ACADEMIC FREEDOM’S JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOTHIN’ LEFT TO LOSE

Unfogged has news and substantial commentary on revisions to the University of California system’s academic freedom policies.

At issue is an arguably antiquated 69-year-old academic freedom policy, which state lawmakers at the time forced the school to adopt out of fear that Communist professors were indoctrinating students in the classroom. The policy requires faculty to present impartial lectures free of their personal political biases.

A dispute that erupted here last fall over a Palestinian poetry professor’s admonition in a course description that “conservative thinkers” need not apply prompted a re-examination of the policy, which had been forgotten in the academic and social upheaval that the student movement sparked.

University President Richard Atkinson has called for a new policy that frees faculty to “express the widest range of viewpoints” within the classroom. For years it has been acceptable and even expected for professors to argue a given political viewpoint, and Atkinson believes the policy should reflect the reality of today’s classroom.

But critics assert that the proposed changes potentially trample the rights of students, some of whom complain that opposing viewpoints are unwelcome and even scorned by certain professors.

The proposed policy will be sent to the university president for final approval after the faculty votes on it next Wednesday.

Some students and higher education experts are objecting to the proposed changes, arguing that they offer little discouragement for activist professors to use the classrooms, in the words of the 1934 policy, “as platforms for propaganda.”

“I took a required freshman writing course … that turned out to be a course on race. We had five readings, and four of them were by authors writing about how white people are evil,” said Kyle Wright, 20, a junior, who is white, majoring in computer science at the UC San Diego campus.

Interesting. On the one hand, a primary purpose of higher education is the exposure to students of a wide variety of ideas. “Making students think” is really more important than the subject matter of a course, especially in the core curriculum. But it’s a fine line between academic freedom–giving professors the ability to do controversial research in their disciplines–and simply giving professors a platform to spout uninformed tripe outside their area of expertise. It’s one thing for, say, a biology professor to discuss the relative merits of evolution and creationism; it’s quite another for a political scientist to do it.

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Lemon says:

    What?! I can’t talk about neurobiology?! Damnit, now I will have to redesign all my classes.

    (And what if it is a discussion of the political machinations of those supporting creationism vs. those supporting evolution?)

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, okay. But you have to give equal time to the postmodernists.