bork (v) /ˈbɔːk/: “To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.”
By all accounts, Robert Bork was a brilliant legal mind with a resume to match. He served as a Yale Law School professor, was Solicitor General, served as the Acting Attorney General, and was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But that didn’t stop his nomination from being swatted away by Democrats who couldn’t stand the thought of another originalist on the Supreme Court.
Prior to Bork the Senate approached Supreme Court nominations with a singular standard: Was the candidate qualified? Bork was, but that didn’t stop a vicious character assassination campaign that plumbed the depths of political depravity. They claimed he supported a poll tax, opposed equal rights for black Americans, supported sterilization, none of which was true, and they even released his video rental records in an attempt to show he liked pornography (his choices were instead utterly harmless, unless you think ‘A Day at the Races’ is “racy”).
The unfortunate legacy of the borking of Bork is not just that a brilliant jurist was denied their chance to leave a deep imprint on the law of this country, but that judges are now incentivized to not be candid, specific, or even profound, during their confirmation hearings. Bland is best.
How sad that we now have a corollary principle in academia.
McAdamsed (v): “To be penalized or punished by liberal university administrators for holding, and especially expressing, views contrary to those deemed mainstream.”
John McAdams has been a tenured political science professor at the University of Marquette since 1981. in fall of 2014, Adams was suspended by university administrators for criticizing a graduate teaching assistant’s handling of a student who questioned why her ethics course wouldn’t dig into the issue of same sex marriage. Professor Howard Kaine explains the issue in an article for the Martin Center:
After class, the student had complained that the topic of gay marriage, brought up briefly by another student in class, had been too summarily dismissed. He suggested that there were valid arguments against gay marriage that should be considered in an ethics class.
Ms. Abbate replied that homophobic views are not welcome in class because gay students might be offended if the issue was discussed, and that he could withdraw from the course if he wished.
He did withdraw. McAdams, in his blog, defending the rights of the student, commented that the instructor:
“was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed “offensive” and need to be shut up… In the politically correct world of academia, one is supposed to assume that all victim groups think the same way as leftist professors. Groups not favored by leftist professors, of course, can be freely attacked, and their views (or supposed views) ridiculed.”
Professor McAdams was summarily suspended, his Spring classes were cancelled, and he was banned from stepping foot on campus for two semesters. Then, in an odd twist, the university summarily revoked Adams’ tenure and issued him a permanent suspension for failing to apologize to his colleague. Currently, the issue is tied up in the courts after McAdams filed suit against the university for breach of contract.
The issue is worrisome for academics of all ideological stripes for several reasons. First, a college should not be able to punish a professor for disagreeing with the administration’s choice of punishment. Second, it suggests that administrators have the “ultimate authority to make the final disciplinary decision,” which means they can be as arbitrary and capricious as they’d like. And third, it allows for the possibility that campuses could turn into places where not just expressions of ideology are forbidden, but the encouragement of debate is chilled.
None of those are desirable outcomes. And given that Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 11 to 1 in academia, conservatives have special reason to fear. But in reality, everyone should be fearful, not that certain conservative ideals aren’t being actively discussed on college campuses, but that academic freedom, and with it, intellectual curiosity, is being snuffed out. As a result, our brightest lights will inevitably be dimmed.