Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2004/ 17 Elul 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Banishment by association | I began my 28th year in the academy last week. Over three decades, I have grown accustomed to minority status as a conservative in a world bursting at the seams with liberals, socialists, Marxists, and an occasional libertarian. Academic libertarians are not principled. They miss the 60s, Woodstock, and being high. Libertarians are their carpool to legalized drugs.

I've sat sullen and mute as academics maligned Reagan and both Bushes, managing to work in such bashings during presentations on remote issues such as whether holders in due course of negotiable time drafts are covered under the shipping through exception. If they even trotted near relevance, such as someone uttering "Halliburton," the flood gates opened. Being a subscriber to the "sticks and stones" school, I let their insults fly.

However, these annual tongue lashings at academic conferences did not satisfy their ideological thirst for censor. They needed raw tofu. Thus was born the scholarly group denunciation. The end of summer brings the bulk of academic meetings and resulting organizational resolutions that round up the usual suspects: corporations polluting the environment; corporations manufacturing weapons of mass destruction; mass gender reconstruction, and Republicans creating poverty and indiscriminately discriminating.

Some years ago, one of my professional organizations, the Academy of Legal Studies in Business (ALSB), adopted a resolution prohibiting it from holding its annual meeting in any city or state that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. When Congress passed its Defense of Marriage Act, I inquired whether all future meetings would be held in Canada. They sneered and met in Nashville, hotel deals in the steamy South in August trumping virtuous boycotts. While I pay an annual fee to cover my journal subscriptions, I can no longer be a member because the group's professed views run contra to the tenets of my faith.

The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE), a group to which I have belonged for nearly 10 years, presently debates whether it should become resolutionist. The driving force behind this resolve was "President Bush lied to take us into the war in Iraq, blah, blah, blah," Insert "Fahrenheit 9/11" here. Prof. Robert Lawry was chosen to make the case against such organizational posturing. His anti-anti-war resolution position was laughingly "not that there's anything wrong that" in describing those of us who might hold different views, "I am very much against the war in Iraq. I thought it morally unjustified in so many ways. No coherent 'just war' theory supported it. It made a mockery of the international community. Its factual premises were suspect or fabricated. I joined MoveOn early on . . . to denounce the Iraqui war. That said, I have also tried to listen respectfully to the opinions and argument of others, whose views are different from mine. I think they are wrong (horribly wrong, clearly wrong) yet these views are held by some folks who are friends of mine, and by some folks who are very bright and knowledgeable, and some of these folks are even both . . ." Even?

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For academics, they are amazingly biased. For seekers of truth, they are surely blind. Each year they become more brazen. Now they bring in blatantly political speakers with no connection to our field. At last week's ALSB meetings, a Canadian and former U.N. official, served as our plenary speaker. He characterized the United States as the drunken, run-around son, Paul Newman, in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and the Canadians as the good son who stays around and takes care of things at home. His analogy netted cheers from my colleagues. When he called Mr. Bush a liar and accused the United States of "strong-arming" other nations on Kyoto and the International Criminal Court, I walked out in protest. One member joined me.

Let's assume his topic was relevant to a group of academics who teach business law and business ethics. Our honor as scholars required having someone to present opposing views. Our role as academics demanded a speaker who cited something better than Richard Clark's discredited book, Maureen Dowd, and Tim Russert.

The American Bar Association (ABA), a frightening group even if it didn't have 40,000 lawyers, has proposed ethics rules that would prohibit judges from belonging to groups that discriminate against gays. Existing rules prohibit judges from holding memberships in organizations that discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

Such membership prohibitions seek to keep bigotry off the bench. But, bigotry applied to prevent bigotry? These rules and resolutions create an increasingly monolithic academy and judiciary. Those who hold religious and moral convictions can no longer be judges, and affiliation with academic organizations means either compromised values or moral schizophrenia. Under the ABA's proposal, Eagle Scouts and Boy Scout Troop leaders would be benched, as it were.

Academic organizations should foster scholarship and debate, not dictate the views of their members. These organizational edicts are antithetical to intellectual inquiry, discovery, and debate. Cookie-cutter judges net us a totalitarian judiciary. How ironic that these moral relativists embrace absolutes against those whose absolute values they condemn.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings