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Apr 19 2010

John Yoo and Academic Freedom (UPDATED)

Brad Delong is musing about the possibility of petitioning the UC Berkeley faculty senate to consider a motion to investigate Yoo in relation to his gross abdication of professional responsibility as an attorney while employed by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush regime:

RESOLVED, that the Berkeley Division Academic Senate appoint a committee consisting of [5?] members of the Berkeley Division, with knowledge of the demands of professional practice, international law, constitutional law, and moral philosophy, to investigate and publicly report on the question whether the Berkeley Division should recommend to the Chancellor any form of disciplinary investigation, with the report to issue no later than August 30, 2010.

It appears that the Dean of Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley’s Law School) has expressed a strong disinclination to consider any sort of sanction of Yoo–including, potentially, termination from his tenured faculty position–on the basis of “academic freedom”.

Academic freedom is about the freedom to express one’s opinions in the context of an academic community and to engage in free inquiry and discourse. Yoo’s opinions written at OLC do not in any way implicate academic freedom; they were professional actions taken as an attorney. If a medical school clinical faculty member in the surgery department repeatedly and unecessarily killed patients on the operating table, would investigation, sanctions, and/or dismissal from her faculty position implicate academic freedom? I think not.

And the argument that such an investigation would “chill” academic discourse is bullshit. An investigation of Yoo’s *professional* conduct as an attorney wouldn’t chill the exercise of *academic* freedom. Such an investigation would not be inquiring at all into his academic activities as a legal scholar, and all it could possibly chill would be the violation of professional standards of conduct as an attorney practicing law. Such a chill would be a good thing.

UPDATE: It is worth pointing out that Yoo’s status as a professor in a professional school is relevant to this analysis, as that means that his non-academic professional conduct in the profession in which he professes is relevant to his fitness to serve as a faculty member in that professional school. If Yoo were a medical school professor in the nephrology department, I would argue that his conduct in OLC would probably *not* be relevant to his fitness to be a medical school faculty member. But he’s a motherfucking *law* professor.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    ginger

    UCB is overcompensating for its lousy behavior during the McCarthy era (the loyalty oath and the mass dismissals). I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, though.

  2. 2
    Spiny Norman

    Fuckin’ A, PhysioProf. Spot-fuckin’-on.

  3. 3
    bikemonkey

    When you chill Yoo’s academic freedom the austrofrencherian terrorists win dude.

  4. 4
    Anonymoustache

    —”An investigation of Yoo’s *professional* conduct as an attorney wouldn’t chill the exercise of *academic* freedom”—

    This.
    I’d even argue that an investigation is essential if only to exonerate the concept of academic freedom from the fucking filth practiced by the likes of Yoo.
    I can’t believe the asshole is hiding behind ‘academic freedom’ and people are buying it. If he gets away with it, I’m thinking of starting a project on investigating the physiological effects of waterboarding on humans and using Yoo as my primary experimental subject—I’m sure that will be covered by my academic freedom, no?

  5. 5
    LadyDay

    Excellent points, and if you need an apprentice on your project, Anonymoustache, I’ll volunteer.

  6. 6
    ginger

    Wait, though – there’s already a perfectly serviceable agency mandated to investigate his professional conduct, namely the source of his licensure, the Pennsylvania Bar. Why isn’t UCB submitting their opinions and evidence to a disbarment hearing? If he’s disbarred, there’s no “academic freedom” argument to be made – those who aren’t fit to practice law certainly shouldn’t be teaching it.

  7. 7
    veganrampage

    Wait-Lawyers have “professional responsibilities?”
    Holy wow.
    But man’o manischewitz Physio P, ya yourself a point there about Yoo’s professorship being relevant to like morals and stuff.
    Cuz that would be like appointing Dr. Swango as Head Chief Doctor in Charge of Physicians at the Mayo Clinic.
    If you aren’t familiar with the good doctor’s work, google, then go ga ga, as I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

  8. 8
    Hector B.

    Academic freedom did not keep Dr. Andrew C. Ivy employed by the University of Illinois, despite his lofty position, and despite decades of unblemished research. Not even sincere belief that Krebiozen cured cancer shielded him.

    http://the-aps.org/publications/tphys/legacy/1974/issue1/11.pdf

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