Peter Wood has an interesting article today in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the AAUP’s efforts to encourage faculty advocacy in the classroom. He writes:
In a series of recent reports beginning in 2007 with Freedom in the Classroom, the AAUP has staked out a position that aggressively expands the zone in which faculty members should be free to enunciate their personal opinions to their students. The AAUP has, in effect, found no appropriate limit on what professors should say or how they say it, other than to draw the line at “dishonest tactics” and outright attempts to “deceive students.”
Faculty members teaching a course on botany are, in the AAUP’s reckoning, free to digress on the perfidy of political leaders; faculty members teaching American literature are free to delve at whatever length they choose into issues of economics, social justice, or the environment. The freedom of faculty members, in this view, extends to “rhetorical intensity.” So faculty members are free to bully, humiliate, and rant—although the report genteelly avoids putting in plain language the various forms of intemperate expression its authors would countenance.
The AAUP is pushing for greater academic freedom in the classroom, according to Mr. Wood, because “any attempt to draw the line between permissible and impermissible forms of advocacy might well be seized as a pretext by those who are eager to silence certain views.”
Yet in ADF’s experience, those “who are eager to silence certain views” are fellow faculty members and administrators. Consider the case of June Sheldon, for example. She was hired to teach a human heredity class. When a student asked her about the relationship between heredity and homosexual behavior, she answered by referring the student to the textbook’s answer–that the question is being debated in the scientific community. She then added some thoughts of her own based on her research. Another student later reported that she was “offended” by Ms. Sheldon’s comments. Did the college protect Ms. Sheldon? Did it cite her academic freedom to add her own expertise to the classroom? No. It fired her.
Or consider the case of Professor Mike Adams. The University of North Carolina – Wilmington refused to promote him to full professor because he was a Christian and had written political commentary outside the classroom. Indeed, those responsible for his promotion were his peers in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. They did not support his academic freedom, they trampled it. (In the AAUP’s defense, it submitted an excellent amicus brief to a federal appeals court, supporting Professor Adams’ case of discrimination.)
Mr. Wood blames the AAUP’s problem on the widespread bias in the academy. A bias not necessarily of political nature, but of societal nature. According to him:
The academic left has so far succeeded in its own domination of the means of intellectual production that most students never catch a glimpse of the alternatives. The exception may be in economics courses, where even liberal professors tend to take a positive view of free markets, but this exception does little to modify the overall proposition: Our universities teach from a standpoint of opposition to the society they are part of.
The AAUP explicitly regards this as a good thing, and it further regards “academic freedom” as the doctrine our society needs in order to keep “vested interests,” the “tyranny of public opinion,” and other threats of “interference” at bay (see pages four and five of the new report). We need academic freedom, in this view, to foster the progressive “long term” thinking and criticism that can flower in an academy that sets itself against the short-term calculations that are likely to prevail in the political and social world outside.
Perhaps the real reason we need robust academic freedom is not to protect American society from itself, as the AAUP believes, but to protect the “unpopular” or “politically incorrect” faculty from an academy in ideological lockstep.