Saturday, December 09, 2006

Heretical Idea: Academic Freedom for Students

The Marquette Chapter of Students for Academic Freedom is anathma to staffers in the Office of Student Development, particularly Kelly Neumann and Mark McCarthy, because it favors academic freedom for students. Why is this controversial? Because it is claimed to conflict with academic freedom for faculty.

But other academic institutions don’t seem to have a problem with specifying student rights that might, in some circumstances, cause problems for some faculty member who wants to use the classroom for indoctrination, or who merely wants to spout off about some academically irrelevant political opinions.

These institutions include Temple University, and Penn State.

In both cases, the institutions have adopted politics that incorporate important elements of the Academic Bill of Rights, which the national Students for Academic Freedom is promoting. The Marquette Chapter is committed to promoting the adoption of that document at Marquette. Kelly Neumann has claimed there is some “scary stuff” in the document.

First, Temple University.

An official policy statement from that institution says:
  1. Faculty are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial (or other) matter which has no relation to their subject. The faculty member is responsible, however, for maintaining academic standards in the presentation of course materials.
  2. As members of the academic community, students should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for the truth.
  3. Faculty members in the classroom and in conference should encourage free discussion, inquiry and expression. Student performance should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.
  4. Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the information or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, but students are responsible for learning the content of the course of study in which they are enrolled. The validity of academic ideas, theories, arguments and views should be measured against the relevant academic standards.
  5. Students should have protection through orderly grievance procedures against prejudiced or capricious evaluations that are not intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration. At the same time, students are responsible for complying with the standards of academic performance established for each course in which they are enrolled.
The document goes on to to provide detailed grievance procedures for students who feel their rights have been violated.

The statement from Penn State is, if anything, even stronger.
To outline the conditions of academic freedom for faculty members.

This policy applies to members of the faculty who have official teaching or research responsibilities at the University.
The document then discusses faculty academic freedom to act as a citizen outside the university, the requirement that faculty perform the duties reasonably assigned them, and their right to freedom in research and publication, and continues:
The faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject. The faculty member is, however, responsible for the maintenance of appropriate standards of scholarship and teaching ability. It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence, in giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.

No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.
All this, of course, it consistent with traditional notions of academic freedom.

A more recent concern in academia has been to protect the rights of certain minorities, and that protection has often been extended to include what professors say in the classroom.

Feminists have frequently complained about classroom statements they considered “sexual harassment.” Sometimes they have been right, and the comment in question was out of line. Minorities have claimed a “hostile learning environment” violates their rights, sometimes for no reason beyond the fact that they might hear ideas expressed with which they disagree.

It’s perfectly sensible that, in the vast majority of college classes, negative comments about homosexuality should be out of bounds. What should be acceptable is a professor teaching a course on sexual ethics outlining in a sympathetic and favorable way the view of the Catholic Church that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

(Unfortunately, a lot of people even at Catholic universities would like to shut up that viewpoint.)

So why not extend that protection to students based on their political views?

Why not equally prohibit a professor of engineering saying that “Republicans are selfish bastards?”

The honest answer, if the OSD bureaucrats and the leftist faculty were being candid, is that they think conservatives are an evil oppressor group and ought to be attacked.

But Marquette should not accept that kind of logic.


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