AHA Speech Code Post-Mortem
Ralph Luker at Cliopatria has an excellent summary of our unsuccessful fight to get the AHA to oppose speech codes that restrict academic freedom. I'll have more to add, either later today or tomorrow:
To put it bluntly, our asses were thoroughly kicked, not just once but twice. We sought an endorsement by Historians Against the War and lost by a vote of 15 to 4. There, I argued that, if we are strong enough to be free, we must be strong enough to endure offensive speech, but a largely unthinking soft Left majority prevailed because"I'm against speech codes, but they don't inhibit opposition to the war." HAW made sure that its majority was notified when the issue arose in the AHA business meeting. There I reminded those in attendance that, despite our specific request, David Montgomery's OAH Committee on Academic Freedom had refused to address the issue of speech codes. That irritates me personally because the issue was brought to their attention and two of that committee's four members have been friends of mine for 30 and 40 years.
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The only really bright spot was that Jonathan Rose, a distinguished historian at Drew University, offered an eloquent and impassioned plea in support of our position. Lest you forget – and dismiss our position as a reactionary camel's nose under the tent – I'd remind you that Jonathan Rose is the author of the multiple prize-winning The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. When our substitute resolution lost on a voice vote, Professor Rose walked out of the meeting. In a subsequent e-mail to me, he wrote:"I could no longer stand the fog of stupidity in the room and the obvious dishonesty of our opponents (‘Of course I oppose speech codes -- but...')." You read that correctly. Those who voted against the substitute resolution in HAW"because speech codes don't inhibit opposition to the war" came to the AHA business meeting to vote against the substitute motion"because speech codes are a complicated issue, not a matter of pressing concern." But I heard a couple of old war horses on the Left, who have no record in favor of free speech, say"Of course, I oppose speech codes, but ...." I, for one, intend to hold their bloody hooves to the fire on their commitment to the first part of that statement. We could have brought the meeting to a halt by persisting in pointing out that there was no quorum present, but decided that it was more important to resolve against David Horowitz's"Academic Bill of Rights." Next year, supporters of speech codes had better get at least 100 members of the AHA to its business meeting.