Thursday, February 26, 2015

Academic freedom is dead. Long live academic freedom!

The more "funny" things happen at my college and elsewhere in academia, the more I worry that "academic freedom" has been hijacked to mean things very different from what it really means.

We will begin with the first principles--on how Academic Freedom was/is defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) :
1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
How simple and yet lofty in its ideals, right?

That was the statement in 1940.  As valid then as it is now.

Here is where it gets even more profound:
Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.
That is from the opening paragraph before those three points about Academic Freedom were listed out, and before the statements on academic tenure.

How many faculty and administrators truly understand that academic freedom and tenure are not about the individual nor the institution but for the common good?

It is perhaps always depressing to look at how far we stray from what we thought we were setting out to do.  When a student complains that most of the time in one of their classes the faculty was ranting about something political that had nothing to do with the course, that is not a freedom that the faculty thinks (s)he has.  When a faculty engages in lewd conduct in a public park, (s)he forgets that "the public may judge their profession and their institution" and the "academic freedom" comes with obligations toward that public good.  When faculty have on their office doors and walls cartoons and statements that put students who have differing views on the defensive, they fail to "show respect for the opinions of others."  Academic freedom is not to simply offer courses on whatever, when its contribution to the public good is questionable.

Yet again, I feel like I was born thirty years too late. I am not cut out for this contemporary world where faculty and universities do not care about the public good and, instead, seem to only "further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution."

Here's to hoping that tomorrow is another day!

Yep, from there


Anne in Salem said...

Just last night my 16 year old and I had a discussion of idealism (him) versus realism (me). I hate bursting his idealistic bubble with the crushing reality of the world.

I have no problem with a teacher offering a controversial but unrelated topic for discussion in class, as long as it happens but rarely. Such discussions may be more valuable to creating citizens of the world than strictly adhering to the syllabus. Discuss the strike down of DOMA in science class, discuss evolution in engineering class, discuss ISIS in literature class. Encourage the students to think and challenge themselves. That certainly contributes to the common good!

Sriram Khé said...

well ... within bounds.
One of the phrases I often use in my classes when students attempt to drag the discussions into unrelated areas: "that's beyond the scope of this course" ...

Ramesh said...

Well said Sriram. I completely agree with you. Academic freedom is a precious right. It is to be used responsibly and not abused. Personal political views are fine, they should remain just that. The classroom is not the place to flaunt them.

John Andersen said...

Academic freedom. Does it exist in institutions without tenure? I think not as free. Academia has become near the total whore of the status quo annd the economic elite. Many professors are bought. Values and the good of society are opinions in philosophy. This definition of academic freedom can be easilyycontrolled

John Andersen said...

A group of professors from Princeton just defined our American political system as an oligarchy. How does academic freedom work when professors are whored to an abusive society that ignores most citizens. Academic freedom is not abused...most non tenured are frightened to say the truth...even in the social sciences. Pathetic.

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