Bear's Two Bodies

The chair of my department wanted to talk with me last week. No, I am not going to lose my job. I do have tenure, and at the University of Chicago, we take academic freedom very seriously.

Likewise, as a member of the faculty, I am free to express my opinions publicly, even on a blog, as the statement that my chair sent out to the department on our various listserves sought to make clear.

In the chair's words:
Individual faculty members are entitled to express and publish their opinions on any public issues of concern to them, and when they do so they speak only for themselves. As a faculty body, the Department of History does not endorse or defend the political or personal views expressed by any of its members. Nor as a collectivity does it take critical positions on matters of individual faculty opinion, be they personal or political. Other faculty members are, of course, also free to express their own countering points of view, to criticize or repudiate publicly whatever they disagree with or find offensive, and when they do so they likewise speak only for themselves.
More broadly, the Department of History is committed both to fostering an inclusive environment for teaching, learning, and reasoned intellectual debate and to furthering the exercise of free speech. 
No, the problem that my chair wanted to talk with me about was not my speech per se.

It was how I labeled it in the public sphere.

On the one hand, there was my personal homepage. Although it is hosted on one of the University of Chicago servers, I curate this page myself (yay! I know how to tag in baby-html). It includes a list of my academic publications, a list of the courses I have taught at the University of Chicago with links to the syllabi for these courses, and a list of my best results as a fencer. Plus images of Ankerstein buildings for fun and my WHY, HOW, and WHAT for studying the Middle Ages. There is a link to this page from my faculty page on the departmental website, but my personal homepage is my own, not the department's. I include links to my blogs from this homepage. There are three blogs, but Fencing Bear at Prayer is the main one.

On the other hand, there was my blog (you're here already!). I describe myself in the banner for the blog as a "medievalist," but I do not say where I teach or make any assertions about my professional status other than that I am a "medievalist." Nor do I say anything at the top of the blog about my sex. (As I know from comments on Milo's Facebook page, some of his readers have assumed I am a man, which I take as a compliment. They can't tell my sex from my words.) There is a tab under my banner image for a link to my "Who am I?" page. In this page, I describe myself as "by day...a not-so-mild mannered associate professor of medieval European history," with a link to my personal homepage. But, again, I do not assert that this is the voice in which I write on the blog. Rather, the blog is where I express myself "by night," when I become the "ursine swordswoman" (get it?) in whose persona I write as "Fencing Bear."

Now, it is true that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the blog, you will find out more about me from my profile, where for starters you can learn I am a right-handed female (human being implied) with white hair and green eyes. There I note under Occupation that I am a "professor of medieval European history." You may also notice from the profile that I live in Chicago. And you may find the badge for a link to my Facebook page under "My Other Self," where, again, you will see that I live in Chicago. Nowhere on the blog itself do I make it a point to claim any particular institutional affiliation as my authority for the blog. I do not as such hide my affiliation--it is there in the links--but I do not assert it as warrant for my voice as a blogger.

But, of course, you all know now that I teach at the University of Chicago.

Which, my chair told me, is a problem. Again, not because I am a faculty member or because I have expressed my political, cultural, and religious opinions publicly. But because I had not (he said) made it clear on my personal homepage and blog which persona I was using when I spoke as Fencing Bear. (I have since, I hope, fixed my personal homepage to distinguish my two persons; this blog post is an effort to make the distinction clearer here.)

Which makes my head spin.

I told you on Thursday about the way in which the outside world has read my blog posts about Milo. Many are incredulous that I could be a tenured scholar to have written the things that I have in the lexicon and style that I have, complete with dirty words, analogies between Milo and Jesus, and incomplete sentence structures. (I think that is what one of the commentators on The Maroon article meant by how badly written my "Bully Culture" post was. I don't think they meant the Sightings piece; that one was edited for me and had only complete sentences and no expletives.) They seem to be saying that, as a scholar, I should write one way and one way only: politely with full academic-style references. Not provocatively, engagingly, wittily. So that, you know, somebody other than my academic colleagues might like to read what I write.

It gets worse. I have told you how my colleague Julie Orlemanski here at Chicago has insisted that Sightings should have provided a trigger warning on my piece, "How Milo Scares Students, and Faculty Even More." She also insisted that, even as an opinion piece, it should have come with fuller references, which is not the style that Sightings follows, being an online newsletter, but never mind. In her view, I should have given proper academic-style citations for my outrageous claims about what Milo said. I gave the primary sources--Milo's own talks and interviews--but apparently those don't count. According to Professor Orlemanski, I should have related all the hearsay about what he has said, like almost every other journalist who has written about him.

And then, according to others in my field, there is my use of medieval examples, analogies, and manuscript images. Oy, vey! How dare I, a trained medievalist, make light of the difficulties of our academic field by using manuscript images as illustrations for my blog posts--without giving you the full context for what the images really mean?! How dare I be so provocative as to suggest that a modern trickster like Milo might have similarities to other, more revered trickster figures like Francis--or Jesus?! How dare I speak slightingly of interpretive methodologies ::cough cough gender studies cough cough feminism:: which I personally dislike and find not just less than useful, but sinful?! How dare I--and here's the real issue--assert my political views so forcefully so that even my students will know what I think?!

Professor Orlemanski insists that, in publishing my piece, Sightings directly contributed to the "racist and sexist climate" already a feature of our university culture as evidenced in the Spring 2016 Climate Report, which rather suggests that the problem a) is not of my making, since the report predates my blogging for Milo and b) is not the fault of the very few conservatives on campus. (Only two fellow faculty members have declared themselves to me in the past couple weeks, so I am guessing there aren't many. I would love to be proved wrong! Write me!)

But, to be fair, that was not what the chair of my department was worried about.

My chair was worried that I not give the impression that I have only one self by linking the blog to the personal website and the personal website to the blog so as not to confuse my Professional Self with my Public Self, my scholarly self with my public role as Fencing Bear.

Which raises a number of interesting questions about what it means to have a self, never mind a public identity.

On the one hand, it does matter for Fencing Bear's blogging on behalf of Milo that I teach at the University of Chicago. That was the whole reason I started writing for him in the first place. My institution has come out more forcefully in support of freedom of speech than any other in the country this past year. If he was going to be taking this fight to campuses across the country, I wanted to be there with him, standing up for our students' right to hear opinions and arguments that they would not otherwise hear, so oppressive has the response from one of our two political poles become. (Do you doubt me? Ask Professor Allison Stanger how her neck feels.) So it would be disingenuous to insist that my Professional Self was not a feature of the reason that I took up the role that I did in my Public Self.

On the other hand, that my former students have expressed shock--nay, worse, disappointment--to learn that I hold the political, cultural, and religious views that I do suggests that I never talk about them in class, otherwise why would they be so surprised? They are shocked--shocked--because, of course, I have not talked about my views in the manner which my chair cautioned me I ought not and which colleagues across the country in my own field of medieval studies have somewhat gleefully--and maliciously--assumed I must, that is, so as to promote all of the -isms that they also assume Milo promotes on the basis of never having listened to him speak. Which rather suggests that I am fully capable of keeping my Public Self distinct from my Professional Self when I am speaking in my Professional Self as, well, Professor.

But why, after all, should it matter so much that I make it clear that I have these two Selves? Because Kant, of course. Okay, more precisely, what Immanuel Kant said in September 1784 about Enlightenment and what it means to be Enlightened.

You'd think that all of these confusions between Public Self and Professional Self were new, to hear my colleagues gasp at my temerity in writing my blog in a style and a voice distinct from the voice that I use in the classroom or my scholarship, but they aren't. They were just as alive and as fraught in Kant's day, when university professors (like Kant) were expected to maintain a particular confessional stance in the classroom, whatever they might believe about the Church or the State in their private lives. Except that, according to Kant, it was their private lives that were public and their professional role as teachers that was private, if you see what I mean. No? Okay, let's try it in Kant's words.
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment....
This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom--and the most innocent of all that may be called "freedom": freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: "Do not argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue--drill!" The tax collector: "Do not argue--pay!" The pastor: "Do not argue--believe!" Only one ruler in the world says: "Argue as much as you please, but obey!" We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one's reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind. 
On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By "public use of one's reason" I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call "private use" that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. 
In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community--a world society of citizens--(let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. 
A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions. This is nothing that could burden his conscience. For what he teaches in pursuance of his office as representative of the church, he represents as something which he is not free to teach as he sees it. He speaks as one who is employed to speak in the name and under the orders of another. He will say: "Our church teaches this or that; these are the proofs which it employs." Thus he will benefit his congregation as much as possible by presenting doctrines to which he may not subscribe with full conviction. He can commit himself to teach them because it is not completely impossible that they may contain hidden truth. In any event, he has found nothing in the doctrines that contradicts the heart of religion. For if he believed that such contradictions existed he would not be able to administer his office with a clear conscience. He would have to resign it. Therefore the use which a scholar makes of his reason before the congregation that employs him is only a private use, for no matter how sizable, this is only a domestic audience. In view of this he, as preacher, is not free and ought not to be free, since he is carrying out the orders of others. On the other hand, as the scholar who speaks to his own public (the world) through his writings, the minister in the public use of his reason enjoys unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak for himself. That the spiritual guardians of the people should themselves be treated as minors is an absurdity which would result in perpetuating absurdities.
We like to talk about academic freedom as if we, as scholars, are freest in the work that we do in our profession. But, as Kant suggests, the work that we do as professors--like the work that military officers or pastors or citizens do--is not, in fact, free insofar as we are bound to the requirements of our various offices. "But, wait!" I can hear you say. "Kant was not free as a professor because he was a functionary of the State. As Professor at the University of Königsberg, he was employed by the State to teach particular subjects. We, however, as American academics are not state employees, but free scholars."

Except, of course, many of "us" aren't. Technically, I am because I teach at the University of Chicago, which is a private institution. But all of us are employed one way or another in service of the State, whether we teach at public or private institutions, because all of us, as my colleagues will be quick to remind you whenever the government changes hands, are dependent directly or indirectly on money taken from our fellow citizens to support our work. Nor are we free--as my colleagues like Julie have been determined to remind me these past several weeks--to teach from within our status as members of our profession as if the things we teach are something we actually believe, if, that is, our belief, for example as Christians, goes against the orthodoxy of "objectivity" by which we, through peer review, enforce belief. It is only in our Public Selves, as Kant would put it, that we are in fact free to criticize what we see our colleagues doing. It is only in our Public Selves, in Kant's formulation, that we are fully free to exercise our own understanding.

And, therefore, according to Kant, it is only in our Public Selves that we are able to speak the truth.

I have said over and over again, much to the ridicule of many of my academic colleagues and the journalists who have gotten wind of my blog, that the reason I love (yes, love, in the Christian sense of profound charity) Milo is because he tells the truth. What I saw when I started watching his talks back in September was someone who was willing to step out of the private role of journalist--his professional self--and into the public role of scholar and truth-teller. He did so, as we have all seen, at considerable personal risk, both professionally--he has resigned his job at Breitbart--and physically. (You don't employ Navy Seals as body guards unless the death threats you are getting are to be taken fairly seriously.)

For this, as I tried to explain in the Sightings article, we in academia owe him a profound debt. Yes, there are conservative speakers out there (here's looking at you, Ben Shapiro) who may be better at debate (I say may--we are still waiting on the great Milo-Ben debate), but who of you who is not already conservative has heard of them? I am still meeting people to this day who have barely heard of Milo (I know, amazing, isn't it?), except for the rumors about what the mainstream media insists he has said. We are, as, again, I said in the Sightings article, experiencing a profound spiritual crisis in which all our most deeply held beliefs are being put to the test. But most of us seem content to live in what Kant called mankind's "self-imposed nonage," giving over to the guardians of our culture the governance of our understanding. Who at this point will have the courage to use his or her own understanding? Who will stand up against the crowd and say, "Dare to know!"?

Milo did. Inspired by Milo, Fencing Bear has tried to. A fool and a teddy bear take on the world. You gotta laugh.

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