"Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition." (AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure)
Since late summer, Daily Academic Freedom has become monthly academic freedom. Daily blogging in the first half of the year taught me a lot about academic freedom, but it took its toll on me, and I had to take a break. While I don’t often make an appearance here any more, I have continued to work on academic freedom.
Regular readers will recall that in September I launched a new monthly online column with University Affairs — Dispatches on Academic Freedom. Today, my third dispatch went live. In this latest column, I weigh the need to hold up university ideals against the reality that many university personnel work in far from ideal conditions. How best should we understand academic freedom in a context in which, according to a recent study, fewer than 47% of university professors are tenure-stream? Here’s an excerpt:
I have often been emboldened by my tenure in moments that required courage from me as a scholar. In my teaching, my research and my administrative work, when I am wavering about whether I have the nerve to say a difficult or unpopular thing, I have gotten into the habit of reminding myself that tenure is precious, and that it exists precisely so that professors can go out on a limb. The protection of tenure has made me a better scholar and a better citizen of academe.
By contrast, when contract faculty similarly waver in moments that require courage, they simply cannot afford to take the risks that I can. For instance, taking a pedagogical risk can produce bad course evaluation forms, which might disincline a department to reappoint a sessional instructor. A university might be similarly disinclined to reappoint a contract research professor who takes a public stance on a controversial issue.
In other news, I was delighted to be able to sing the praises of Scholars at Risk’s wonderful MOOC (massive open online course), Dangerous Questions as part of SAR’s latest “Spotlight feature.” (In the screenshot below, I’m the cheerful outdoorsy person with the glasses and the big scarf.) Read more here.
As well, September’s panel discussion at Cape Breton University on equity, academic freedom and freedom of expression is in the process of becoming a special issue of a journal. I’ll share more on that as the project emerges.
Finally, I’m very much looking forward to participating in a meeting this Friday hosted by Women’s and Gender Studies, New College, U of T, “Within and Against Academic Freedom.” If you’re in or near Toronto, come and check it out!
In addition to these exciting things I’m working on, I have a ton to report to you about academic freedom and related campus free speech issues. I promise another post soon with updates on that front.
I’ve written here, here, here, and here (and also here) about Hungarian attacks on academic freedom. We’ve known since August that the conservative Orbán government wants to eliminate Hungary’s gender studies programs. The initial plan was to cease funding gender studies programs in the fall of 2019. At the time, the government gave universities a month to reply to the announcement.
Last Friday, Orbán signed a decree removing gender studies programs from the list of approved Hungarian Masters programs. At a press conference, chief of staff Gergely Gulyas commented:
The Hungarian government is of the clear view that people are born either men or women. They lead their lives the way they think best, but beyond this, the Hungarian state does not wish to spend public funds on education in this area.
This latest encroachment by the Hungarian government on academic freedom and institutional autonomy is unlikely to be the last. We’ll keep a watching eye.
Today, my second online “Dispatches on Academic Freedom” column appeared in University Affairs. Today’s column offers a brief history of academic freedom preparatory to a future column on current threats to academic freedom.
Among the matters I discuss in the column, Canadian readers of this blog might be surprised by the important role that Canada played in UNESCO’s academic freedom statement:
In 1993, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to devise and adopt an international standard-setting recommendation on the status of higher education teaching personnel. President Ronald Reagan had in 1984 withdrawn the U.S. from UNESCO. Looking for North American leadership from outside the U.S., UNESCO turned to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which seconded CAUT executive director Donald Savage as an expert for the project. The result is UNESCO’s 1997 “Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.”
The UNESCO Recommendation expresses “pressing concern regarding the vulnerability of the academic community to untoward political pressures which could undermine academic freedom” and asserts “that the right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education and that the open communication of findings, hypotheses and opinions lies at the very heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research.”
So, Daily Academic Freedom isn’t daily any more. Daily blogging throughout the first half of this year was exciting and rewarding and taught me a great deal about academic freedom, but it also took a toll on the rest of my work, and on my work-life balance. Regular readers will know by now that I have launched a monthly online column with University Affairs, the magazine of the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC). Henceforth, I plan to house my “big ideas” there.
I won’t be blogging on a daily basis here again (unless a new crisis restarts my engine). However, I want to continue to use this space as a repository for academic freedom-related information and news, and as a place to test drive the ideas that will appear in a more polished form in Dispatches on Academic Freedom, my University Affairs column.
It’s been about a week since I blogged here, and in that week, I’ve seen a bunch of new stories about academic freedom, or about the related area of campus free expression/speech. I want to register here the existence of those stories, and link to them for those readers who wish to read further.
In no particular order, then, (or, rather, in approximately the order of the open tabs on my browser) here is this week’s academic freedom round-up:
The Myth of ‘Liberal Intolerance’: Eric Alterman in The Nation. Alterman argues that reports of threats to free speech on campus are overblown, even according to conservatives like Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray. Alterman ends the piece by suggesting that “the Trump administration’s disastrous policies on college loans and the tremendous unpayable debt it is seeking to saddle students with” are much more serious worries than a few lefty students and profs.
EU Acts Against Hungary, Citing Academic Freedom: Speaking of worries worth taking seriously, we’ve talked here before (here and here and here) about the Hungarian government’s attacks on academic freedom. Last week, the European Parliament took the unusual step of voting (by an overwhelming majority) to call on member states to decide whether Hungary is in breach of EU values. Here are more details from the horse’s mouth. And here’s a quote from the European University Association:
While the situation is alarming in several countries including Turkey and Russia, Hungary is the first EU member state to systematically interfere in university matters and repeatedly violate academic freedom.
How a Professor Was Punished for an Act of Citizenship: Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic recounts the tale of Plymouth State University professor emeritus Michael Fischler, who was sanctioned by university administrators for submitting a letter attesting to the character of a defendant in a criminal case. Click through to Friedersdorf’s story for the details. The big worry raised by the case is that PSU’s treatment of Fischler risks creating a chill for other scholars in similar situations. Here’s an excerpt:
“By imposing penalties on these professors, PSU runs afoul of the First Amendment and its own academic freedom policies,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education declared in a condemnatory statement. “Although adjunct professors are without the benefits of tenure, public universities may not refuse to rehire them over protected expression, as such an act is retaliatory in nature and violates their First Amendment rights.”
No, I Will Not Debate You:Laurie Pennie in Longreads explains why she won’t publicly debate figures from the far-right, and worries that (contra liberal optimism) sunlight can’t disinfect fascism. She concludes: “there are no new ideas on the far right. There are only new recruits. And every time progressives sacrifice the public good on the altar of personal purity, there will be more.”
Jordan Peterson Threatened to Sue a Critic for Calling Him a Misogynist: The Cut reports that University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson threatened to sue feminist philosopher Kate Manne, her university, and Vox magazine for a Vox interview in which Manne offers characterizations like the following: “I also suspect that for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.” We have discussed other (actual, not merely threatened) lawsuits by Peterson here and here and here. You may be puzzled about how it is that a vocal campus free speech advocate like Peterson keeps launching or threatening lawsuits against fellow scholars for things that they say. I’m a little puzzled by that too. I guess the world is just a confusing place.
I’m currently overseas to attend an academic conference and have been otherwise busy with the beginning of the term; so I don’t have time to post much or often here. However, there are a few matters worth posting about before too much time elapses. So, here is a quick round up.
First: On August 13, President Trump signed into law an act that included a provision making it much harder for researchers at colleges with Confucius Institutes to get Department of Defense grants. Senator Ted Cruz, not widely known for his defense of academic freedom, sponsored the law. He told the Washington Post that CIs are a threat to national security and academic freedom: “Confucius Institutes are a key way the regime infiltrates American higher education to silence criticism and sanitize education about China,” Cruz said. “American taxpayer dollars should not be subsidizing their propaganda.”
In this post, Alex Usher actually kind of predicted the new free speech mandate a few hours before the Government announced it. Here’s what he wrote:
…the Conservatives did make a promise about “protecting free speech on campus”. This is one of those annoying right-wing wedge issues which I’ve written about before. [DAF note: be sure to click through. Usher’s earlier linked post is useful.] There is a good way and a bad way for the Conservatives to adhere to this pledge. The bad way is one which effectively requires institutions to host speakers regardless of their opinions or affiliations. This is patently ridiculous. Not only does it foist a lot of security costs on institutions but it puts them in the position of having to acquiesce to having their names associated with some truly hateful people (as Wilfrid Laurier did last year when it chose to allow White Nationalist Faith Goldy to speak on campus), or worse, prevent them from banning Nazis from assembling on campus (as University of Toronto did last year). The better way is simply to say that public institutions have to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly of all students and staff on campus (which, subject to various laws on hate speech, they are more or less bound to do anyway). This is the policy of the United Conservative Policy of Alberta and the qualification about applying only to members of the campus community sidesteps most of the obvious idiocies involved in a “pure” free speech position.
What the government announced the next day is actually pretty much the “better way” Usher describes.
Far from entrenching free expression on university campuses, the Ford government policy undermines it. Free expression is not strengthened by diktats. Its strength lies in community recognition of free expression’s foundational importance to the university and society, and in community discussion and debate about the legitimate boundaries of free expression. While we need to challenge every lapse, we also cannot lose sight of the bigger reality that free expression rights are the norm within the university. We must speak out against policies such as Ford’s, and proposals such as Scheer’s, that undermine university autonomy, misrepresent the reality of free speech rights on campus, make more difficult the necessary community discussions about proper limits to free speech, and build the constituency of the alt-right whose real goal is the destruction of liberal values on which the university is based.
The next day, Creso Sá, director of the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education, published his analysis of the new policy. His analysis is very similar to Turk’s, but in addition Sá (quite rightly, in my view) takes the Council of Ontario Universities to task for appearing to validate the move by the government:
The Council of Ontario Universities issued a mildly obsequious statement expressing a shared commitment to freedom of expression, tortuously reminding the government that universities have “policies that affirm the right to freedom of expression for students, faculty and staff, and have mechanisms in place to resolve disputes.” COU has thus accepted the role it plays in the free speech spectacle set up by the government, which may be good tactics to avoid bruising egos of interlocutors who hold the purse strings. Nonetheless, this is a rather short-term and ineffectual form of public relations. The Ontario citizen who may inadvertently come across this message will see validation, not contestation, of the free speech crisis, which does not bode well for the public perception of universities.
Third:my August 30 post about the new provincial policy received a suddenly much-expanded readership when a prominent Toronto professor with a large social media reach tweeted it out to his followers. Predictably (I have been down this road before), I received some personal messages from some of those followers. I am going to share one of those messages with you to give you a sense of the weird historico-cultural moment in which I am writing (and you are reading) this blog. Fair warning: the language is pretty harsh. Prepare yourself.
Gosh, you are a dumb cunt aren’t you. And what a whiner. Yes I am completely thrilled that H8ful Feminists like you shall be shut down over time – and hopefully we can completely defund the publically overpaid “Institutions of Higher Indoctrination” like Waterloo. 80% of our Universities are a disgrace to the idea of learning (perhaps there are a few areas in Science that can be justified but even there I am pretty skeptical). This of course will come as no surprise to you as I am a male – and beyond hope of redemption. Hopefully you don’t have any boys as it will save them having to deal with you the rest of their lives – but that seems unlikely given your ideology/political orientation.
So, uh, 2018, amirite?
Fourth: If you follow academic freedom and campus freedom of expression in Canada (and since you’re reading this post, you probably do), you will no doubt be familiar with Dr. Rick Mehta, until recently an Associate Professor at Acadia University. And you are probably aware that Acadia fired him August 31. While the publicly-available details of the dismissal were at first pretty thin on the ground, Dr. Mehta recently shared with the media his termination letter, and an earlier letter detailing the disciplinary case against him. You can read all the details here.
Dr. Mehta and his supporters characterize his dismissal as a violation of his academic freedom and are casting Dr. Mehta himself as a kind of whistle-blower. Acadia’s faculty association has said that it will fight the termination. (For what it’s worth, I think that it is important that FAs step in whenever members are subject to discipline, especially discipline leading to termination — irrespective of what the FA members may think of the colleague who was the subject of discipline. FAs are essential to ensuring fair process. I hope no one gives the FA folks at Acadia any grief for doing the hard work they are about to undertake.)
Finally: You will no doubt recall that University of Toronto Psychology Professor Dr. Jordan Peterson some weeks back filed a lawsuit against Wilfrid Laurier University. I wrote about it here . UNB Prof Matthew Sears wrote about it here. And here’s the response from the Laurier faculty association. Well, on September 11, Dr. Peterson filed a second lawsuit against Laurier for remarks it made in a public statement in response to the first lawsuit. It’s hard to predict how many claims will in the end get stuffed into this litigious turducken. But in the end, it’s hard to see it as anything but a serious chill on both academic freedom and free speech.
We have previously on this blog discussed dire threats to academic freedom in Hungary. In August, Hungary continued its attack on universities by announcing that it would cease funding gender studies university programs, effective Fall 2019.
And, mid-August, the Department of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics issued the following statement:
The Times Higher this week reported on the Hungarian Government pushing forward with its plans to ban Gender Studies Masters programmes at both ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences and the Central European University (CEU). This is a clear attack on academic freedom that the Department of Gender Studies condemns. Gender Studies is an internationally recognised area of interdisciplinary study and its targeting is clearly ideological.
There have been a range of such attacks on Gender Studies programmes, faculty teaching in the field, and individuals who are gender non-conformist across Europe, in the US and in Latin America in recent years. These attacks are aligned with right-wing populist agendas that naturalise power relations between men and women and see women only as home-makers and carers. Such attacks link anti-migrant, racist, homophobic and sexist ideologies in the promotion of undemocratic, nationalist agendas and should be strongly resisted.
I’m delighted to share you with my first column for the online edition of University Affairs, part of my new monthly series, Dispatches on Academic Freedom.
University Affairs is the monthly magazine of Universities Canada, which I have discussed many times before on this blog (see here, for instance). As the national association for Canadian universities as colleges, Universities Canada has an enormous role in shaping post-secondary policy. I am really pleased to be able to share the work I’ve been doing on academic freedom with the readers of University Affairs.
As I discuss in the column (and as I argue here), now more than ever it is crucial that academics and the public understand academic freedom and its key role within the university.