I’ve made no secret of my fondness for the work of NR and The New Criterion‘s Jay Nordlinger. We’ve exchanged e-mails on a couple of occasions, most recently last week.
The subject last week was the value of tenure. Jay commented on some Western China scholars who told truths about that country that made the autocrats uncomfortable. Said autocrats kicked the scholars out of the country, and have done whatever they could to make these academics’ professional lives more difficult. But as Nordlinger noted, one of the benefits of tenure is that it permits the holder to call things as he sees them — and further, that an academic who holds tenure but holds back in order to protect things like scholarly access is committing a grave betrayal:
Not long ago, [Arthur] Waldron agreed to speak on Japanese television about “Confucius Institutes” — language-and-culture centers set up all over the world by the PRC. (We may address that topic another day.) By speaking about them — speaking against them — Waldron knew he was risking a ban from China. But “the way I look at it is this,” he told me: “If your university has gone to the trouble of building an endowment so that you don’t have to fight in the marketplace for a living, but are guaranteed rice for life in return for what you think, you should say what you think. That’s part of the deal.”
When another scholar read that — it’s in my piece — he said, “This makes me realize that to accept academic tenure and then not tell the truth as you see it ought to be viewed as corruption.”
I agreed, and we exchanged a couple of notes. I figured that was the end of it.
However, this morning, I was looking at Jay’s Impromptus for the day, and recognized a familiar (if unnamed) voice:
I thought you might like this: A reader of ours, in a letter to me, called himself “a libertarian man of the Right.” He then explained, “I want people to freely choose things that would make Russell Kirk happy.”
Birthday gifts sometimes take surprising forms.