In my last column, I pointed out that the nationalist and “cultural capital” function of literature classes are in decline. With their tenure lines evaporating, many literature faculty are grasping at the claim that they teach “reading” and “thinking.”

By this they generally mean the training of managers and professionals in a degraded version of New Critical reading practices–spotting (or producing) ambiguity, complexity, and irony. For those who care about this sort of thing, this is really a version of a much older claim, that they teach rhetoric.

Combined with the right higher-ed brand names, the capacity to produce ambiguity and complexity in the tax code or the National Labor-Relations Act can get sold to a corporate law firm for a million dollars a year.

Of course that requires further training in the ability to live with oneself while eating meals that cost more than a retail worker’s monthly pay. That’s where a corresponding ethical agility–learned in, say, philosophy or theology classes–comes in handy.

The crowing by the University of Colorado administration after the latest twist in the Churchill case illustrates this claim pretty well. Provost Phil DiStefano seems to have huffed a few lines of Hogwarts Ambiguity Powder to keep a straight face while dubbing CU’s trampling on Churchill’s academic freedom, subversion of faculty process and transparent political thuggery “a victory for faculty governance.”

It’s true that saying stuff like that comes with a price for administrators–obviously DiStefano’s abuse of Ambiguity Powder has caused his sense of irony to collapse–but he’ll be amply rewarded for this workplace injury. After years as the admin’s point man on the Churchill case, he’ll soon step into the chancellor’s job as the result of a search process that produced him as the “sole finalist.”

DiStefano couldn’t have gotten his broomstick off the ground, though, without the teamwork of loyal CU alum Judge Larry J. Naves. The latter waved his wand of Dumbledorean Complexity over the jury’s verdict in order to vacate it, claiming that upon further reflection–you know, after the jury came up with a verdict he didn’t like–he believed that the Colorado regents were immune from lawsuits!

Yessir, Naves says, the Regents are immune from legal liability because–here’s the creative part–he thinks they’re kinda like judges, a “quasi-judicial body.” They can’t be sued for decisions taken in relation to their jobs. (Unlike faculty at public institutions, who a growing web of hostile law says can be retaliated against for disagreeing with the thugs and political hacks who boss them.)

Now, the law doesn’t actually come out and say the Regents are immune–that’d be too pedestrian and straightforward. You need a good Reader and Thinker to see that.

As RaceToTheBottom points out, Naves could have spotted this analogy of Regents to judges, and the corresponding immunity from lawsuits before the trial, and spared Churchill the expense of a month-long hearing. But before the trial–not knowing its inconvenient result–Naves didn’t need this clever (and false) analogy.

Look for this stinker to be reversed on appeal. And if it isn’t–whoa, nelly. Strap on for a wild ride. Increasingly the Law says administrations have academic freedom–and you don’t.

Here’s your homework assignment for the day. Ask yourself what “academic freedom for administrators” means.






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