The IRS scrutiny and delays aimed at Tea Party nonprofit groups has received enormous media and political attention. There’s nothing illegal, or scandalous, about these disturbing investigations of political groups. It’s been IRS policy and practice to do so for a long time, and more often targeted against liberal groups (and with much less justification).
Back in 2008, I wrote about the threat to freedom of speech posed by an IRS probe (under the Bush Administration) aimed at Barack Obama’s church for the thought crime of inviting Barack Obama to speak at his own church.
By Steve Macek, Speech Communication, North Central College
Review of Greg Lukianoff, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (Encounter Books, 2012)
A student expelled for a Facebook post criticizing the construction of a new parking ramp at his college, a faculty member reported to a “threat assessment team” for posting a quote from a TV show on his office door, a campus Christian organization prevented from showing The Passion of the Christ at a meeting—these are just a few of the many attacks on free speech at institutions of higher education that Greg Lukianoff details in his new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.
If you haven’t read the letter from the San Jose State (SJSU) Philosophy Department to Harvard’s Michael Sandel about his “Justice” MOOC through MIT and Harvard’s edX program, you really should. I think it might become a classic document in the history of the long, slow decline of American Higher Education. For one thing, it’s interesting because it may be the first sharp published criticism of someone who’s decided to teach a MOOC. [I've written about that here.] But it’s also the first serious public attention that I’ve seen given to what I’ve called the academic freedom crisis of the twenty-first century.
To summarize, the philosophers at San Jose State don’t want Sandel’s MOOC to be given for credit in their department or at their university. It’s not that they’re opposed to online instruction. It’s that they think they should be the ones doing the instructing, not a Harvard professor on tape through a computer. “In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience,” they write:
we believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of the in-person lecture/discussion.
The philosophers go on to note that the ability of a professor to control the content they provide is a fundamental part of what it means to be a college professor:
When a university such as ours purchases a course from an outside vendor, the faculty cannot control the design or content of the course; therefore we cannot develop and teach content that fits with our overall curriculum and is based on both our own highly developed and continuously renewed competence and our direct experience of our students’ needs and abilities.
To use the language of education technology, they do not want to be “unbundled.”
By Steve Harris, a Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science who has taught at Saint Louis University for twenty years and is president of the SLU AAUP chapter.
This is another chapter in the unfolding story of Saint Louis University, the struggle between the President and the faculty.
When last we’d left our intrepid crew in November, the Faculty Senate had voted near-unanimously No Confidence in the VP for Academic Affairs (for multitudinous reasons of running academic affairs with total disregard for faculty input, most notably proposing to end tenure) following up by doing the same for the President (for a history of deprecating and disrespecting the faculty and academics generally, but most particularly for fully supporting the VPAA against the will of just about the entire faculty).
The US Supreme Court has rejected Ward Churchill’s final appeal of his firing by the University of Colorado, and an ugly chapter in the history of academic freedom will now be left to the history books rather than the courts.
“An example I came up with: A guy stabs another guy and then
the victim is in the hospital. The guy who stabs him comes to the
victim’s bedside with the victim’s family, just to tell him everything
is going to be alright. That’s how I am feeling.”
Kyle D. Johnson
Millersville University Student
Class of 2013
[POST UPDATED 3/15/2013: Correction under "Free Speech Frame" heading]
A two year contract fight and several years of austerity apparently were not enough to persuade Millersville University administration that it should close out the year on a high note, celebrating the accomplishments of their students. Instead, the administration has thrown the university back into the political fires of Gov. Tom Corbett’s deep cuts in public education from Kindergarten through higher ed. Millersville University is part of the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which Corbett targeted for a 50% budget cut in 2011. The state legislature softened the blow by passing “only” an 18-20% cut in State funding to public higher education (see details in one of my previous posts, “Flat Funding? Not in the Reality-Based World”). These cuts led to the elimination of three men’s sports: indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and cross country. The university also cut or left unfilled 124 faculty and staff positions as a result of the deep cuts. So, how did Millersville University administration decide to close out this academic year? By invited Gov. Tom Corbett – the architect of austerity in PA – to be the 2013 Commencement speaker.
In an interview on the Rick Smith Show on Tuesday (3/12), Kyle Johnson, a graduating senior at Millersville, said that when he first heard the announcement, he “thought it was a joke.” The choice of Corbett as the 2013 Commencement speaker was a “smack in the face,” according to Johnson – a phrase echoed by dozens of students posting stories of their outrage on a petition against Corbett speaking at graduation, a “No Corbett at Milllersville” Facebook page, and a “No Corbett at Millersville Graduation” tumblr page.
Last week, porn star James Deen spoke to a class at Pasadena City College, but administrators banned a planned public event with Deen. In a press release misleadingly titled, “PCC Instructor Agrees To Cancel Public Event,” the PCC administration claimed, “Pasadena City College administrators met with instructor Hugo Schwyzer today and came to agreement to move an unauthorized scheduled public event that featured a male actor in the pornography industry. There will be no public event at PCC on Feb. 27.” On his blog, Schwyzer noted that this was not true, “I want to make clear that there were no negotiations; I was simply told that the public event was off. This was a decision unilaterally imposed rather than negotiated.”
North Dakota State University has reversed its ban on a grant involving Planned Parenthood that sparked outrage from Republican politicians. Last month, NDSU president Dean Bresciani announced that a $1.2 million federal grant to two faculty members would be prohibited because of Planned Parenthood’s participation, due to a state anti-abortion law. However, the reversal only came due to a ruling by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that the law had been held unconstitutional more than 30 years ago and therefore could not restrict the university. Faculty senate President Tom Stone Carlson, who wrote a letter critical of the ban, expressed an ongoing concern about the process in the case. Obviously, the university should have allowed the grant to go forward at the start, rather than making a bad interpretation of the law before any ruling had been made.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spoken out against the forces of repression in the controversy over speakers supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Here’s his full statement:
Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. I mean, if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.
The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.
You know, the freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system, and take that away and higher education in this country would certainly die.
Some of the gutless politicians in New York who first threatened Brooklyn College’s funding unless it banned controversial speakers have now issued another letter, pretending that they never endangered academic freedom at all.
It all shows that if there is the courage to strongly defend academic freedom from both outside and inside academia (as Brooklyn College and many others did), the advocates of censorship can be defeated.
with Katelin Kaiser
January 8, 2012 to January 8, 2013 year overview of visitors at Writing Commons
In past blogs, I’ve argued academics, particularly tenured faculty, should consider self-publishing their pedagogical materials. Today I wish to further explore the benefits of open textbook publishing. For this blog I’m joined by Katelin Kaiser, a graduate student in Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of South Florida College of Medicine as well as one of the editors at Writing Commons.
Clearly, for academics there are meaningful obstacles to self-publishing OERs (Open Education Resources), including open textbooks or open courseware. First despite counter arguments such as Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered, Salary, Tenure, and Promotion Committees still prize the scholarship of discovery over the scholarship of application or teaching. Traditionally, hiring, tenure, and promotion are driven by obsolete notions of scarcity: academics relinquish copyright to distinguished university presses or journals in exchange for academic rewards, not worrying that forevermore their work will be locked behind passwords, controlled by powerful knowledge management companies such as Elsevier.