We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Symptoms of the higher education bubble include students and their families in debt for unemployable degrees, taxpayers and the economy weighed down to support colleges that put country-club campuses, lack of academic rigor, even outright bias, above excellence, and fervid resistance to change from college faculties and administrators.
Any organization that fails to identify and satisfy the legitimate needs of those who provide its inputs and consume its outputs -- stakeholders -- will ultimately fail. Higher education is not immune to this rule of markets.
Professors are not the only stakeholders in academic freedom, though they’d like others to think so and allow them exclusive sway over what occurs within higher education. Students, qualified outside observers, taxpayers, indeed society in general, are key stakeholders.
Loyola professor of business law Arthur Gross-Schaefer’s brilliant piece in the February 2011 Journal of Legal Studies in Business, “Academic Freedom: Moving Away From The Faculty-Only Paradigm” is must reading for anyone who is concerned for the future and success of US higher education. As Gross-Schaefer says, “A serious re-evaluation of the faculty-centered paradigm of academic freedom needs to be undertaken.” Gross-Schaefer gets to the point: “this article will challenge the Robinson paradigm of academic freedom, predicated on faculty as the single stakeholder, as limiting and self-serving.” He reviews what happens “when a professor’s personal analysis begins to interfere with objective inquiry and the honest review of diverse opinions.”
Usually, this abnormal situation occurs when a professor is dealing with a contentious topic and has only presented a single view that compromises the academic environment. Accordingly, university students need basic academic rights: the right to not have professors impose political or personal beliefs, the right to receive valid scholarly materials, and the right to have controversial topics fairly discussed by having diverse views represented and carefully examined.
Gross-Schaefer points out:
The current debate over academic freedom may not be about academic issues at all, but rather about who maintains authority within the university. Academic freedom has become a wall that announces “hands off” and “no institution, individual, or group has the right to monitor, question, challenge, or influence what goes on inside the walls of academe.” Power can be dangerous, as we all know. It is hard to list any profession, other than perhaps members of the United States Supreme Court that combines guaranteed employment with virtually unregulated power. And with this power comes the potential for abuse in the classroom by professors. As a university chair for close to a decade, this author has witnessed the power of professors over their students and have been very concerned that professors do not fully appreciate their power to influence and control their students’ thinking. This power difference “heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion.” Professors, as powerful authority figures, need to appreciate this power dynamic and the responsibilities that come with it. Among these responsibilities is to not take advantage of their influence over students, especially when dealing with controversial issues….
Any discussion of this re-evaluation process will be challenging. The AAUP has enjoyed immense power in defining the terms of the discussion, as have faculty-centered advocates. Any attempt at moving toward a new paradigm diminishes entrenched interests and will most likely cause an emotional debate to ensue. There is a telling quip regarding anyone with a vested interest that it stands to reason, that nobody votes themselves out of power.
Contrary to the exclusive power of the faculty:
Consequently, to balance the commanding influence of the faculty and the AAUP, outside groups, especially those who are directly implicated in the subject matter at hand, should speak out appropriately concerning values of academic excellence and fairness, and their concerns should be taken seriously. Outside organizations may play a critical role as a counterbalance by providing a necessary check on the power exercised by faculty and the AAUP in defining academic standards in the classroom….
[A]cademic freedom, absent any standard of academic quality in terms of materials, inquiry, fair discussion or respect for students’ rights, should lose its protected status. It trivializes academic aspirations, and becomes divorced from its very raison d’être -to seek objective truth.
From the conclusion:
The concept of an ivory tower excluding all intrusion and embracing the idea that the classroom belongs to professors and only to professors under all circumstances is outdated and archaic. Rather, the classroom is critical to the development of our society as it trains our next generation to explore and seek the truth wherever it may be found. Therefore, the classroom belongs to no one particular group but to those who wish to move us into the future with integrity as we honestly quest for the truth.
(Thanks to SPME for bringing this article to my and wider attention.)