How is academic freedom like Catholicism? Well, if you are a left-wing academic, the answer is obvious: Both can be used like a club on people you don't like.
Consider the current contretemps over Boston College's invitation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be this year's commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. Rice, the first black woman to be secretary of state, was a distinguished professor of political science at Stanford University, where she received the top awards for teaching. Later, she was Stanford's provost. Her CV is precisely the sort of thing that makes her a no-brainer to receive an honorary degree and be a commencement speaker. Certainly she is more deserving than such past Boston College honorary-degree recipients as Barbara Bush and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Don't tell that to the faculty at B.C. In a letter distributed by the heads of the Catholic school's theology department and signed by about 200 faculty members, we are informed that, "On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice's approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with Boston College's commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university's work." The letter, titled "Condoleezza Rice Does Not Deserve a Boston College Honorary Degree," cherry-picks quotes from Pope John Paul II to argue that Rice's positions should disqualify her as a commencement speaker.
One can respect honest disagreement over the Bush administration's foreign policy. But this high-minded rhetoric is a bit hard to take considering that B.C. is fairly selective about where it will draw such lines. For example, Mary Daly was for decades a distinguished professor at Boston College, despite the fact that she exceeds even the right-wing parody of a left-wing academic. She refused to teach men. Her writings include such relentlessly anti-Catholic manifestos as "The Church and the Second Sex" and "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation." (Although my favorite title is "Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage.")
Daly left the school in 1999, when she was told that she could no longer discriminatorily bar men from all of her classes. Rather than teach men, she chose to quit. But until then, Daly was free to call for the abolition of the Catholic Church and other "patriarchal religions" in favor of her own "post-Christian" feminist religion. Apparently, teaching students to reject Catholicism entirely is tolerable in a Catholic school, but Catholicism is useful in a pinch when it can be used to shun villains like Rice. "This is the only time these people have cited Pope John Paul II on anything," the Rev. Paul McNellis, an adjunct professor in the B.C. philosophy department, told the Boston Globe.
And that's how Catholicism and academic freedom are alike. The Rice controversy is notable because of her stature, but the attitude behind it is ubiquitous. Instead of Catholicism, however, most faculties invoke the hoary doctrine of academic freedom to defend speech they like - but only speech they like. Every week there are stories of left-wing professors clamping down on free speech and inquiry when it's from a non-leftist perspective.
Last year, a student at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., was kicked out of the school's education program for arguing that corporal punishment - i.e. spanking and the like - could be useful in classrooms. Subsequently, a professor who supported the student's academic freedom was fired from his position as a faculty advisor to the school paper. A professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania was vilified for parodying "The Vagina Monologues," and feminist faculty tore down his playbill parodying the left-wing gospel.
When a professor at Columbia University proclaimed that he hoped America suffer from a "million Mogadishus" - referring to the battle made famous by "Black Hawk Down" - and declared that "the only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," he was immediately defended by the left on grounds of academic freedom. When Ward Churchill, that hate-filled hack who looks like a loiterer at a bus station but is actually a professor at the University of Colorado, called victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and sputtered other moral idiocies and intellectual absurdities, he overnight become a poster boy for academic freedom.
But when former Harvard President Lawrence Summers suggested in a faculty-only seminar that men and women might have, at the statistical margins, cognitive differences, he was flayed alive and forced to apologize over and over again as he wrote ever-bigger checks to placate the mob denouncing him.
Whether the cudgel is racism, sexism, academic freedom or even Catholicism, the intent is the same: Voices the left likes are privileged on America's campuses. Voices the left dislikes are to be smashed, with whatever tool is available.