Ansichten eines Informatikers

Redefreiheit II: Wissenschaft

26.11.2023 16:37

Professoren sollen schweigen müssen.

In den USA breitet sich die Auffassung aus, dass Professoren keine Lehr- und Redefreiheit mehr haben sollen. Aktuell preschen zwei Professoren der Arizona State University, Richard Amesbury and Catherine O’Donnel (soweit erkennbar beide Geisteswissenschaftler) vor und meinen, dass ein Professor keine Redefreiheit brauche, um seine Lehraufträge zu erfüllen, und Redefreiheit ja sowieso nur von „Rechten“ genutzt werde und nur denen nutze. Sie schreiben, immerhin im „Chronicle of higher education“: Dear Administrators: Enough With the Free-Speech Rhetoric! – It concedes too much to right-wing agendas.

Academics are losing the support of the public. We read it in newspapers, we see it in surveys, we feel it in our bones. There are many dimensions to this problem. One is the claim that colleges restrict speech and lack intellectual diversity. Earlier this fall, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression ranked colleges in terms of their commitment to free speech, praising a few but concluding that “the free-speech climate at even these campuses has room to improve.” The American Bar Association is considering a proposal that would require law schools to adopt written free-speech policies that “protect the rights of faculty, students, and staff to communicate ideas that may be controversial or unpopular.”

These concerns have attracted the attention of lawmakers here and abroad. The United Kingdom has just created a director for freedom of speech and academic freedom position under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. The newly appointed “free-speech tsar,” Arif Ahmed, a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, has promised to defend free speech “for all views and approaches — postcolonial theory as much as gender-critical feminism.” And recently, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report on “Freedom of Speech and Its Protection on College Campuses.” Citing the philosopher John Stuart Mill, the report begins with the claim that “a ‘marketplace of ideas’ is necessary to seek truth effectively” and concludes that “the First Amendment is under threat on college campuses across the nation, and the federal government must step in and provide protection for students and faculty.” Perhaps sensing a cultural opening, Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions has released the “Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry,” which alleges that “many of our nation’s colleges and universities are failing to maintain cultures of free and vigorous inquiry,” and calls on administrators to “allocate resources to promote intellectual diversity.”

Die übliche Geisteswissenschaftlermethode, erst einmal die Gründe der Gegenseite zu zitieren, um sie dann anzugreifen. Man bringt keine eigenen Gründe, sondern meint, dass man recht haben muss, indem man der Gegenseite vorwirft, falsch zu liegen, irgendwelche Zweifel schürt, in Frage stellt, oder wie die deutschen Dampfschwätzer es gerne nennen, „hinterfragen“, ohne selbst irgendetwas zu haben.

Whether and by whom free speech is under threat on campuses are hotly debated questions. Less commonly examined, however, are the assumptions that free speech is a cardinal virtue of higher education, and that colleges should aspire to a diversity of opinions. Are these goals in their own right, as college administrators often seem to think, or means for achieving something else altogether?

Und sie meinen nun, dass die Meinungsfreiheit der Wissenschaft abträglich wäre:

Our contention is that calls for greater freedom of speech on campuses, however well-intentioned, risk undermining colleges’ central purpose, namely, the production of expert knowledge and understanding, in the sense of disciplinarily warranted opinion. Expertise requires freedom of speech, but it is the result of a process of winnowing and refinement that is premised on the understanding that not all opinions are equally valid. Efforts to “democratize” opinion are antithetical to the role colleges play in educating the public and informing democratic debate. We urge administrators toward caution before uncritically endorsing calls for intellectual diversity in place of academic expertise.

Plötzlich also soll „Diversität“ nicht mehr gut sein, will man einheitliche Meinungen. Es gäbe zwar verschiedene Meinungen, aber die seien nicht alle gleich viel wert oder gleich gültig. Wie bei Orwell: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

The function of higher-ed institutions is not to mirror public opinion but to inform it. A diversity of opinion — “intellectual diversity” — isn’t itself the goal; rather, it is of value only insofar as it serves the goal of producing knowledge. On most unanswered questions, there is, at least initially, a range of plausible opinions, but answering questions requires the vetting of opinions. As some opinions are found wanting, the range of opinion deserving of continued consideration narrows. On some fundamental questions, a diversity of defensible doctrines — what the political philosopher John Rawls called “reasonable pluralism” — may persist, as it does, for instance, with respect to certain philosophical questions. All of these are worthy of analysis and debate. But colleges are under no obligation to balance warranted, credible, true opinions with unwarranted, discredited, false ones. The purpose of considering differing opinions about disputed questions is precisely to sort the wheat from the chaff. Only those opinions that survive scrutiny deserve to be treated as authoritative, and only until something better comes along.

Damit wird die Wissenschaft zur Propaganda, wenn sie nur noch „informieren“ soll, und man soll nur noch „warranted, credible, true opinions“ verbreiten und nicht mehr „unwarranted, discredited, false ones“. Was kritisch ist, denn in der Wissenschaft waren bisher alle großen Erkenntnisse zunächst für „unwarranted, discredited, false ones“ gehalten worden. Eine Denkweise, die man schon von Luther und der katholischen Kirche kannte.

Und was, das hatte ich ja schon von der Netzwerk-Recherche-Konferenz im NDR berichtet, jeweils richtig und was für falsch angesehen wird, das bestimmt dann tagesaktuell der linke Diskurs. Und dann heißt es, wie beim Klima, „es gibt einen wissenschaftlichen Konsens“ und „die überragende Mehrheit der Wissenschaftler“. Weil dort jeder rausfliegt, gar nicht erst angenommen wird oder kein Geld mehr bekommt, der nicht das sagt, was er sagen soll.

The truth-seeking function of colleges and the social value of scholarly expertise are, it would seem, reasonably well understood with respect to the natural sciences, medicine, engineering, and certain of the social sciences. Few would expect a biology department to hire a creationist or a geography department to host a flat-earther. In these contexts, a premium is placed on getting it right, in part because the social costs of getting it wrong are significant. Structural engineering is seldom described as a “marketplace of ideas.” Even in the sciences, though, expertise can be met with skepticism, and fields that adjoin the public sphere, and which thus might be expected to inform public opinion (what the sociologist Gil Eyal calls “regulatory sciences”) — climate science and epidemiology, for instance — are often framed by hostile parties as “political.” The effect of such a framing is to create the impression that they are “mere opinion,” which is another way of saying that, when it comes to these subjects, there is no such thing as expertise; all opinions are equal.

The humanities and the more-humanistic social sciences, perhaps because they frequently make claims about matters also hotly debated in the public sphere, and perhaps because their practitioners often argue for the reconsideration of texts, events, and social processes, have particularly struggled to resist being cast, even by college administrators, as simply a speaker’s corner in which every perspective should somehow be accommodated. Here, one is told, colleges should seek a diversity of opinion, and every opinion deserves to be heard. Accepting this role for the humanities and social sciences, however, means that their faculties risk losing the ability to judge any ideas (or proposed curricula or public programming) unworthy of sponsorship. Offering up the humanities and social sciences as the realm of free speech deprives those faculty of academic freedom and deprives the public of the faculty’s expertise.

Suggesting that faculty activities are different from student clubs, and that academic freedom is distinct from free speech, is not radical. Yet administrators choose again and again to accept a free-speech framing that undermines colleges’ central role of knowledge creation. Why? We academics tend to want to understand ourselves as egalitarians, and it can feel awkward — undemocratic, even — to claim authority based on expertise.

Nun könnte man argumentieren, dass die Position, die die da vertreten, beispielsweise Gender Studies als frei erfundenen Unfug verhindert hätte.

Es geht ihnen aber darum, dass Themen wie das Klima in der Öffentlichkeit auf Skepsis treffen und man sie als nur eine Meinung abtut, weshalb sie Meinungen an Universitäten einfach abschaffen wollen, um die Klimadoktrin nicht mehr als Meinung einstufen zu können, sondern eben eben als unumstößliche Wissenschaft. Und dann darf auch keiner mehr etwas dagegen sagen, denn das wäre dann ja „unrichtig“.

Man hält die Mainstream-Auffassung vom Klima-Wandel einfach für „knowledge creation“ und will jede Gegenrede, jede Kritik, jede abweichende Meinung, oder überhaupt Meinungen verbieten, damit es nicht mehr so aussieht, als ob an Universitäten Meinungen herrschen, sondern eine überragende unzweifelhafte Kunde verbreitet wird.

There is another reason that administrators accept — or at least, struggle openly to reject — a free-speech framing. Free-speech claims have opened the door to well-funded campaigns to inject particular points of view into college curriculums and teaching, even when these opinions have not undergone or survived the critical scrutiny that the college is meant to provide. In this way, the rhetoric of free speech is deployed to level opinion, reducing a regime of expertise to a freewheeling market of ideas, some of which enjoy the competitive advantage of intellectual venture capital. “Free speech” and “intellectual diversity” are the gates through which pours funding from donors, foundations, and state legislatures keen to align teaching and even research with ideological, often right-wing, agendas. It is no surprise that foundations like Koch and Bradley claim to be promoting the seemingly noble goal of “free speech.” Nor is it surprising that many colleges have rolled out the welcome mat, creating externally funded centers and schools that purport to provide “intellectual diversity.” Yet there has also been considerable unease, with some faculty, students, and public stakeholders deploring these centers and schools as beholden not to truth-seeking, but to the representation of particular interests.

Genau so, nämlich per free speech, arbeiten die linken Demagogen und Ideologen schon seit Jahrzehnten, eigentlich weite Teile der Geisteswissenschaften, in dem einfach willkürlich irgendetwas behauptet und reingedrückt wird. Sie beziehen es hier aber auf eine „right-wing agenda“.

Irgendwo gab es eine Statistik, dass ein riesiger, weit überragender Teil der Professoren an amerikanischen Universitäten links und nur ein verschwindend kleiner Teil konservativ ist, der sich nicht mehr durchsetzen kann. Und hier geht es nun darum, die letzten Reste zum Schweigen zu bringen.

Moreover, the simple fact that a unit is being funded because it ostensibly provides intellectual diversity means that its resources depend on its insistence that it does not fit into the college — and that the rest of the college is possessed of a fatal homogeneity. The need to demonstrate difference from the rest of the faculty and adherence to the views of funders makes it terribly difficult for these units to avoid conflicts of interest when participating in the processes through which scholars pursue truth and make decisions about curricula and programming. In short, although such efforts are frequently portrayed as making colleges democratically accountable to the wishes of the public and their elected representatives, the logic of intellectual diversity arguments is toward ever greater mistrust between colleges and the public they serve.

Sie meinen also, dass wenn irgendwo Forscher von außen finanziert werden, weil sie „intellectual diversity“ bieten, damit ja implizit schon gesagt sei, dass sie nicht in die Meinung des Colleges passen und der Rest des Colleges eine tödliche homogene Meinung hätte. Wer sich mit einer anderen Meinung darstellen kann, der schaffe ein Problem für den Rest der Fakultät. Und das würde zu Misstrauen der Öffentlichkeit und den Hochschulen führen. Deshalb brauche man die Einheitlichkeit der Sichtweise.

Es geht da also überhaupt nicht um die Frage, ob wissenschaftliche Thesen richtig oder falsch sind, ob sie wissenschaftlich sind, sondern darum, gegenüber der Öffentlichkeit einheitlich aufzutreten, um „glaubwürdig“ zu sein.

Richard Amesbury is a professor of religious studies and philosophy at Arizona State University.

Catherine O’Donnell is a professor of history at Arizona State University.

Noch Fragen?