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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Academic Freedom

Here's an interesting one.

An "academic freedom syllabus" that sees academic freedom exclusively as administrators caving in in "knee jerk" fashion to the right. She repeats that phrase "knee jerk" so many times. And "alt right."

Most of the time, academic administrators are repressing freedom on their own accord, not because of some external right-wing threat. They are doing so when faculty challenge the administrators, or to satisfy some not right-wing constituencies of students, or in a misguided attempt to enforce Title IX.

They are creating "free speech zones" and speech codes.

The so-called "progressive stack" is very dangerous. If someone has the academic freedom to call on students according to a hierarchy of race and gender, why wouldn't another professor have the right to call on students according to a "regressive stack"? This professor might say, well, "since my colleagues are using the progressive stack in their classes, I need to counter this by calling on the most privileged first, etc..." Well, that would be outrageous, but if the progressive stack exists, then wouldn't the same academic freedom justify the regressive stack.

Of course, some would point out that the regressive stack is already being practiced. I can see that perspective too.  So we could go around in a circle with this argument. I would counter that then the regressive professor could say that he is just following the status quo then, so he can't be disciplined for doing what he has always done. Because academic freedom.

 I think this should be debated and if anyone can prove me wrong I would be happy.


Thomas said...

You won't get much of an argument from on this. I think stacking in either direction is bad because it doesn't get to the root of the individual's assertiveness or reticence. Some people talk way more than they should. But it's not because they are white or male. Others don't assert themselves enough. Again, this isn't because they are black or female. It's because their experience has shaped a particular kind of personality.

That's not to say that stacking doen't have an empirical basis. It's possible that more white men than black women have spent their lives feeling encouraged to speak. But if they are told that, in this classroom, they must sit quietly or may speak freely because of their race and gender, the teacher isn't actually reshaping the habits of mind that made the one speak to often and the other not often enough.

"Why do you always think you have something interesting to say?"
"Why don't you ever speak in class?"

Get the students to think about these things in their own case, and as it pertains to their own thoughts and feelings. Don't offer them a blanket generalization to explain away an insecurity. Have them face their insecurities. Temper their over-confidence. Teach.

Leslie B. said...

Also, the much older stack is just to be aware of who speaks spontaneously and who may need to be drawn out, and who really doesn't want to be and if there's a reason for that that you should remedy (i.e. they secretly want to speak but are scared). And also to create situations, I suppose, like smaller group discussions, where more people can speak or be emboldened to do so. And, I note, to be a person who sees enough points of view so that you can avoid discounting people (unconscious discounting happens all the time).

I suspect the actual speaking problem, letting people speak problem, isn't in our disciplines, though.

Anonymous said...

And/but: the academic freedom problem you raise is in fact much more serious. Here, faculty aren't supposed to speak with each other much at all, and measures are taken to discourage conversation even within units; much other speech has to be run by Marketing & Hospitality before it is voiced at all, and there is a very strict "chain of command" that means you are not to speak, even socially or off campus, to anyone who holds a rank above you in any unit except your own (or so it has been expressed to me; I exaggerate just slightly). For example, I once chaired a university committee that reported to a dean, and had to cc every email to my dept. chair because it was to my dean, just so chair could have complete knowledge of everything everyone in unit said anywhere, even though the committee had absolutely nothing to do with departmental business.

Thomas said...

Last month I came up with a way of organizing discussions that gives people speaking time based on how interested the other people in the room are to hear what they say. It requires no stacking at all.