September 21, 2007

IN INSIDE HIGHER ED., a bad review for the AAUP:

In any event, on purely intellectual grounds, “Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure” would have been better advised to seek a broader preliminary review. That’s because, regardless of one’s views about the propriety of bringing political opinions to the college classroom, the report is ill-executed. It takes aim at arguments that the critics haven’t made; it caricatures other criticisms; and it insists on strange premises — the most singular of which is the idea that “truth” is whatever the members of a discipline say it is.

Besides enunciating the AAUP’s dismal view of conservative scholars, the report makes one other theme abundantly clear. If we take the corporate authorship of the report at face value, the nation’s largest association of faculty members cares far more about the freedom of professors than it does the education of students. In the AAUP’s view, the freedom of faculty members is as broad and open-ended as a circus tent. The freedom of students to be taught in classes that focus on the subject at hand, unadorned by their instructors’ opinings on President Bush, global warming, or immigration — that freedom — hardly exists.

It wasn’t always so. The AAUP was founded in 1915 by Arthur Lovejoy and John Dewey, who had been moved by the firing of a Stanford University faculty member because of his political views. The AAUP made its first mark with its publication of a “Statement of Principles” that laid out a compelling account of what academic freedom should be. First sentence: “The term ‘academic freedom’ has traditionally had two applications — to the freedom of the teacher and to that of the student.” The AAUP’s founding document is primarily concerned with the freedom of the teacher, but it includes a powerful set of caveats. As this paragraph does not appear in more recent AAUP statements or as far as I can tell elsewhere on the Internet, I offer it here in its entirety . . . .

The AAUP in 1915 saw the potential for faculty members to abuse academic freedom, and it warned that for the profession to protect itself it would have to “purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy” who included those who engage in “uncritical and intemperate partisanship.”

Nowadays that’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

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