Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concise writing is usually clear writing (21) – Gary North

Here’s another sample of clear, concise writing. In this sample, historian Gary North (pictured) explains why Penn State behaved as it did during “The Paterno Affair” (Sandusky scandal). In 318 words, he describes how universities developed administrative law, a system different from the jury system that most laymen think of as law.

The West has developed two unique and crucial institutions: the university and the jury. The first has always been at war with the second.

The mark of the university’s claim to legal sovereignty is the black academic gown. Judges wear them. So do graduates and professors. So do clerics. From the earliest days, universities demanded equal sovereign status with church and state. It was an illegitimate claim, but it has stuck.

College professors got their money from students in the old, old days. Students would not pay the flakes. Students’ standards prevailed. They established the success indicators. The substandard professors – always in the majority – hated this. It forced them into a free market. They changed the rules. Students henceforth paid the college. Mediocre professors run the college: majority rules. “He who can, does. He who can’t, teaches. He who can’t teach, administers.” This has been true for 800 years of university life.

The university was a collection of semi-autonomous colleges. They established boundaries. They demanded autonomy from the cities in which they were located. This was the origin of the phrase, “town and gown.” The mark of this autonomy was the university police force. The professors and the students claimed near-immunity from city councils and city police. The university police’s #1 task was to keep city police off campus. Only secondarily were the university police to establish order on campus.

Add to this state funding since about 1870 in the United States, and decades earlier in Prussia, the modern university’s academic model. The state now asserts jurisdiction over the university. It pays; so, it sets the rules. This jurisdiction is separate from, and quietly in opposition to, the city’s geographical jurisdiction. The university substitutes its hierarchical system of courts from the city’s. The city’s system of justice is based on the jury. The university’s is based on administrative law: judges and police combined in one non-elected autonomous system.

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least 10 minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day. If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at joeroy(at)joeroy(dot)com. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

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