Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Academic 'Freedom'

When I ran across a web site proclaiming that it advocated academic freedom for students, my first thought was 'Oh God...' accompanied by a sinking feeling. Sure enough, the folks behind this web site (sorry no link to it -- they are too retarded) have no idea about academic freedom, nor the history of the doctrine (the AAUP do have some useful information on the background to this notion). The so-called 'students for academic freedom' (SfAF) web site appears to just be dedicated to furthering the agenda of various flavors of Right wing nut jobs. Amusingly, the site banner has the subtitle "You cannot get a good education if they're only telling you half the story." Apart from the objectionable contraction in this slogan, it also appears they have not noticed that it is also hard to get a good education if classes are disrupted by moronic frat boys who worship at the House of Dick Cheney (i.e. who these people appear to be).

The premise behind this web site is that apparently all us professor types are pinko lefties who brainwash our students with our Marxist/Anarcho/Terrorist rhetoric. This, of course, is a complete load of bollocks, but why should this inconvenient fact stop their Psycho-Republican fun? Needless to say, one of the figures behind (or at least, one of the gurus of) these room temperature IQs (N.B. this ad hominem is intentional) is oxygen-thief David Horowitz. Horowitz has already attracted attention in the Blogosphere. According to his wikipedia entry, Horowitz has a mere Masters degree and has no recent connections with academia. Yet Horowitz has somehow managed to come up with a list of the '101 most dangerous professors', with an accompanying silly blog. I am, of course, deeply insulted at not being included on this list. All this activity by Horowitz is probably best explained by his being unable to gain a place in a Ph.D. program (this is a pure conjecture).

The problem with Horowitz and SfAF is that they seem to be actually convincing some of the feebler minds amongst politicians. To provide a concrete illustration of how utterly silly the so-called 'ideas' of SfAF are, I will quote, and then comment upon, some of the provisions of HLS 05RS-683, that was filed in the Louisiana legislature last year. Remember, this is not a test. Some people actually think that these proposal should be put into law!

(1) All faculty members shall be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.

This provision is naturally totally unworkable, as there is no provision for promoting the good ol' boys'. However, it does suggest that there should be also be some new lines for advocates of Satanism, Voodoo and Necromancy in the College of Liberal Arts.

(2)No faculty member shall be hired, fired, promoted, or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of the faculty member's political, ideological, or religious beliefs.

Does this mean that a faculty member who argues in favor of terrorism, in support of pedophile rights, as a religious doctrine, would be in the clear?

(3)No faculty member shall be excluded from tenure, search, and hiring committees on the basis of the faculty member's political, ideological, or religious beliefs.

This provision seems to suggest that it would be fine to have Nazis on search and tenure committees.

(4)Students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines and not on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs.

This is pretty funny. Few people have any formal training in 'reasoning' (other than philosophers). Does this mean that only philosophers would be allowed to grade work? Also, there are technical problems. For instance, ANYTHING logically follows (validly) from contradictory premises. So, if a student argued,

1) The Moon is made of green cheese,
2) It is not the case that the Moon is made of green cheese,
Therefore,
3) The President is a space alien

would we have to give them an A?

(5)Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences shall respect all human knowledge in these areas and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints

This sounds like great news for scholars of really obscure fields. For instance, the well known nut job P. D. Ouspensky wrote at length [incoherently] on the work of Kant. Does this mean that he has to be on the syllabus for Modern philosophy too? Do we have to include the work of Crowley in any course that mention Rabblais [Crowley pinched a lot of Rabblais work].

(6) Teachers shall be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views but shall consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints.

So, does this provision imply that in Physics class we will hear professors making remarks like "whilst I accept General Relativity, the guy who collects my garbage doesn't believe in physics and claims that relativity is a plot by the Freemasons"?

(7)Academic disciplines shall welcome a diversity of approaches, and institutions shall recognize that exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a primary responsibility of faculty members.

Huh? The phrase 'significant scholarly viewpoint' is of interest here. One of the key motivations behind these proposed rules is to make Creationism and (un)Intelligent Design legitimate topics in college courses. However, it is very far from clear that either position amounts to a 'significant scholarly viewpoint'. Thus, it would appear that this wording, would not actually achieve the desired goal, as stated.

(8)Faculty members shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.

Doesn't this outlaw both political science and theology, strictly interpreted?

(9)The freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, and conscience of students and student organizations shall not be infringed upon instructors, institutional administrators, student government organizations, or by institutional policies,
rules, or procedures.

So, if the frat boys want to run around the quad naked, nobody should do anything (freedom of expression)? Also, wouldn't this mean that running beggars off campus would be prohibited, as their 'freedom of expression' to request 'spare change' would be protected?

(10) Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers' programs, and other student activities shall observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

So, does this provision entail that for every business speaker, we need to balance with an Anarchist? Does this mean that religious groups on campus must also sponsor talks by atheists?

I could continue, but you get the point. Let us do all we can to stop this utter silliness. For all their high-minded sounding prose, SfAF are really just offering utterly insane and fundamentally flawed and unworkable proposals, that will do nothing other than lead to ideologically driven chaos.

The CP

1 Comments:

Blogger Professor Zero said...

Oh yes, this is way clear now! :-)

9:33 PM  

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