Category Archives: Academic Freedom

Free Speech in Academe

Report on Situation at UC Davis

Here is an excellent report on the situation at UC Davis, and in the California public university system in general, in the wake of pepper spraying of students and use of police brutality on campus.  It includes an interview with untenured professor Nathan Brown who called for the Chancellor’s resignation, and has since garnered support from around the world.  A brilliant example of faculty and students standing in solidarity against tuition hikes and the repression of free speech on campus.

 

 

Troubling Academic Freedom Case at Brooklyn College

February 1, 2011 UPDATE: It has been announced on Democracy Now that Brooklyn College has reversed its decision and rehired the professor.  Good sense and academic freedom prevails!

An adjunct professor at Brooklyn College was fired for his “pro-Palestinian” views.  Academic Freedom watchdog group FIRE protests the president on his behalf.  Here’s the link to the Brooklyn College case.

The Pratt collective bargaining agreement between the administration and faculty contains an article (article III) guaranteeing academic freedom, which reads:

III.1 Academic and professional freedom, creativity, and constructive dissent are essential to the functioning of the Institute as well as being a fundamental working condition. The Institute serves its community as an open intellectual forum where varying shades of opinion may be freely expressed and fairly debated.

III.2 Academic freedom shall include free discussion of material relevant to a course that a faculty member has been assigned to teach consistent with the published syllabus and established curriculum.

III.3 Faculty members are entitled to full freedom in research, creation of personal works and the publication of the results. The creation of these works is not to interfere with the satisfactory performance of responsibilities to the Institute.

III.4 Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should not introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject. Teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but this special position in the community imposes special obligations. As men and women of learning and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they at all times should be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others and for the established policy of their institution, and when properly identifying themselves to outside audiences as associated with the Institute should clearly indicate that they are not institutional spokespeople unless specifically commissioned to serve in such a capacity.

III.5 Academic freedom is inseparable from professional responsibility and ethics. Academic responsibility of the faculty shall include teaching effectiveness and professional competence.

III.6 Notwithstanding the foregoing, in those cases where a faculty member’s research or other work is sponsored through the Institute, the faculty member will not engage in conduct that is contrary to or inconsistent with any agreement between the Institute and the sponsoring entity.


Understanding Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom, covered under article III in the UFCT 1460's CBA, can be an elusive concept to understand.  The case of University of Alaska professor, Rick Steiner, who lost a research grant due to his outspoken statements on environmental conservation, gets to the core principle of academic freedom: the freedom of faculty to pursue the "truth" in their fields without outside pressure, be it political or economic.  He had received a $10,000 research grant from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that was revoked when he spoke openly against irresponsible actions of the oil industry in Alaska.  NOAA pressured the University to take away the grant, and the University conceded.  The key point is, private funding sources can ask for whatever they want, but it is up to the University to defend the academic freedom rights of its faculty, and the principle of academic freedom more generally, within its ivory towers.  Otherwise, the production of knowledge in the university becomes tied to the whims of the corporate or political world, and the notion of the university as a space of free inquiry, including speech, dies.

Here is a link to an interview with Steiner on Democracy Now (incidentally, his faculty union filed a grievance on his behalf that is working its way through the system).

News and Comments: April 29, 2008

Dear members,

Several items of note:

1.  Ratification of the Collective Bargaining Agreement/Elections

As you probably know by now, on April 17th the Union and the Administration signed the Memorandum of Understanding (often referred to as the "MOU"), a document that lists the changes to the contract brought about through the collective bargaining process. 

These changes will be presented to Union members and discussed at a meeting to be held on May 1, from 12:30-2:00, in 110 Engineering. At this time, elections for the executive committee will also be held.

In the next stage of the process, all members will be sent a paper secret ballot and will be asked to vote on whether they accept the changes or not.  Ballots must be received back by the Union by May 23 at noon. 

This information has been outlined in greater detail in a letter sent by Kye Carbone to the Union membership, along with a copy of the MOU.

Please feel free to contact Kye, me, or any member of the executive committee if you have any questions at all, or would like more information (see the "About" section for contact information). 

2.  WWW.PRATTFACULTY.INFO

I just became aware of a website at www.prattfaculty.info that lists some, BUT NOT ALL, proposed changes to the CBA (I am a bit out of the loop because I am on sabbatical this year).  The site places, side by side, new, proposed CBA language and the old language, from the 2003-2007 CBA.  I checked the information that is on the site, and it appears to be correct, if incomplete.  

I want to make it clear that the UFCT 1460 executive committee is not responsible for this site, and we have no idea who is (unless again I am out of the loop and one of my colleagues knows something that I don't). 

THIS website–the one you are looking at now–is run by the Union executive committee.  In my capacity as UFCT secretary, I am the main person who has been posting on it.  Anyone–members or non-members–is invited to comment.  My "philosophy" of the site, if you allow me to put it this way, is to post basic information that is important to members, as well as general union-related issues of a more global significance (health care issues, strikes, labor issues at the state and federal level) .  This is why even readers outside Pratt are invited to participate.  I do this because I see our Union as part of the larger context of global labor and the fight to maintain workers' rights.  So far, I have not been very successful at generating input, despite a previous plea.  I do find it strange that faculty would rather debate Union-related issues on the academic forum than here, but again, that is just my opinion.  

I always sign my name to these posts because I want to make it clear that they are coming only from me and do not speak for the whole membership.  Indeed, I don't think I want to be part of an organization where one person is capable of speaking for the whole membership.  Again, as far as I can tell, www.prattfaculty.info is anonymous. 

3.  Collective Bargaining

There has been some discussion on the Academic Forum listserv about the proposed changes made to Article 3, the article protecting academic freedom.  Just one point about the way the discussion is proceeding: the way I see it, some posts create the impression that the COLLECTIVE bargaining process consists of the Union ALONE, as paradoxical as that may seem upon close inspection. 

The process consists–and I have just seen it myself for the first time with my own eyes– of representatives from the Union and the Administration literally looking across a real, concrete table at each other, each side holding a "wish list" of changes they would like to make to the CBA.  A lengthy process of series of back and forth discussions–i.e. negotiations–ensues.  

I just wanted to paint a more vivid picture of what is actually taking place to attempt to dispel the impression that I received from reading some of these postings that the Union alone initiated all of the changes in the MOU. 

Yours truly,

Suzanne Verderber 

 
AGAIN: Union members, please try to attend the meeting on May 1, 12:30-2, 110 Engineering, to discuss the MOU and to vote on the members of the Union executive committee. 

The Question of Collegiality

Is "collegiality" a valid category in assessing whether a faculty member merits promotion?  This statement from the American Association of University Professors explains in the plainest terms the dangers of separating collegiality out from those criteria traditionally taken into account at most institutions of higher learning: teaching, research, and service.  The statement argues that by necessity, collegiality is a component of all of these areas, indeed, for one's overall performance as a faculty member.  Separating collegiality as its own category could, the AAUP argues, have a chilling effect on a faculty member's expressions of dissent in various areas where such dissent is constructive and important (such as curriculum committees or job searches), and thus threaten academic freedom, and it could tend to enforce homogeneity.  The UFCT 1460 stands by, as always, the procedures laid out in Article XVI of the Collective Bargaining Agreement when questions of reappointment, promotion, and tenure are raised.

–Suzanne Verderber

Academic Freedom November 28, 2007

GLOBAL NEWS

The following article raises key issues related to academic freedom.  What is the meaning of “academic freedom” in the current, highly politicized environment in which we teach?  Can restrictions be placed upon teachers in terms of their right to speak out about political issues like the Iraq War?  Isn’t informing students about the current political environment an important part of “teaching”?  Can any subject matter really be politically or ideologically neutral? Is it possible to check politics at the classroom door?

–Suzanne Verderber      

Washington Teachers Under Fire For War Protest Participation
by Chris Daniels

Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 by King 5 News (Washington)

TUKWILA, Wash. – Students in Tukwila are rallying around a group of teachers in trouble with the school district for taking part in an anti-war protest.

That war protest turned into a full-fledged controversy at Foster High School in Tukwila. Should teachers have encouraged students to walk out of class to protest the war in Iraq?

The civics lesson is now under the microscope.

The Tukwila School Board is sorting out whether anyone should be punished over the issue. A Foster High School social studies teacher remains on paid administrative leave after the district says he participated with students in a walkout and protest of the war.
The students rallied outside a school board meeting Tuesday night and rallied to the defense of their teachers inside.

“Why are we being punished, why are we being silenced?” asked one student.

Roughly 125 Foster High students walked out of class earlier this month to protest the war, part of a state-wide effort. But the Tukwila School District is investigating six teachers who may have encouraged the students, including the one who marched out with the kids.

“Even though he is a teacher, he has a right too,” said another student.
The district says teachers were warned not to participate, but says this is not about politics but rather student safety.

“To us, students leaving during the middle of the day, without parent permission, can be a volatile and unsafe situation,” said Jan Lande, Tukwila School District spokesperson.

At least one parent agreed at Tuesday night’s meeting agreed.

“If I was here at the school and I left, they would have fired me. You’re here to teach!” said one parent.

No word on when the investigation will be done or if punishments will be handed down. Some of the students who walked out had notes from home; others who didn’t were given so called unexcused tardies.