Monday, April 14, 2008

It Could Happen to Yoo

Very little time today, so I must make it short.

According to, a civil liberties group is lobbying the University of California to expel John Yoo, a tenured law professor who, while working in the Bush administration, wrote memos justifying the use of torture against suspected terrorists. The American Freedom Campaign argues that "Yoo should not only be disqualified from ever serving in government again, but he should also be prohibited from spreading his distorted view of the law and the role of lawyers to young law students. He must be fired."

This is, quite simply, a terrible idea. I say this not to defend Yoo, who, in a just world, would at least be investigated by a war crimes tribunal, if not shipped off to The Hague for trial before the World Court. But his actions did not take place in his capacity as a Berkeley law professor, nor is there any evidence of related misconduct occurring on the job.

Firing John Yoo would set a terrible precedent. If university administrators, absent conviction in a criminal court, are able to decide that someone's off-the-job conduct merits revocation of tenure, then the entire professoriate is at risk. The academic right-wing, already hostile to the tenure process, would almost certainly swoop in and pressure administrators and governing boards to release liberal and radical educators who say something considered out of bounds based on whatever standards they decide to apply.

In short, if it can happen to Yoo, it can happen to you.

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