One would think that the safest place to engage in the free exchange of ideas would be modern academia. But such is not the case.
Through coercion, harrassment, ridicule, and outright first amendment violations, many campuses - college and primary - are openly hostile to ideas which don't square with the current political correctness of the liberal left.
My research for this paper frightened me. I hope it frightens you.
A christian archeologist, disturbed by the teaching of evolution in his son's classroom, attempts to convince the board of education to accept as supplemental reading a non-religious textbook on creation science. The board, under pressure from the local ACLU attorney, rejects the request on religious grounds despite the fact that the text does not cite any religious texts or ideologies in the substance of its arguments.
A non-tenured high school teacher attempts to augment the social studies curriculum by assigning The Bell Curve to her students as supplemental material. A black colleague take offense and charges her with racism. A formal investigation ensues, in the course of which she must hire an attorney to fend off pending litigation. Eventually, over a period of eighteen months and at great personal expense, she is exonerated. However, she is denied tenure for undisclosed reasons, and eventually resigns.
A male student speaks out in opposition
to feminism in a women's studies class. He is polite, but forthright. He
is denounced by his female professor as sexist and ridiculed by the female
students in his class. Within the week he is brought up on formal charges
of sexual harassment by the professor and three fellow students. Despite
the failure of his accusers to proves their case, and the testimony on
his behalf by ten of his class-mates, he is expelled after a lengthy hearing
Each of these cases touches upon the substance of academic freedom. It is seen as a right by those in the educational community that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech extends into the fabric of academia through the concept of freedom of thought through teaching and research, as expressed by the tenets of academic freedom.
"Academic Freedom is the view that if teachers and scholars are to promote the growth of knowledge, they require the freedom to teach and conduct inquiry without fear of sanction or reprisals should they express an unpopular or controversial idea." (Haller et al., 1986, p. 10)
This freedom spans the range of the educational universe, from primary schooling through advanced university-level study. At the primary levels, academic freedom is not so much a license to forgo the board-approved curriculum, but the freedom to present that material, along with sources that express divergent viewpoints, in the manner the teacher sees fit. Implicit in this understanding is the notion that reprisals against a teacher - or student, for that matter - who expresses such unpopular beliefs will not be broached.
At the university level, "[i]ts basic components are freedom in admissions, curriculum, hiring, and promotion. Knowledge is best pursued when colleges may admit whomever they believe would best contribute to a spirit of intellectual community...." (Levin, 1987, p. 199)
It is through this community, and the freedom embodied in it to peruse one's intellectual path, that academic freedom achieves its true aim: the furnish our society of individuals with the intellectual tools it needs to come to educated conclusions about itself.
However, academic freedom is not to be confused with Freedom of Speech as outlined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. While that amendment guarantees broad speech protection for all citizens in the body politic, "[a]cademic freedom, while closely kin to such rights, differs from them in being more narrowly applied to educational institutions." (Haller et al., 1986, p. 43)
Because of this restrictive application, and the implications to society, academic freedom cannot be a universal as free speech. There are certain responsibilities inherent in its nature.
"Academic Freedom traditionally refers to the freedom of scholars...to teach, publish, and engage in research unhindered by others. Those protected by academic freedom in turn, have the responsibility to conduct research honestly, to report their findings accurately, and to teach without bias. In democratic societies, academic freedom is respected as a right. In totalitarian societies, where education is partly directed toward indoctrination, it is rejected." (Csorba, 1988, p. 175)
Freedom of speech infers that the person to whom the speech is directed has the option to get out of the way. In a school setting, this option is not available to the "captive audience" of the classroom. Therefore the line between free speech and indoctrination becomes blurred. Academic freedom cannot be the moral equivalent of free speech, because, "...it is morally offensive to manipulate or indoctrinate people.... Manipulation and indoctrination are wrong because the are forms of psychological coercion.... Indoctrination is a way of denying people freedom over their own thoughts." (Haller et al., 1986?, pp. 117, 118)
Education at every level cannot survive without intellectual freedom. Access to ideas must be unhindered if students are to be free to pursue their own independent judgment. Restrictive ideology, presented in the classroom as political or sociological bias, deters the purpose of academic freedom, the nurturing of a free-thinking will on the part of the student.
"Freedom from restriction...is to be prized only as a means to a freedom which is power: power to frame purposes, to judge wisely, to evaluate desires by the consequences which will result from acting upon them; power to select and order means to carry chosen ends into operation." (Dewey, 1938, p.69)
Teachers must be free to present their material as they see fit. Students, likewise, must be free to express their divergent ideas without fear of censure by the instructor. Academic freedom also has a subtler dimension: students, as receivers of information, must have the right to hear all information pertinent to a given discussion. This begs the question: who is to determine what information is pertinent? Is astrology acceptable in the science classroom? Is creation science? Are racist theories acceptable in a social studies class? Is the exclusion of racist ideology as historical fact proper in a history class?
No less an authority than the NEA seems to be divided within itself on the proper boundaries of academic freedom. In their 1994 policy statements, they conclude, "[t]he National Education Association believes that academic and professional freedom is essential to the teaching profession. Controversial issues should be a part of instructional programs when judgement of the professional staff deems the issues appropriate to the curriculum and to the maturity level of the student. Academic freedom is the right of the learner and his/her teachers to explore, present, and discuss divergent points of view in the quest for knowledge and truth." (NEA, 1984, p.223)
Yet, in referring to creation science, NEA seems comes to a contradictory conclusion. With regards to the teaching of origins in the public schools, the NEA has made it clear that any challenge to theory of evolution shall not be brooked. When those challenges come from parents, NEA states that the relationship between the teacher and the student is sacrosanct, even to the point of legal privilege.
"The National Education Association believes that communications between certificated personnel and students must be legally privileged. It urges its affiliates to aid in seeking legislation that provides this privilege and protects both educators and students." (Today's Education, 1983-84, p. 145)
The implication here is that parents have no stake in academic freedom as it pertains to their children. A wall is erected between their rights as parents and taxpayers and the school's rights as educators. Where this applies in the question of origins is in the utter exclusion of parental concerns regarding curriculum, and how that curriculum affects their children. If the child brings up a challenge to the predominant evolutionary theory, the typical response is a deferral to the textbook, and the nod to the notion that the student is here to learn.
In order to secure the forwarding of alternative origin theories - creationism and others - inclusion in a text is required. This is highly problematic, at best. Many parent groups have resorted to legislative means to pry open the doors to academic freedom where origins are concerned. NEA steadfastly refuses to accept interference. "The Association...believes that legislation and regulations that mandate the teaching of religious doctrines, such as so-called `creation science,' violate both student and teacher rights. The Association urges its affiliates to seek repeal of such mandates where they exist." (Today's Education, 1983-84, p. 142)
In regards to origins, at least, it seems that academic freedom is not the predominant modus operandi. This can only result in a hardening of a student's unwillingness to consider differing views.
Clearly, the community's rights to the academic freedom of its children must be fulfilled. This is rarely done without conflict, particularly in sensitive areas like evolution and sex education. Is academic freedom's place in public education above those concerns of the community? "If one believes that parents and communities have some right to influence the values that are transmitted to their children, one must also recognize some limits on academic freedom." (Haller et al., 1986, p. 48)
If the rights of the community are reflected in a pluralism in the curriculum, then censoring ideas that conflict with that pluralism on the part of teachers is as morally offensive as parents and religious groups censoring offensive texts. The courts tend to agree, although they strictly skirt the notion that religion should be among the academic mix.
"We hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to `prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'" (Brennon, Island Trees Union Free School District Board of Education v. Pico, p. 2810)
"Public interest in a free and democratic society does not warrant or encourage suppression of any book at the whim of any unduly sensitive person or group of persons, merely because a character described in such book as belonging to a particular race or religion is portrayed in a derogatory or offensive manner." Rosenberg v. Board of Education of the City of New York, p. 543)
"The [First] Amendment does not guarantee that nothing about religion will be taught in the schools nor that nothing offensive to any religion will be taught in the schools." (Williams v. Board of Education of the County of Kanawha, p. 96)
A middle road must be established with regards to censorious abridgements to academic freedom, both within and without the classroom. While the concept of intellectual freedom can be used as a weapon on both sides of a rights issue, particularly as it pertains to censorship, one must come to terms with the fundamental purpose of education: to equip students to be free-thinking citizens. All ideas should be seen as fruitful to this purpose.
"What we have here is a clear and probably unresolved clash of ideas. Sometimes we act as if our opinions about the values of literature study are true and these others false; but we must remember that by rejecting cultural heritage for critical thinking, greatness for relevance, the truth for each reader's truth, answers for questions, we reject the main reasons why society has put us there to do what we do. In addition, when censors condemn some literary works as morally corrupting, we often treat those claims with ridicule. No one was ever corrupted by a curse word, we say. Just because that story contains a character's argument against the existence of God doesn't mean students will stop believing. A story about sex doesn't provoke students to sexual activity. Is that right? Can we be the same people who maintain that literature can give readers insight to life? That literature can change people's lives? That the pen is mightier than the sword? We have been caught in our own inconsistencies and should admit it. It makes no sense to believe that literature can make people better but that it cannot make them worse. Either it has power, or it does not. And if it does have power, then it is to be feared as well as admired." (Small, 1979, p.59)
In the university, the fight for academic freedom takes on more desperate, brutal forms. Political correctness has gripped the university establishment with a vengeance. Few ideologies are as pernicious in this regard as radical feminism. In the desire to strip the society of its alleged male-centrist orientation, feminists at major universities are engaging in curriculum revision, the reshaping of all disciplines to a gynocentric world model. The effects on academic freedom are chilling.
Feminist curriculum revision theories state that the nature of the male-female dynamic is inherently prejudicial, favoring the male as the dominant force in western society. Their aim, through revisionism, is to swing the pendulum towards a feminist pedagogy, while eradicating a patriarchal pedagogy - through propaganda, intimidation, and censorship. The ideal of academic freedom is anathema to feminist curriculum revision, chiefly because it insists on a fair hearing of all ideas germane to the discussion. Feminist revisionists reject this notion, often in the name of academic freedom, claiming this freedom protects their viewpoint, while rejecting the notion that it also protects differing viewpoints.
A rejection of the feminist notion is important to an understanding of the role of the patriarchal pedagogy in education, particularly at the university level.
"Educators are usually thought to foster autonomy best by giving students the unvarnished information they will need to make up their own minds about the problems they will encounter as adults. The educators in any viable culture will transmit their culture's values, but there is transmission and transmission. The values carried by ordinary pedagogy are inseparable from the subjects studied, not lessons anybody makes a point of giving.... [These values] ideally instilled by ordinary pedagogy are general traits of intellect and character, like curiosity and diligence, whose chief function is to allow children to grow into adults capable of thinking for themselves." (Levin, 1987, p. 166)
The predominant argument in roundly rejecting any criticism of feminist ideals is that these rejections spring from a sexist foundation, drummed into our culture through centuries of patriarchal dominance. "Feminist pedagogy refuses to allow children to form their own ideas because it sees the ideas of children as manipulated in just this way by sexist ideology. The only hope for restoring autonomy to children then becomes countermanipulation...." (Levin, 1987, p. 167)
The ultimate goal of such thinking is the indoctrination of a precise political model. The tools at the disposal of those doing the indoctrinating, often in the name of academic freedom, can range from something as simple as classroom intimidation to institutional censure. While the first applies strictly to students, the latter can be utilized in both teacher and professional colleague disputes.
The use of tenure as a sledge to enforce compliance with political manipulation of the university environment ensures that any professional not protected by this umbrella will remain silent in the face of abuses. Some believe that the academic freedom is not granted to a professor unless that professor is tenured. "It is no accident that academic freedom and tenure go together. Before you have tenure you are essentially a [teacher] on trial. You enjoy much freedom, but your ideas and action are still subject to the censure of non-reappointment." (Csorba, 1988, p. 183) While this view is intentionally elitist, it goes far to explain the role of tenure in eliciting cooperation from those who don't have it.
Students, while not necessarily restrained by professional intimidation, see other tools used against them.
"Where the fundamental purpose of a course is ideological, grades tend to vary ideologically, not only to reward those who espouse the ideology and punish those who oppose it, but more generally to attract a larger audience for the cause with easy grades. All this makes sense when education is regarded as simply a continuation of politics by other means." (Inside American Education, Sowell, 1993, p. 212)
More overt intimidation is used in environments where the pedagogy has lost its meaning. "Despite high grades and lax standards in ideological courses, students who oppose the brainwashing may be dealt with severely. A leftist professor at Dartmouth has been described as a `political grader' who `tolerates no intellectual diversity in her class.' ("Good Profs, Bad Profs - Students Rate the Faculty," Campus Report from Accuracy in Academia, October 1987, p.4) In a Religious Studies class at Humboldt State College in California, when a student stated arguments against the professor's anti-nuclear views, he was cut off with `That's not what I'm looking for' and it was suggested that he not come back to class. ("Anti-Military Bias Offends Vet," Campus Report from Accuracy in Academia, February 1988, p.1) When a student challenged the material on Central American politics introduced into a biology class at the University of Michigan by the professor, he was told - in front of the class - that the professor wished he [the student] would go to El Salvador and get blown up, the professor offering to sponsor this `independent study program' for him." ("The Pea Plant - Sandinista Connection," Muir, Jeff, The Michigan Review, December 1990, p.10) (Sowell, 1993, p.213)
Sensitivity is the new banner of the political indoctrination on campus. In essence, ideas that offend are seen as attacks, and those who are offended are not only intellectually "harmed" by the "attack," they are victimized; they place themselves on par with victims of physical political violence. The new definition is cultural violence, and the marks left by such ideological "bludgeoning" and proved by the very victimization of the action. Nothing more.
"American higher education has succumbed to a new politics of racial and sexual `sensitivity,' which now dominates debate on all controversial questions involving race, gender, or sexual orientation." (D'Souza, 1991, p. 200) It is not uncommon for teachers to run afoul of minorities in their classes, even when teaching material that has a firmly established historical foundation. Like Thernstrom and Macneil of Harvard, professors are increasingly defending themselves against charges of sexism or racism through the teaching of, say, the history of slavery in America. Most of these charges are levied by "offended" students who have no firmer claim to victimization than that the teacher made them feel "uncomfortable," or was "insensitive."
Often, these charges go hand-in-hand with a reluctance on the part of university administrators to face the situation and support the teacher, thus establishing his right to academic freedom. It seems the fear of offending has taken precedent to clear academic goals: a self-censorship takes place when a teacher realizes that his academic freedom is up for grabs by the hyper-sensitive in his classroom, and their administration supporters. "On many campuses, minority and feminist sensitivity translates into academic taboos. Administration officials and faculty committees seldom resist these taboos; typically they enforce them, both through regulations and through ostracism, with a rigor that puts everybody who deals with these questions on constant guard." (D'Souza, 1991, p. 201)
This calls into question the very survival of academic freedom in the university setting. And when academic freedom dies in those hallowed halls - where most public school teachers are trained - is it long before those same academic taboos filter down to the primary grades? "It would be interesting to see how these students, indoctrinated as they have been with the doctrine of moral neutrality, would respond to the same teacher, who, in a history class, were to say that slavery were evil." (Donohue, 1990, pp. 179)
"In a university, knowledge is its own end,... A university is characterized by the spirit of free inquiry,... This implies the right to examine, question, modify or reject traditional ideas and beliefs. Dogma and hypothesis are incompatible, and the concept of an immutable doctrine is repugnant to the spirit of a university." (Frankfurter, Sweezy v. New Hampshire, (pp.262, 263)
When such attacks on the foundation of academic freedom filter down to the public school system, the result is a stifling of the intellectual environment. Matters such as sensitivity, sexual harassment, and political correctness are finding their way into primary classrooms. The issues are not limited to religion any more. Now, teachers must be aware that any ideas they convey can victimize a student, even if that student isn't aware of the victimization. This dilemma is particularly pertinent in matters of race, and is often acknowledged by concerned educators. Most would maintain the free spirit of academic inquiry while attempting to erect a buffer around vulnerable students. Others readily recognize the clash between sensitivity and academic freedom and choose the sacrifice the latter for the former.
"At Harvard, sensitive professors at a reeducation seminar joined in a chorus of therapeutic concern for the sensibilities of their students. One professor argued that faculty members should never `introduce any sort of thing that might hurt a group.' He recognized the implications of his comments for a professor's freedom to teach. `The pain that racial insensitivity can create is more important,' he insisted, `that a professor's academic freedom.' Or, he could have added, a student's." (Sykes, 1992, p.167)
Often the locus of the discussion on matters of race rests on the concept of civil liberty. Matters of segregation in the public schools can be seen as fertile ground in attempt to give all students access to freedom of intellectual thought. Through resource allocation those tools which had been denied minorities can now contribute to expanded academic freedom. However, there is a price to pay, for the focus of civil rights concern has shifted. The shift in the civil rights movement from fighting discrimination to fighting racism shifts the focus of action from deeds to motives, from tangible action to private attitudes. According to Julius Lester this means that "the opinions, feelings, and prejudices of private individuals [are] a legitimate target of political action. This [is] dangerous in the extreme, because such a formulation is merely a new statement of totalitarianism, the effort to control not only the behavior of citizens, but the thoughts and feelings of persons." (Whatever Happened to the Civil Rights Movement?)
The dilemma is not that certain ideas will come to the fore. That in itself is not harmful to society. What can be fatal is that certain ideas are not permitted to come to the fore. When this occurs, clear intellectual thinking is bastardized by the very nature of the limited resources at its disposal. That certain thinking is taboo creates the tendency to disparage such thinking in the name of enlightenment. Such "enlightenment" is merely the emotionalization of extremes, both cultural and political.
"The consequences of emotionalizing nuclear education, sex education, and many other subjects are not simply that an incorrect conclusion may be reached, or even that general intellectual development may be neglected. There are psycho-somatic effects as well." (Sowell, 1993, p. 41) These effects serve to numb a child's intellectual processes, processes and capacities we are striving to impart through the very nature of academic freedom. The consequences of the stifling of free intellectual thought are not lost on great thinkers of our culture.
"Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die." remarks of Chief Justice Warren in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (p. 169)
"The university is a place for testing philosophies and discussing the issues. not brainwashing or inculcating..." (Csorba, 1988, p. 189) The same can be said of the primary classroom. While it is probably trite to say that academic freedom properly exercised in the primary levels is fundamental in inculcating an appreciating for the broad range of rights enjoyed by our culture, the converse is certainly true. The suppression of academic freedom, and the observation of such by students, can only diminish in the minds of students a fundamental understanding of societal rights at large. As Dewey so succinctly observed, "The only freedom that is of enduring importance is freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while." (Dewey, 1938, p. 74)
Surely the pursuit of unencumbered intellectual thinking is a discipline that has worth, particularly in a society that demands that its members be free thinkers. Universities in America must come to grips with the debilitating effects of exclusionary thinking. The way must be made clear for the free exchange of divergent opinions.
Students in the primary classroom are the future vessels of our society. Their role in our culture is inherently different than that of the university student. "It is not required that students contribute to the growth of knowledge. What is required is that they grow into responsible and competent people." (Haller et al., 1986, p. 122) By gaining their competence, primary students can go on to be contributors to the growth of knowledge.
When academic freedom is denied them, their teachers, or their university counterparts, the growth of knowledge will slow and eventually cease. Our society will atrophy. Bell's vision of the "knowledge institute" will be discarded: "[Daniel Bell (1919-), professor of sociology at Harvard University, sees an elite composed of select individuals. He writes in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973), in the chapter entitled "Who Will Rule," that] "the university - or some other knowledge institute - will become the central institution of the next hundred years because of its role as the new source of innovation and knowledge." (Scheaffer, 1976, p. 225)
We must return to the standard whereby, "[s]cholars [and students] may not be rewarded, denied rewards, or punished on account of the content of the views they express, but may be rewarded, denied rewards or punished on account of the competence with which they argue their views." (Strike, 1982, p.77) Academic freedom, properly applied, can insure that the ideas presented in the classroom represent the panoply of thinking in the world at large. It must not be used as license to censor unpopular opinion.
"Academic freedom by definition is a professional right that one exercises only in the course of carrying out certain professional responsibilities.
"We must ask ourselves whether professors are defending a scholarly right, or protecting ideological privileges - academic freedom or academic license?" (Csorba, 1988, p. 178)
If knowledge is a tool, and the free expression of divergent opinions a weapon against academic license, then all viewpoints must be freely expressed, even the values and morals of student and teacher, both popular and unpopular.
"Should teachers begin a class in values clarification by informing their students that the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which they are a part, holds to a core set of moral values, or should teachers just allow the boys and girls to state whatever values come to mind, and then help them to clarify those values? The latter is the prescribed course of action. What if students ask for help by asking their teachers what values they hold? According to the Sidney Simon school of values, the teacher should say nothing, unless such questions come at the end of an exercise. At that point, `the teacher should present himself as a person with values (and often with values confusion) of his own' (Values Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students, Simon, et al, 1972, p. 26) He can then share his values, confusion and all, with his students, making sure, however, to state that his values are no better than anyone else's." (Donohue, 1990, pp. 178, 179)
"Academic freedom is not a constitutional right, but it is quite similar to the right of free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Thus academic freedom does have constitutional protection insofar as it is isomorphic with the right of free speech.
"Moreover, judges have characteristically held that academic freedom is an important value to be upheld by the schools of a free society." (An Introduction to Educational Administration, Haller et al., 1986?, p. 39)
Enemies of free speech seek to compel their views on society through censorship, both overt - the banning of books - and covert - the failure to impart divergent information. When censorship is allowed free reign, academic freedom fails, and with it the eventual failure of the cornerstone freedom of our culture: the Freedom of Speech. As Glatthorn states, "[w]e are locked in a struggle over the fundamental principles of freedom and liberty. It is not simply the struggle to defend our professional freedom to choose books. It is the larger struggle to ensure that the public school classroom remains a forum for free inquiry. If angry parents can turn the public school into a closed system for inculcating their narrow vision, then surely we are all in trouble." (Glatthorn, 1979, p.52)
"First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
"Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
"Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually, is vigorously and earnestly contested, it will be most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction from reason or personal experience. (Mill, J.S. On Liberty, 1956, p.64)
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Sykes, Charles J. (1992). A Nation of Victims. St. Martin's Press.
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Csorba, Les, III. (1988). Academic License: The War on Academic Freedom. UCA Books.
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