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April 21, 2008


Greg Kuperberg

I disagree. Maybe it's because I have tenure too :-).

I think that it's a big mistake for universities to expand the criteria for tenure, and even more tenure revocation, far beyond the bounds of the job. I detest John Yoo's work for the Bush Administration, and maybe he should go to jail too, but that isn't directly Berkeley's business. If it can be argued that the torture memos undermine his scholarship in general, then that would have been a good reason not to hire him. But Berkeley has made its bed and it should sleep in it. If he's merely a criminal, that isn't reason enough to revoke tenure --- unless he either commits a crime in his capacity as law faculty, or he can't do his job from prison.

You can compare Yoo to Werner Heisenberg, who was 100 times worse if not 1,000 times worse. Heisenberg lost all of his friends, as he should have, but he was still allowed to teach physics. It was the right decision, because even though he had used his expertise for a terrible purpose, people could still learn from him.

Or, there was another case somewhere of a professor who got in trouble for child pornography. I thought, sure, he ought to be prosecuted, but the university had no business firing him for what he did off campus. It would only be relevant if, again, he couldn't teach from prison; or if the university needed to fire him for the sake of campus safety.

Finally, since you are on your way to college, let me say that it may be outright good for you to take at least one course from a competent professor that you detest, maybe even someone you think is a criminal.

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