Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Flanigan: Diminished Expectations

I'm still taking in the Tom Flanagan's comments about assassinating Julian Assange. What amazed me about the comments was how casual and glib they were - as if another man's sub-judicial, illegal killing was academic. The snicker chilled me.

He apologized the next day for his glibness and said the right things about the rule of law, due process and so on, but these things sometimes take on a life of their own, even after apologies.

There are some angry people out there on social media and I believe their anger is justified. It makes me happy to know this isn't going away quietly. But what should the consequences be? There are a number of people who would have the University of Calgary fire Dr. Flanagan. Others propose censure or reprimand. (See Kris Kotarski's Facebook group here, which proposes censure.)

I doubt requests to fire will succeed for a number of reasons. Among them, academic freedom (see screen shot), his tenure, that the comments were not made as part of his academic duties, and that political correctness will likely prevail at the University.

Nonetheless I think the University should hear from its Students and alumni on this issue. Also, the general public. A University's values should reflect the community, which is generally open minded and progressive.

Right wing academics and culture warriors have been peddling the idea for years that universities are just full of corrupt lefties ruining the minds of young people, stifling free discussion, and are a general menace to society.

Yet when University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill published a somewhat inflammatory explanation of the 9-11 attacks, the University accused him of academic misconduct and went to great lengths to have him fired. This kind of thing was quite common in the Bush era.

I wonder how establishment Calgary would handle an academic going on the CBC and glibly suggesting the Pope be assassinated because of his birth control policies in Africa. I think that would set off a nuclear bomb of pious outrage.

The end result of this incident is more diminished expectations about public discourse. And that's something that Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform movement kept warning us about, which is also full of fabulously rich irony.

Update: Dec 2, 2010, 11:50 am MST - change some wording for clarity.
Update: Dec 2, 2010, 15:00 pm MST - grammar edits.
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