Academic Tenure Is Worth Fighting For (Intellectual Property and the Iraq War)

Lecturer censored in Spanish University (UPV) for defending P2P networks,” by Jorge Cortell, Bitacora (Blog) de Jorge Cortell, 20 May 2005, http://homepage.mac.com/jorgecortell/blogwavestudio/LH20041209105106/LHA20050520091532/index.html (from Slashdot).

Earlier, I fisked Victor Hansons’ attack on tenure. While Hanson is right that many academics are politically biased, tenure is too important to give up. Without a healthy system of tenure academics can easily be intimidated by narrow interests against pursuing vital research.

For example, in Spain a lecturer was dismissed for discussing peer-to-peer computer networks.


Jorge Cortell, Dismissed Lecturer

This what happened to me when trying to defend the legal use of P2P networks in Spain.

I have been teaching “Intellectual Property” (although I dislike the term) among other subjects at a Masters Degree in the Polytechnic University of Valencia UPV (Spain) for over 5 years. Two weeks ago I was scheduled (invited by the ETSIA Student Union and Linux Users’ Group for the celebration of “Culture Week”) to give a conference in one of the university’s buildings. During that conference I was to analyze the legal use and benefits of the P2P networks, even when dealing with copyrighted works (according to the Spanish Intellectual Property Law, Private Copy provision, and many research papers, books and court rulings). I was even going to use the network to “prove” that it was legal, since members of the Collecting Society “SGAE” had appeared on TV and newspapers saying that “P2P networks are ilegal” (sic) just like that, and to that extent I even contacted SGAE, National Police, and the Attorney General in advance to inform them about it.

The day before the conference, the Dean (pressured by the Spanish Recording Industry Association “Promusicae” as I found out later, and he recognized himself in a quote to the national newspaper El Pais, and even the Motion Picture Association of America, as another newspaper quotes) tried to stop it by denying permission to use the scheduled venue. So I scheduled a second one, and that was denied again. And a third time. Finally I gave the conference on the university cafeteria, for 5 hours, in front of 150 people.

Later on that day (May 4th, I will never forget), I received a call from the Director of the Masters Degree Program where I was teaching telling me that the Dean had called and had asked him to “make sure I did not teach there again”, and on a second call saying “it’s your choice, but also your responsibility”.

The Director called me and first asked me to remove any link to the university from my website, and also to “hide” the fact that I was teaching there. Then he told me about the pressures and threats he and the Program received (to be subjected to software licenses inspection, copyright violations inspections, or anything that may damage them). Obviously I had to resign to save his job (and everybody else’s at the Masters Program). So I did.

This issue is much bigger than software property rights.

Peer-to-peer networks are everywhere. They are behind the rise of the Christian Right in America. They are behind the anti-Iraqi Insurgency. Knowing how they work is vital to destroying terrorist networks.

The same laws of networks apply, whether the nets in question are technological or social. For instance, recent Macromedia patents on disrupting peer-to-peer computer networks may harm efforts to fight terrorists in Iraq.

The less academics have tenure, the less safe research becomes. The less safe research becomes, the less questions are asked. The less questions are asked, the stupider and slower we are. The stupider and slower we are, the easier it is for our enemies.

Fight terrorism. Protect tenure.

Update: Citizen Journal disagrees

9 thoughts on “Academic Tenure Is Worth Fighting For (Intellectual Property and the Iraq War)”

  1. Jamey,

    Thank you for the link. The controversy seems to stem from the validity of Mr. Cortell's degrees. I appreciate the update.

    Ultimately, though, Mr. Cortell's particular's don't affect my argument. After all, working as a lecturer for a European university he could not have been protected by tenure rules in any case!

    The important point is that in a world without tenure, every academic could find himself in Mr. Cortell's position. If academics can be fired, there will be pressure to let them go if they make controversial remarks.

    Political Correctness is not just academically dishonest. It hurts the nation in the Global War on Terrorism.

  2. There are many issues with this Jorge Cortell case.

    It seems that the spanish university in question is basically “renting” its “name” and its classroom to people who are “giving” lectures that are not accredited even their own university system. So it's more like local businesses sending their staff to take weekend courses. You can blame the university for being greedy by setting up all kinds of these “non-accredited” courses targeting the business community.

    Secondly, even in the US — only “full” professors are given academic tenure. Not associate professors, not assistant professors and not lecturers.

    Thirdly, “academic freedom” and “academic tenure” means that professors are protected WITHIN their areas of expertise.

    There have been studies by “radical” American economics professors using econometrics (complex mathematical models) that show slavery in the 1700's and 1800's were good for the economy of the American south. (Whereas the conventional economic theories have stated that slavery depressed the American south's economy and that ultimately led to their defeat in the civil war.) Those “radical” economists are protected by academic tenure.

    If a computer science professor is saying that slavery was good for the economy of the American south — that's just show that he is a racist and he should not be protected by the tenure system.

    In Jorge Cortell's case, if a law professor gives a lecture to law school students that P2P networks are legal — then he is protected. But this university is a polytechnical university that doesn't even have a law school. Even if Cortell has a real CV and is a real professor (within their computer science department) and teaching a bunch of computer science students — it would still be outside his academic expertise to teach that P2P networks are legal.

    Lastly, with respect to Victor's piece — I tended to agree that it's mostly the university's administrations that are trying to sweep a lot of things under the carpet. Those are separate from the academic tenure system.

  3. Jamey,

    Thank you again for commenting. I am enjoying this conversation!

    “It seems that the spanish university in question is basically “renting” its “name” and its classroom to people who are “giving” lectures that are not accredited even their own university system. So it's more like local businesses sending their staff to take weekend courses. You can blame the university for being greedy by setting up all kinds of these “non-accredited” courses targeting the business community.”

    It's a pretty common practice in the United States, which has a top-notch university system. Universities have competitive advantages in teaching, so leveraging this by teaching technical courses is a natural for the university. It is also natural for the businesses involve, as they are concerned that their workers have technical skills, not whether or not they can “think” (which is the point of a full university education).”

    “Secondly, even in the US — only “full” professors are given academic tenure. Not associate professors, not assistant professors and not lecturers.”

    Indeed. My point was that without tenures, all professors would be no more protected than a lecturer, and so all could be easily dismissed.”

    “Thirdly, “academic freedom” and “academic tenure” means that professors are protected WITHIN their areas of expertise.

    There have been studies by “radical” American economics professors using econometrics (complex mathematical models) that show slavery in the 1700's and 1800's were good for the economy of the American south. (Whereas the conventional economic theories have stated that slavery depressed the American south's economy and that ultimately led to their defeat in the civil war.) Those “radical” economists are protected by academic tenure.

    If a computer science professor is saying that slavery was good for the economy of the American south — that's just show that he is a racist and he should not be protected by the tenure system.”

    That sounds like vertical thinking, which is not good for creativity. Mark Safranski at Zen Pundit had a series of posts about horizonta thinking, which involves thinking outside areas of expertise.

    http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/04/understanding-cognition-part-i.html
    http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/04/understanding-cognition-part-ii.html
    http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/04/understanding-cognition-part-iii.html

    “Lastly, with respect to Victor's piece — I tended to agree that it's mostly the university's administrations that are trying to sweep a lot of things under the carpet. Those are separate from the academic tenure system.”

    Not really, as tenure is an important check on the administrations.

  4. >>>It's a pretty common practice in the United States, which has a top-notch university system.

    Unfortunately, I know it is a common practice. And that obscures a lot of this academic freedom and academic tenure arguments.

    Officially, Cortell teaches under this “professional” masters in graphics arts/multimedia program — a money grab for the university.

    http://www.mag.upv.es/infoepp.html

    The sad thing is that the university (UPV) probably knows that Cortell doesn't have real academic creditials. They hired him anyway — because he is not teaching a “real course” either.

    Cortell is pretty famous in Spain for the last few years —spanish newspapers iand websites nterviewed him all the time because he keeps saying that P2P is legal. So UPV probably thinks that Cortell can bring in money from these “fake” (I am using a very harsh term) professional courses.

    So at least in Cortell's case, it's really not a “academic tenure” problem at all — it's a money grabbing problem from the universities.

    I think “horizontal thinking” about the tenure system — devalues the tenure system. The Guggenheim Museum looks really nice — because 99.99% of the building is square or rectangle. If all the buildings in the world are in all sort of curves — then the Guggenheim Museum would not be special at all.

    It's like Harvard President Lawrence Summers (he became the youngest tenured professor in Harvard's history in 1983 in economics) — who said that the female brain is different and that's why there are not many female scientists.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6856839/site/newsweek/

    My point — about horizontal thinking — is that it devalues the real work of psychologists and brain specialists. What does a economist knows about how the brain functions? If you look at the newsweek article — there are real differences in male and female brains. And that might be a real reason why females are less in sciences. Horizontal thinking — devalues the real scientific work done by real medical scientists.

    It's like the boy who cried wolf. If every professor talks about every controversial subjects that they don't know and are protected by the tenure system — then if these controversial subjects actually have scientific merits, the sad thing is that the rest of the world would not believe the real scientists.

  5. “Horizontal thinking — devalues the real scientific work done by real medical scientists.”

    Horizontal thinking does not mean that speculation can be put on par with peer-reviewed scientific observations (Vertical thinking) in terms of determining validity any more than the scientific method ” devalues” the imaginative insight that leads a scientist to make a hypothesis.

    A good thinker makes use of both Vertical and Horizontal reasoning – in fact almost all scientific inquiry begins with Horizontal speculation. These are cognitive tools that complement one another and I would agree that they are not interchangable but the latter is important because it allows the Vertical expert to look at his or her field from a different perspective or contribute to another field.

    Case in point, a good friend of mine is a high energy particle physicist yet more than half his consulting has to do with fields other than his own – notably biology/genetics, computer science and education. Cross-disciplinary work is common because it stimulates horizontal thinking and helps create verges for new research.

  6. Yes — there is a lot of cross-disciplinary work.

    But it also means that your friend is “qualified” to that little corner and should give a “limitation clause” along with his professional opinion.

    A lot of the people who map the genetics map are math professors, physicists and computer scientists. Because they were the only people on earth that has access and experience with a supercomputer.

    But that does not mean that your physicist friend is physicist qualified to talk about the human genome (i.e. how genes actually function). Your friend is qualified to talk about how his past experience in supercomputer help the mapping of the human genome.

  7. Jamie,

    I do not understand your concern about profitable university programs. I wonder if it is part of a wider European distrust of the market. How is a “money grab” in any serious way bad?

    Likewise, I do not understand your great convern over degrees. You write, “But that does not mean that your physicist friend is physicist qualified to talk about the human genome.” Why is that? Is every important part of the human genome known exclusively to biologists? I don't know the details of Mark's case, but it seems very rigid to say “Someone's degree is in this, so he is only qualified to speak in this.” An adaptable academic might use his education (which taught him to think) to knowledgeably talk on many matters. He should be judged on the basis of his arguments, claims, and facts, not a degree he received years if not decades ago. I wonder if this is part of a wider European distrust of creativity?

  8. Dan,

    There are many issues all mixed up. (By the way, I am from North America.)

    With respect to “academic tenure”, I believe that you should only be protected WITHIN your discipline. Otherwise, it's like the boy who cried wolf. You have history professors, philosophy professors and economics professors that claim there is life on mars. But when NASA scientists finally finds life on mars — the public won't believe the “real” science.

    With power comes responsilibity. When professors are given academic tenure and academic freedom — they also have the responsibility to say only what they really know. What they say — the subject may be taboo, but they also have the academic authority to say them based on their respective expertise. Anything else would devalue their “expertise”.

    >>>but it seems very rigid to say “Someone's degree is in this, so he is only qualified to speak in this.”

    The problem is that academia is so specialised now that even professors within the same department don't understand each other's work. “String theory” in physics is pure math and other physicists don't really understand it (even some math professors would have a hard time understanding this very specialised math in string theory).

    The whole point is that people trust that the professor knows what he is talking about — taboo or not.

  9. Jamie,

    The problem with staying in a discipline is that it will kill the most valuable work that could be done. Network Science, for instance, is an emerging field that spans Political Science, history, Military Science, computer science, business, and psychology. The already established AI field likewise is cross-disciplinary. If we forced tenured professors to stay in their boxes or risk being fired, fields like NS and AI may never have been formed!

    Again, your concern over “academic authority” seems to boil down to keep professors in their narrow fields. Shouldn't academic authority already be established by tenure? If not, then what is the point?

    Your concern about technicians — people so vertical they can't understand one another — is a great argument against siloed tenure systems. If we waste so much brainpower in little vertical channels, then we are missing out on so much!

    “Ttrusting] that the professor knows what he is talking about” is very anti-scientific. The pursuit of knowledge is based on challening assumption and authorities, not submitting to them.

    -Dan

  10. “Interdisciplinary” by definition means no one single discipline can just have the final say in the matter.

    It's like the children's story of several blind men trying to figure out how an elephant looks like. One person touch the ear, and he proclaims that the elephant looks like a leaf. Another person touch the leg, and he proclaims that the elephant looks like a tree. A third person touch the trunk and proclaims that the elephant looks like a snake.

    I am not saying that emerging interdisciplinary areas are useless or that professors shouldn't study them. But even the professors who studied them — can only provide their expertise within a tiny corner within this interdisciplanary field.

    >>>Shouldn't academic authority already be established by tenure? If not, then what is the point?

    Yes — I agree that tenure gives the professors academic authority. That's why they have to EARN it.

    You are trying to argue that the university should give all professors tenure, period — without them earning it.

  11. Jamey,

    We are in danger of talking in circles. I'm very willing to continue this conversation, but I am unsure how much progress we are making.

    I have first-person experience in cross-disciplinary areas in academia. My graduate thesis had two computer scientists and one cultural anthropologist My work was expert-verified by a psychologist, a social anthropologist, and a political scientist/lawyer. Imagine the chilling effect if they could have lost their jobs if they gave a “wrong opinion”! If some board would tell the computer scientist, “it is dangerous to oversee a thesis involving political science, especially if it is controversial”! Or a lawyer, “this comment on methods is closer to computer science than your field… watch out.” This is not an idle concern. An unexpected result of my thesis was a mechanistic explanation for the Holocaust. It could have been controversial. And your suggestion to mandate silos would be chilling.

    The elephant is a good example. Imagine telling the bland man on the trunk, “you can never hypothesize as to the nature of the 'tree.' After all, you have only studied the trunk!” Against the totality of knowledge we are all blind, and we need creativity.

    I do not believe that all professors should have tenure. I am saying without any professors having tenure, all professors would be as vulnerable as Lecturer Cortell.

  12. Can you tell me your exact discipline?

    I have a degree in political science, so I am very interested in what you are doing.

  13. Master of Arts in Computer Science
    Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems
    (minor in Center of Excellence in Computer Information Systems)

    This August I move to UNL to study for a Master of Arts in Political Science there.

    Thanks for the interest 🙂

  14. “But that does not mean that your physicist friend is physicist qualified to talk about the human genome (i.e. how genes actually function). Your friend is qualified to talk about how his past experience in supercomputer help the mapping of the human genome.”

    Actually, while his work with supercomputing is extensive his consulting on genetics had to do more with engineering designer proteins.

  15. Yes, 3D structure analysis in proteomics.

    The computational power required to map the human genome is very little — because the double helix is just a series of 4 letters (very 2D).

    The computational power required for analyzing protein sequences are tens of thousands times more — because amino acids and proteins are 3D.

    A simple single letter defect in the human DNA — causes the body to not make an amino acid (or deformed the structure of the amino acid), and a chain of amino acids and proteins. The human body uses these amino acids and proteins to form enzymes. Cystic fibrosis occurred when the body lacks an enzyme to take salt out of the lung.

    Your friend is helping on the “shape” of the 3D model. But your friend cannot tell you “how” these proteins and amino acids works in the human body, and how the body uses these proteins to make enzymes that do the actual work.

  16. Jamey, if I may interject

    “Your friend is helping on the “shape” of the 3D model. But your friend cannot tell you “how” these proteins and amino acids works in the human body, and how the body uses these proteins to make enzymes that do the actual work.”

    Do you mean that the friend could not explain the biochemical processes? I find that doubtful, as a basic version is taught in many undergraduate courses and the level of knowledge taught in graduate school is achievable by a self-learner.

    If you mean “truly know how they truly work — what every individual one does” — then no one knows.

    I think you are placing far too much weight on degrees. There is a good section in “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith that is critical of that habit.

  17. Dan,

    I have a double major — bachelor of arts in political science and economics. Many years ago, I had a visiting professor from Harvard (I don't even remember his name now) in my second year international relations course — assigning us a paper to do on the movie “star wars” and how it relates to international relations.

    He even gave us a paper to read on chimpanzees and gold fish — because they are territorial in nature and will kill their own species. Not many animals kill their own species. Most of the class thinks that he is a quack.

  18. >>>Do you mean that the friend could not explain the biochemical processes? I find that doubtful, as a basic version is taught in many undergraduate courses and the level of knowledge taught in graduate school is achievable by a self-learner.

    If you mean that Jamey “the political science” major can explain how this thing works, surely a physicist would understand. Then you devalue the expertise of the medical profession.

  19. Sounds like your economics professor was trying to smash the conceptual borders of domains. Similar horizontal thinking directed synthesis led to the USAF Dogfight Manual, the design of the F-16, and the theoretical underpinnings of 4GW — and that was for just one man, Colonel John Boyd!

    http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/04/understanding-cognition-part-iii.html

    The medical profession is a great example. Before 1980, there was no correlation (repeat: none) between health-care expenditure and life expectency among developed nations. That is, there is no evidence before 1980 that the medical profession saved more lives (net) than witch doctors, leech doctors, or priests.

    Before that time, increase in life expectency is strongly correlated with hygene and vaccines. After that time, it becomes correlated with “assembly line” surgeries and prescrition drugs.

    Smith was right when he wrote of the harm the medical profession did under the cloak of vertical authority.

    http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/01/11/welfare_medicine_misc.html

  20. You should see our faces when we saw the reading list for that course.

    The first year international relations course — we studied all the major wars (beginning from the end of the 100 years war, treaty of versaille, WWI, WWII) — basically how every european empire screwed up europe in the last 500 years — by dividing europe, sometimes along ethnic lines, sometimes not. Which led to the present day ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia.

    Then second year — harvard visiting professor — studying chimps and goldfish and star wars (not the SDI but the george lucas movie).

  21. Jamey wrote:

    “Your friend is helping on the “shape” of the 3D model. But your friend cannot tell you “how” these proteins and amino acids works in the human body, and how the body uses these proteins to make enzymes that do the actual work.”

    I have no idea. The end goal of the project had something to do with eventually growing tissue for medical purposes. My friend was brought in to work with the genetics guys to help analyze what was happening at the nano level because things were not going the way the geneticists had anticipated.

    You still seem to be equating ” horizontal thinking ” with an attempt to replace or equate expertise with speculative insight. It's not and I wouldn't recommend somebody attempting self-care surgery or practicing law without a license.

    Ideas produced by horizontal thinking techniques must still stack up under empirical testing (vertical thinking) in order to have validity and application within a given field.

  22. Jamie,

    Political Science is the study of power networks. Memorizing history is an important part of a basic PoliSci education, but it leaves little room for insight. It also can leave students with fall patterns, like believing every major player in an epic history made the same mistake…

    As Plato might say, history shows us shadows of the forms, but we can never see the forms themselves.

    Through fiction and nature, we see other power networks. Other shadows of the same forms.

    Just as mathematicians visualize hyperdimensional shapes by looking at their shadows, so political science professors may show students shadow they haven't seen before, to help them know the true forms.

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