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Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Theory and Praxis," God Help Me

I have been a little busy with local politics and university activities lately, for my sins. I won't give a rundown on events, but a quick Googling of "Tuscaloosa," "election," and such quaint terms as "wristbands," "beer," "limos," and "Machine" will give you an idea. I've offered my direct thoughts on these matters elsewhere, but, hell, I am an academic, and I wanted to take a moment out for an academic reflection.

I remain pretty attached to the classic view of academics as people who do academic things in academic ways for academic reasons. Although I think there is more room for different approaches within the broader universe of higher educational institutions than he does, I generally sympathize with Stanley Fish's injunction to save the world on your own time. In both good and bad ways, I'm more a "theory" guy than a "praxis" guy.

But in the past day or so, I've been moved to reflect that there is actually a through-line between what I write about as an academic and what I've been involved with lately on a local level. It's not one I thought about as I acted, but it's there. I write a lot about institutions and institutionalism and their relationship to the First Amendment. I argue that a number of institutions, including universities, play a vital infrastructural role in our social structure and in public discourse. I believe their autonomy is important and that, in a sense, they should be viewed as partners in the First Amendment and not just subjects, and given substantial deference by courts. But I have always argued that there is a tradeoff or obligation here. Those who champion institutional autonomy must also take personal responsibility for the proper stewardship of those institutions: participating in governance if they are inside them and monitoring these institutions if they are not, encouraging those institutions to do the right thing as institutions, and criticizing them when they do not. "Faculty governance," "academic freedom," "church autonomy," and other such phrases are not just slogans to wave against outside interference; they are first and foremost burdens and responsibilities for the members of those institutions, and for the public at large. My piece "Act III of the Ministerial Exception" talks a great deal about this; so does a forthcoming piece I've written on the Fisher affirmative action case. And so, especially, does my book "First Amendment Institutions."

Again, I didn't really think about this as a precursor to my public involvement in the past couple of days; I just got involved because I felt I had to. But I *am* an academic, and so it was interesting to me (if no one else) to reflect on the relationship between what I write as an academic and what I have been doing "on my own time" in recent days, and to share those reflections. If a couple of books get sold too, I'm okay with that. Best wishes to all.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 29, 2013 at 11:35 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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