCB please even I know this isn’t true and I only have HS D.

    10. Charles said

      Common sense and good judgment require no advanced degrees, Jo. It’s really remarkable how Edley and the Senate president think that their lies and obfuscations will be accepted as reasonable.

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