Monday, September 22, 2008

More Academic Freedom, American Style?

"Academic Freedom" is a fine thing. I think it's a wonderful idea, to be able to freely discuss issues from many different points of view.

That's the way it was, when I was last in college, back in the eighties. In theory.

In practice, there were instructors and departments about whom it was clearly understood that some points of view were more equal than others. And, in some classes at least, if you wanted to get good grades, you'd jolly well better have the right attitude: and say that you believe the right things.

Times sure have changed.

(Some) professors are still academically free to promote their views. But now, some students aren't keeping quiet any more.

Sarah Palin's Image is a Fairy Tale: And You'd Better Believe It!

At Denver's Metropolitan State College, an English teacher told students to say that Sarah Palin's "fairy tale" image was a fake, and how she was tricking the American people. The assignment was clearly stated: show that Palin is a fake. Do not provide alternatives to the idea that Palin is a fake.

The Denver instructor showed the sort of academic open-mindedness I've become accustomed to when the assignment was handed out:
"When Hallam handed out the Palin writing assignment, the students reported 'he said he would give the Republicans a chance to speak about it and asked who in the class was a Republican. Five of us raised our hands. When we did, [one other student] … said "F*** you!" Mr. Hallam did nothing about this. At the end of the class period, after a lot of the Republicans had voiced their side of the issue, another kid said, "They're full of s***, but we let them talk anyway." ' "
("Prof tells students: 'Undermine' Palin," WorldNetDaily (September 15, 2008))
I suppose I should be glad that students who are 'full of s***' are allowed to talk. It hasn't always been that way.

What Does "Academic Freedom" Have to do With the War on Terror?

Quite a lot, actually.

The War on Terror is so much about personal freedom that I've suggested that it be called the War on Freedom. I grew up in America, and didn't appreciate how precious individual freedom was, until I got to know people who had lived in less open countries, and had managed to escape to America.

I think an indication of how highly America values personal freedom is the degree to which private citizens are allowed to own dangerous technologies like guns, printing presses, and computers (discussed in a previous post).

I believe that people in colleges and universities should be free to express opinions, even if those opinions are not popular, or held by those with power and influence.

And that's why I believe that the "academic freedom" that allows people with one set of beliefs to marginalize those who don't agree with them is a problem. The politically correct version of academic freedom
  1. Prevents academics from discussing issues intelligently
  2. At best does nothing to refute the notion that Americans, and the west in general, is controlled by a bunch of anti-religious zealots
This bit of performance art is protected by 'academic freedom.'

However, I doubt that it significantly increases the regard that scholars around the world have for American culture and academics, and I'm quite sure that it insults at least two major world religions.

What happens on campus doesn't stay on campus. "Academic freedom" or not, it's high time that the powers that be on campus start acting more like grown-ups, and less like a high school clique.
The Denver college English teacher's assignment, as reported on
  • "...'Arguably, the entire event was designed to present Sarah Palin in an idealized – indeed, as if her life is like a fairy tale in which America could be included if she is voted into office with John McCain,' he wrote in a copy of the assignment provided to WND by students. 'Note her body language, facial expressions, the way she dressed, what she said and who she pointed out or talked about in her speech. How do these elements form a "fairy tale" image about Sarah Palin as a person and as a politician that the Republican Party may wish its members and the American public to believe? How may the story "Sleeping Beauty" and/or Tanith Lee's "Awake" be used to compare the image of Palin with fairy tales, especially as they portray women, their behavior, and their lives?
  • "He said students should find commentaries that criticize Palin.
  • " 'Using clear reasoning, explain how these sources may undermine or otherwise paint a different picture of Palin as a person and as a politician than what she or the Republican Party may wish the American public to believe,' he said.
  • "There was no opening for students to find commentaries or statements supporting Palin or her positions. But Janna Barber, who is among the students who have raised concerns about the instructor, said she would do the assignment and include a number of supportive arguments as well...."
In the news:
  • "Metro State Prof Stays Silent, On The Job" (September 19, 2008)
    • "DENVER (CBS4) ― Metro State College is investigating a professor who asked students to write an essay critical of Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin. One student said the instructor singled out Republican students in the class and allowed others to ridicule them...."
    • "...Barber shared the class' first assignment with CBS4 Wednesday. Hallam asked students to write an essay to contradict what he called the 'fairy tale image of Palin' presented at the Republican National Convention...."
  • "College Probes Professor Who Assigned Students to 'Undermine' Palin in Essay"
    FOXNews (September 18, 2008)
    • "An English teacher at Denver’s Metropolitan State College is being investigated by the college for bias, bullying and harassment after he gave students in his class an assignment to "undermine" the Republican portrayal of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin...."
  • "Prof tells students: 'Undermine' Palin" WorldNetDaily (September 15, 2008) "Metro State class assignment compares VP candidate to 'fairy tale' "
    • "Students in an English class at Metropolitan State College in Denver have been told to assemble criticisms of GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin that "undermine" her, and students say they are concerned about the apparent bias.
    • " 'This so-called 'assignment' represents indoctrination in its purist form,' said Matt Barber, director of Cultural Affairs with Liberty Counsel, whose sister, Janna, is taking the class from Andrew Hallam, a new instructor at the school...."
Previous posts on this topic: Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.