Academic Freedom in Troubling Times

October 02, 2018 / Sabrina Balderama

Academic Freedom in Troubling Times

Last Friday, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article entitled “‘This is Much More Important:’ How Faculty Taught the Kavanaugh-Ford Hearing.” “I basically threw the lesson plans for the day out of the window,” one professor told CHE, “and I decided that this is much more important.” Such pedagogical moves used to define good teaching--improvise, be spontaneous, make subjects relevant by illuminating their connections to current events. In today’s political landscape, however, such moves are increasingly difficult to pull off confidently. Do you find yourself avoiding topics that you might have gravitated to once or otherwise censoring yourself more than you did in the past? Or, conversely, do you feel obliged to address politics more overtly than before, given the precarious state of our republic and higher education’s role in creating an informed citizenry?  In either case, do you think about the phrase “academic freedom”more often than, or differently from how, you used to? What protections does it truly offer?

Times have changed since “academic freedom” was largely understood as a defense against the Cold War’s suppression of dissent. We have new things to worry about, not to mention new technologies provoking new concerns. What, for example, would happen if a student surreptitiously records you and you become a target of harassment by Turning Point USA? What happens if your tweet supportive of BDS goes viral and you are accused of anti-semitism? How aggressively and in what ways can you support the Disarm PSU movement before you worry about possible administrative retaliation? 

At the Academic Freedom event on October 16th, PSU-AAUP will provide a forum--and lunch--for members to discuss concerns. I will briefly introduce the basic principles of academic freedom, as articulated and fought for by the American Association of University Professors. I will also summarize a few recent cases brought to AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom. Most important, though, will be hearing what’s on one another’s minds and building a community that can mobilize to defend any of us if we find ourselves targeted.

Please come Tuesday, October 16th, at 12 pm.  RSVP by Oct 8 here:

Jennifer Ruth

VP of Grievances and Academic Freedom

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