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[What do you think of this view from Yale president, Mr. Angell, that appeared in the November, 1935 issue of the Yale Alumni Weekly?]

If university men are to claim freedom of teaching and freedom of thought and speech, they must in turn justify the claim not only by a decent respect for the opinions of mankind but also by sobriety of utterance on acutely controversial issues. They must be sensitive to the dictates of good sense and good taste.

[In his 1951 book, God & Man at Yale, William F. Buckley makes it abundantly clear that he regards many of the appeals to “academic freedom” as so much cant. The excerpt below from the chapter Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” is typical of the kind of argument he uses to make his case. Do you think it has merit?]

But the English teacher, the man of letters [unlike the mathematician], is dealing with issues that are by no means this neat. He deals, for the most part, in values. Some scholars, for example, think Gertrude Stein is a momentous literary figure, while others believe her to be a charlatan. I am confident that the scholar who holds her in esteem and the scholar who does not could both make their way into Yale. Does this mean that Yale, true to the strictures of academic freedom, is unconcerned about the teacher’s values?

The answer is: only if not pushed too far. What about the scholar who thinks that Joyce Kilmer is a good poet? The cynic will find in that last sentence a paradox. He will say that one cannot be both a scholar and an admirer of Joyce Kilmer. But by definition, since we are dealing in values, this clearly will not do. Stranger things have happened than a scholar’s convincing himself that Joyce Kilmer is an admirable poet. Time was when only one critic of distinction believed that Johann Sebastian Bach composed good music. Eventually his opinion won out. Again, stranger things have happened than a possible proliferation of Kilmer enthusiasts. And so what the cynic really means is that the scholar shows poor judgment when he speaks well of Kilmer’s verse.

No one will question the fact that the scholar who has gone on record as admiring the output of Joyce Kilmer would never get an appointment at Yale. . . In justification, the department head would no doubt point out that the textbook used in the basic classes in English at Yale uses a poem by Joyce Kilmer to illustrate everything that is bad about bad poetry, and that an English teacher who thinks Kilmer a good poet could only bring chaos to that department. . . In short, I maintain that sonorous pretensions notwithstanding, Yale (and my guess is most other colleges and universities) does subscribe to an orthodoxy: there are limits within which its faculty members must keep their opinions if they wish to be “tolerated.”

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