Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 13th General Conference of the National Association of Scholars in Washington, D.C. Among the highlights of the conference was a debate between AAUP President Cary Nelson and NAS President Peter Wood. During the Q & A some of the comments by Nelson made me thankful that I am now a member of the NAS and that I have never been a member of the AAUP.
Cary Nelson claims the AAUP shares many of the same goals as the NAS including an atmosphere conducive to open debate on our college campuses. He also claims the AAUP is opposed to speech codes. When people question the AAUP’s opposition to speech codes they often cite their lack of response to many cases, which are instead taken up by the FIRE, a non-partisan civil liberties group based in Philadelphia.
Nelson responds to such criticisms, in part, by saying the AAUP is not as well-equipped as FIRE is to offer a quick response to such controversies. Nelson implies that the FIRE takes a lot of cases the AAUP would take were it not beaten to the punch. I disagree. I believe the AAUP is simply an unprincipled organization that ignores campus controversies because its victims are generally conservatives.
That conclusion is based on years of bad experiences with the AAUP’s members – beginning with my first major free speech controversy after 911. Some readers may remember that the controversy began when a student charged me with libel for simply implying that her mass email blaming 911 on America was “bigoted,” “unintelligent,” and “immature.”
When the university announced that it would be necessary to read my private emails in search of evidence for this bogus libel charge I turned to the FIRE for help. No member of the AAUP contacted me about the case until one year after the incident. Curiously, when the AAUP member did finally comment on the case he claimed falsely (in an email to the entire faculty) that the university did not read my private email correspondence as I had claimed. He specifically accused the FIRE of circulating a false press release.
After the university counsel corrected the completely misinformed AAUP member he was forced to apologize. I did not hear him comment on another free speech case for over a year. When he did, he completely mangled the facts of that case, too.