OPED: The stifling of speech, academic freedom and service on our campuses
I read Dr.Rory Kraft’s letter about both the right and left silencing their opponents in the Dec. 11 York Sunday News. He’s correct in condemning attempts to silence those we may disagree with. There’s absolutely no justification in pressuring colleges, hospitals or other organizations to fire those with diverse viewpoints. Such action would only be defensible if statements advocated violence or were clear attempts to terrorize. Professor Watch Lists have no place in a free and open society. The stifling of divergent views is the first step in the abolition of freedom.
Colleges should lead free speech but in many cases do the opposite. Administrators turn away speakers they disagree with. Faculty and students pressure schools in a similar manner: don’t let the guy you disagree with on campus. This is a truly deplorable situation at odds with the ideals upon which colleges were founded.
Professor Kraft is also spot on regarding the role of colleges in public education and service to the community. He quoted the 1940 joint statement by the Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a foundational document which reads in part that “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interests of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and free exposition.”
There are many aspects to this problem and the first step in addressing it is to see it in its entirety. Community service outside of the institution is not strongly weighed in faculty evaluations. Publication and “college service” are more important. College administrations control faculty through meaningless committee work which is routinely rejected by the administration. Faculty are trapped within; largely unable to use their talents outside of the institution. The problem is compounded with external review. Accreditation agencies don’t focus on community service or communications with alumni. The vital relations which colleges need to maintain are not supported by the colleges themselves or those entities with institutional oversight.
The situation needs an overhaul.
School administrations bully and befuddle the faculty. Teaching jobs are tough to get so the administration is on top. Tenure exists in name only at many colleges (no union = no tenure). Unwanted and/or high earning professors are simply forced out. Turnover on campuses is higher than it has been traditionally with older faculty being replaced by a whole new class of professors. These “Zombie Professors” teach a few years at one institution, tire of the BS and move on. They then get caught anew at their current school and the cycle repeats itself. This keeps them occupied, obedient and subservient. Business oriented college administrations regard them as employees, not true professionals.
New faculty are run through a gauntlet and are burnt out. Spent. And some become full-fledged Zombies and begin eating the flesh of other faculty.
Which is where I must disagree with Professor Kraft in his discussion of the academy which policies the ranks of faculty. The academy at present is about as effective at managing faculty affairs as the Veteran’s Administration is at customer service. This was not always the case, but in the recent past faculty have unconditionally surrendered.
Some have exploited their positions at the expense of other faculty; not to mention students, employers and society.
Academy “members” are in serious denial. Many have not read or internalized the seminal documents of the AAUP. An in-depth assessment regarding both faculty and administrative familiarity with AAUP doctrine is certainly in order. An audit as to how the principles are being adhered to is necessary.
Academic freedom is routinely infringed upon at colleges nationwide; often by the faculty themselves! Nasty political gamesmanship which excludes faculty from curriculum decisions and the like occurs far more than it should. Regrettably, when faculty are made aware of these issues, they often claim ignorance and show disbelief.
The academy is in retreat, denial and defeat. It needs a reboot, immediately, if not sooner. For when we lose our ability, our right, to question, we die as a democratic society. Academia needs to lead this effort. To do that, real leadership is necessary.
Those on campus have an obligation to society. A serious one.
Chris Hertig, Spring Garden, is a career educator and advocate for higher education reform. He is on the York Dispatch Editorial Advisory Board and belongs to several professional organizations involved in higher education.