Scheuer's Right to Be Radical
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 12:01
Michael Scheuer, an adjunct professor for the School of Foreign Service, recently doubled down on an argument that culminated in suggesting the assassination of President Obama, again raising questions about Scheuer’s continued role at Georgetown and the relationship between scholars with extreme views and the universities where they work.
Concerns about Scheuer’s violent and potentially dangerous comments are certainly warranted, but his employment with Georgetown should not be in question. While people should never be exempt from the consequences of their words, freedom of expression should be a revered facet of our intellectual culture. Due to their protections of free speech, American academic institutions have developed a well-deserved reputation as important laboratories for controversial scholarship — a reputation that should be strongly defended.
It is indisputable that violent rhetoric toward political officials, of which we have no shortage, has a long history. Scheuer’s comments have received media attention, and for good reason.
Nevertheless, it is not a university’s job to hire or fire professors based on the popularity of their opinions. Academic freedom has fostered essential scholarship that pushes the bounds of conventional opinion. That role is essential to maintaining an atmosphere of openness and honest investigation on the Hilltop and at universities around the country.
Although one might worry that the radical opinions of professors like Scheuer can compromise classroom neutrality, college students should be prepared to encounter opinions to which they have reasonable objections. Citizens in a democracy benefit from exposure to a diversity of opinions, and professors like Scheuer stand in a unique position to offer a perspective outside the mainstream.
American culture loves to seek retribution when a public persona violates communal norms. Thankfully for the quality of Georgetown’s academic principles, the administration has refrained from this tendency in Scheuer’s case as of yet. The university community should embrace Scheuer’s comments with an open mind and — if necessary — a strong dissent, because the case for academic freedom is always stronger than that of ideological conformity in the classroom.