April 17, 2005
The making of an academic gadfly
People who follow the academic culture wars--which continue to rage despite reports that all those battles died away years ago--will know the name Mike Adams quite well. Left-leaning sorts may recognize Adams as one of those crazed thorns in academe's sides--a Christian conservative who regularly uses the media to trumpet the discriminatory failings of today's ideologically one-sided campuses. Right-leaning sorts will also recognize Adams as a gadfly, though less angrily; they may also recall that Adams' outspoken muckraking persona was forged in the crucible of his own unpleasant encounter with the campus thought police. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Adams offended a student by telling her what he thought of her practice of mass emailing members of the UNC community a missive that essentially excused the terrorists' actions as the inevitable result of U.S. exploitation; when the student complained, administrators at the UNC-Wilmington campus opened an investigation into Adams that included a plan to read his private email for incriminating (ideological?) evidence that would enable the student to sue him. Adams fought back, with the help of FIRE, and after being roundly shamed by the national media, UNC administrators backed down. Since then, Adams has been a prominent figure on the conservative opinion circuit; he's got a column at townhall.com, and he's even written a book entitled Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel. Today, the Raleigh News & Observer is running a long profile of Adams, explaining who he is, how he got to be that way, and what life is like for him as a professor who is now openly politically at odds with the vast majority of his colleagues. Well worth a read.
Thanks for the link to the profile, Erin. That was a very interesting interview. It is sometimes still stunning to me to read about the lengths those staunch defenders of the right to not be offended will go, the right to free speech and expression to one side (and, of course, I refer to the search of Prof. Adams' email). I'm glad people like Mike Adams are out there.
Interesting -- thanks for the link. I'm always amused to compare stories like this one to Leiter's personal foible of insisting that nothing like this really happens.
I for one appreciated that he acknowledged that conservatives whining about just being made "unconfortable" in the classroom is not an excuse to have hissies (though he does make a point often of identifying double standards where some people have a more of a right to be kept nice and comfy than others).
I have corresponded with the good professor a bit, and have grown to like him a great deal.
As to his somewhat bombastic style - unfortunately, the entrenched Left in academia is every bit as bad as anyone they disdain and one with a different view must be rather aggressive merely to survive in that realm (academic "diversity" being purely a matter of skin color).
I'm rather fond of the good professor as well, that is why I read him, he has truth hidden in the bombast that is worth the time. It is just that his blog and this one are next to each other on my links list and I clicked on Critical Mass by accident and that story was just so fitting.
Made for an interesting irony to start the day.
Please tell me that this is a two-week old April Fools joke. There are a number of thoughtful conservative bloggers out there, but Mike Adams is certainly not one of him. His schtick (such as it is) mainly involves hurling sophomoric insults at his many perceived enemies and making fun of correspondents' spelling errors. It's a tribute to how deep the right wing's bench is that this guy gets any attention at all.
Obviously, his campus overreacted to his post-9/11 exchange with that student, but that hardly makes him a hero. If anything, his continued employment in the face of ceaseless attacks against his employers is powerful evidence that the right-wingers (at least tenured ones) can pretty much do as they please, even on a supposedly PC campus.
That is as it should be, of course. I have enough confidence in my fellow citizens to think that if you offered them Ward Churchill and Mike Adams, they would reject both in favor of more thoughtful, creative voices. And as long as the First Amendment allows Adams, Churchill, and their ilk to be the canaries in the free speech coal mine, we're all better off.
But before anyone thinks about lauding Adams's bravery in the face of those nasty lefty professors, consider this: Is there any other job where you can publicly insult your bosses on a regular basis, urge consumers (students) to shop (enroll) elsewhere, and remain gainfully employed? And is there any institution other than academic tenure that would allow a person to write ideological tracts instead of publishing books and articles in one's own disciplinary specialty? (Or maybe Adams does both; I can't seem to find a listing of his academic publications either on his own web site or on the UNCW departmental site.)
Mike Adams is far from a "thorn is academe's sides". Rather, he is Exhibit A in any argument that seeks to refute David Horowitz's indictment of the academy.
Oh, and in case Dr. Adams, Ph.D., reads my comment, obviously I meant "not one of them" in the second sentence of the posting above.
As long as I'm back, let me add that I read Critical Mass because it is generally a very thoughtful and well-written conservative blog, far superior on its worst days to the best that Adams has ever written.
I read your screed and all I can say is that if you think Critical Mass is conservative, then your approach to Mr Adams makes sense. IMNSHO, Critical Mass goes about as far toward being fair and unbiased as any blog I have read and again IMNSHO should not be considered conservative or liberal. Erin does write well but I do think she is very fair in her postings.
I would like to hear what you think of as conservative blogs as opposed to liberal blogs. That would give us a measure of what to think of your posting re Mr Adams. As it stands, your diatribe makes me think that Adams is probably mild by comparison.
I suppose it all depends on what one means by "conservative blog". By the standards of, say, Little Green Footballs or Powerline, Critical Mass is not conservative. But the overall perspective here tends to be a bit right of center as it interprets the "culture wars" and the prevalence and power of the PC movement on campus. Nothing wrong with that, obviously; a blog without a perspective would hardly be worth reading.
And I said nothing about whether or not Dr. O'Connor is "fair" in her postings. There's nothing unfair or otherwise inappropriate about espousing a point of view. Indeed, that is, I believe, one of the central arguments of this blog.
Since you're curious, I would include Volokh and Sullivan as generally thoughtful conservative blogs; LGF and Powerline, less so. Among liberal blogs, Kos is usually pretty thoughtful, while Atrios tends to be more of a knee-jerk liberal.
Adams doesn't even rate.
(Kos aka "Screw'em" is thoughtful? Kerist. If memory serves, he's the guy who presumed that *any* conservative blogger was on the take unless proven otherwise. Consider Josh Marshall's TPM instead.)
As far as Adam's proving academic freedom, remember that he's tenured (and presumably made associate before his "transformation"). If he were non-unit faculty (more likely as an adjunct rather than a reserach prof), his security would be considerably worse, especially in his current field.
More importantly, consider those cases involving students (the most vulnerable of the lot) that are known to the public and have gone to court, with the Cal Poly case being the best one I can think of for now. Universities don't "creatively" charge students by converting "political offenses" into genuine disciplinary matters (e.g., Cal Poly's abuse of "disruption") while salivating over how the judge is going to cook their rocky mountain oysters. They *actually* think they can get away with it, even when the studnet they're about to railroad is taping the proceedings right in front of them.
Judging the state of academic freedom and "selective bias" cannot be done by looking at a single example of a loud *tenured* "gadfly" - no matter how public the profile or whatever the politics may be. You evaluate it by looking at more vulnerable and low-profile stock.
X, you are absolutely right; it's depressing that this guy has ended up being the go-to guy for the press on many worthwhile conservative issues (the Christian frat at UNC, etc.) when there are so many other people better qualified to speak on the issue.
People don't dislike Adams because he's a conservative -- this is North Carolina, and as a UNC-Wilmington employee with many friends who are students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels I can assure you that Republicans are hardly an endangered species on the campus. They dislike him because he's a pompous blowhard without the sense God gave a turnip.