Wednesday, April 25, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 459 - King Michael & Sedition

April 25, 2007, 11:00 a.m.

King Michael and Sedition

As President Reagan famously once said in another context, "There you go again."

In Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007, I discussed the advantages to the members of the Board of Regents -- not to mention their educational institutions -- of their focusing upon, and adopting, some written set of understandings regarding the governance model under which they operate. Yesterday, by way of illustration of the problem, I commented upon the recent statement from their president regarding the Regents' review of security procedures at the Iowa universities -- prompted by his navigating with the aid of a rear view mirror focused on the events at Virginia Tech. Nicholas Johnson, "Virginia Tech and Iowa Regents' Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 458 - Regents' Governance & VT," April 24, 2007.

I'm not going to repeat everything from those two blog entries, but if you've read and reflected upon them you will see the similarity in the analysis needed regarding the latest Regents' foray into the area of ill-considered, disrespectful, dangerous, disadvantageous and counter-productive micro-managing.

What I would like to focus on this time, however, is the substance.

To set the stage, consider these excerpts from Diane Heldt, "Proposal Concerns Professors; Policy Change Could Limit Their Ability to Speak as Citizens," The Gazette, April 25, 2007, p.3B:

A potential change to the state Board of Regents’ academic freedom policy for faculty of the state universities concerns some University of Iowa professors. Steve Collins, a UI engineering professor, said the regents will discuss the proposed change at a meeting Tuesday [May 1] in Iowa City. Collins and several other professors expressed concern during a Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday.

Collins takes issue with a sentence that says in part that faculty ‘‘should at all times be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint, show respect for the opinions of others’’ when they speak or write as private citizens.

Collins said he agrees with those sentiments, but it’s a problem when it becomes a regents mandate.

‘‘It seems to me this language would impose limitations on a faculty member’s ability to speak as a private citizen,’’ he said.
And see, Brian Morelli, "Faculty express concerns over academic policy; Proposed plan might 'stifle' public criticism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 25, 2007:

"I have no idea where this came from," Collins said of the impetus for the policy. "I would assume they want this in there, the board office or the board president."

Collins objected to what he said was language that deals in absolutes.

"I think it is the case that faculty members influence the opinions of others as a part of the university. But that doesn't call for a regential policy," Collins said. "It is important to the health of the university to feel free to speak on academic matters and as a private citizen."

Outgoing Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said he just found out about it, and that because of shared governance agreements and because it deals with faculty, faculty should have been involved in discussions about the policy.

"The concern is that in the hands of the wrong people this would be used to stifle public criticism," Kurtz said.
Like Steve Collins I, too, "have no idea where this came from." An examination of the Regents' Web site revealed nothing (as of 8:30 this morning) with regard to the agenda for the forthcoming meeting, an exchange of emails, or "news."

The Board, as a Board, should create and control its own agenda. If the proposed agenda item was the work of Gartner, it could be yet one more example of the Board's president acting as if he was the Board. Even if the president is totally unaware the item is to be on the agenda, it is unlikely anyone else would put an item on an agenda knowing of his strong opposition. And if the Board has turned over the preparation of their agenda to others, and all of them are unaware of their own agenda until it is presented to them, then we have yet another goverance issue of considerable significance.

It appears that the new Regents' "Academic Freedom" policy comes at least in part from the American Association of University Professors policies. (See, "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure With 1970 Interpretive Comments," in AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, 9th ed., 2001, ("Academic Freedom," (c), p. 4. And see "1970 Interpretive Comments," 4, p. 6.)

I find that source irrelevant to my analysis.

(1) It is, in my view, a poorly conceived and drafted policy regardless of who wrote it.

(2) There's all the difference in the world between hortatory language from one's own professional group and a formal Regents' policy that presumably carries some significant sanctions -- the least of which, in the case of this policy, is the intimidation and self-censorship it is bound to produce.

Clearly, this is insulting and disrespectful of the faculty. It's like a kindergarten teacher saying, "Now you children play nicely with each other." Moreover, I suspect similar sentiments are already contained in various statements of ethics, policy, sexual harassment, respect for diversity, and so forth.

Beyond that, to say "that faculty 'should at all times be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint, show respect for the opinions of others' when they speak or write as private citizens" is so vague as to be meaningless.

But "meaningless" is not "weak" -- quite the opposite. What's the implied "or else"? Or else what? It's like the FCC threatening million-dollar fines if broadcasters engage in "indecency." It's a much more intimidating standard, one much more effective in producing self-censorship by citizens, than if the Board were to have said, for example, "When referring to the Governor or members of the Board of Regents of the State of Iowa university faculty members who do not on every occasion speak in terms of enthusiastic adulation and glowing praise are subject to being fired."

We once had such standards in this country. It was called the Alien and Sedition Act. We got it from the Brits. So why is the title on this blog entry, "King Michael and Sedition"?

Wikipedia's entry on "Seditious Libel," which is an adequate source for our purposes at the moment, has this to say:

Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words . . .: if the statement is in writing . . . it is seditious libel. A statement is seditious if it "brings into hatred or contempt" the Queen or her heirs, or the government and constitution, or either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice, . . . or if it promotes discontent among or hostility between British subjects. A person is only guilty of the offence if they intend any of the above outcomes. Proving that the statement is true is not a defence. It is punishable with life imprisonment.

The crime of seditious libel was defined and established in England during the 1606 case "De Libellis Famosis" by the Star Chamber. The case defined seditious libel as criticism of public persons, the government, or King.

The phrase "seditious libel" and "blasphemous libel" were used interchangeably at that time, because of the strong connections between church and state. However, blasphemy is now a separate offence.

The [U.S.] Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 broke with the common law precedent of the time, in that it allowed for truth as a defence, though Judges were not consistent in their rulings.
I do hope that this policy review, and draft, was not the work of Michael Gartner, and that he will not support it if it comes before the Board. It would indeed be a rather odd throwback to the 17th Century to come from a Regents' president once known for his ferocious defense of the First Amendment rights of the media and public.

UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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