We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Indeed, it is this failure--a failure to check the colonization of intellectual life by politics--that stands behind and fuels the degradation of liberal education. The issue is not so much--or not only--the presence of bad politics as the absence of non-politics in the intellectual life of the university.
Let me mention a couple of distinctions that I think we have lost sight of in recent years. The first is the distinction between academic freedom and free speech. Every time some wacko like Ward Churchill comes along shouting about the evils of American capitalism and the beneficence of Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Native American Indians, or whoever, his defenders rally round and say, "Well, I may not like what he says, but he is simply exercising his right of free speech."
I say, No he is not. He is violating his obligation as a teacher to eschew politics and impart knowledge. There is an important distinction between the right of free speech--our rights as citizens in a free society to peaceful political dissent--and academic freedom, the more limited privilege accorded to suitably enfranchised members of a college or university to to pursue knowledge. As the sociologist Edward Shils once noted, academic freedom is "the freedom to seek and transmit the truth." It does not, Shils insisted, "extend to the conduct of political propaganda in teaching." In short, academic freedom is the freedom to do academic things: for teachers "to teach the truth as they see it on the basis of prolonged and intensive study, to discuss their ideas freely with their colleagues, to publish the truth as they have arrived at it by systematic methodical research."
Bottom line: Academic freedom is not the same thing as free speech. It is a more limited freedom, designed to nurture intellectual integrity and to protect those engaged in intellectual inquiry from the intrusion of partisan passions. The very limitation of academic freedom is part of its strength. By excluding the political, it makes room for the pursuit of truth.