The freedom to do their jobs

David Bromwich interviewed by Len Gutkin. At one point, Bromwich says:

I know of faculty, both here and at other universities, who are major personalities on Twitter. They tweet links to articles, and they tweet instant reactions, off the cuff, sometimes witty and sometimes not. And there is some demagoguing. On occasion, they are compelled by an inward or outward pressure to delete their tweets.

To me, this simply goes against the vocation of being a scholar. Let’s not be too high and mighty, but still — we are understood to be people who deliberate, who take some time to get at what we believe to be the truth. The whole ethic of snap reactions goes against that. In the long run, it’s going to reduce the prestige of professors. It makes us more like everyone else, which a lot of academics have wanted to be all along. That’s part of the problem — the idea that we should try to erase the distinctions that separate university life, academic life, from society.

Bromwich’s views were taken (in Twitter, of course) as antidemocratic, etc. But I think these criticisms miss Bromwich’s larger point. I agree with Gutkin’s later remark:

But academics are not like everyone else — or at any rate, academe is not like the other professions. The conviction that scholarship is in some sense an autonomous sphere is probably not one that scholars can do without, at least not if they want to retain the foundational privileges of academic freedom and the tenure system. Those institutions are oriented toward a vocational ideal of the academy; they do not exist in other professions, because they would make no sense there. Corporate lawyers might be rich, but they are bound by golden handcuffs. Dentists don’t have dental freedom. To dissent from Bromwich’s insistence that academic life is different from other kinds of professional life — to imagine that that conviction is simple snobbery — is to abandon academic freedom in any of its senses. (…) When Bromwich refers to the threatened “prestige of professors,” his concern is not that they won’t be accepted to the country club. His concern, precisely, is that they won’t continue to be granted, by the wider society, the freedom to do their jobs.