So you spend some time trying to offer a qualified defense of academia, and then you come across something like professors at UC Davis proclaiming that Lawrence Summers is so utterly beyond the pale that he shouldn’t be asked to speak on their campus.
I’m with Eric Rauchway, Margaret Soltan and others who’ve commented on this issue. It’s one thing to quietly, privately question the choice of a colleague to invite a particular speaker after the event. But you accept that choice, like you accept that within a university there are a variety of interests and sensibilities. You accept it because you value decentralized decision making and intellectual autonomy. Because you have some trust in the judgment of colleagues who’ve gone through the same processes of training as yourself, or some trust in the administrators or managers that you work with.
If you don’t have that trust, you had better have a serious reason to feel that way, and it had better be about more than a single invitation to speak. If you’re going to publically raise a stink about the mere presence of an individual on your campus for a single talk, that person had better be wildly unacceptable. I don’t think that the UC Davis professors are questioning the Regents across the board, or claiming this invitation is somehow a very small part of a very large pattern of sustained error. And there’s no way that Lawrence Summers, however much one might disagree with things he’s said in the past, is even mildly unacceptable as a speaker within an academic community. If that’s the standard of anathema, most nights on a college campus, the only speaker should be the chirping of crickets.