April 14, 2008

 Firing John Yoo: a comment

I mostly agree with Mark on this. But he underplays the relevant fact that unlike him Professor Yoo is employed to teach a vocational subject, law. This isn't a prestige issue. Particle physics, cultural studies and remedial English fall on one side of the vocational/non-vocational distinction; law, medicine, nursing, flying training and plumbing school on the other.

All teaching carries with it a minimum set of professional standards on plagiarism, harassment, favouritism and so on. Nobody has suggested John Yoo has violated these. But vocational education should also inculcate the specific ethical standards of the trade in question. It seems at least arguable that Yoo's probable professional misconduct as legal enabler of war crimes taints his ability to train future advocates and judges. Should a flying school for airline pilots keep an instructor guilty of reckless flying in his own weekend plane? But the same conduct would be irrelevant to the employment of a professor of surgery.

I know I'm advocating a double standard here, but with reasons. Mark could apologise for torture instead of valiantly protesting it and keep his job; Alan Dershowitz has done so. And Mark is right that to avoid double jeopardy the disciplinary action should await resolution of the criminal one, or at least indictment. Nelson's navy could have suspended Yoo on half pay. Mao's China would have subjected him to humiliating sessions of self-criticism. Failing these, a boycott looks about right.

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