Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Is Freedom of Speach Returning to the University?

Is the tide turning with regard to free speach and diversity of opinion at the universities? Michelle Malkin quotes from "Inside Higher Ed" about Brown University's president, Ruth Simmons, encouraging students to "engage in civil, open debate, on every issue possible."

I found another example of a university president speaking on this subject. Anyone know of any others?

President Peggy Miller, of South Dakota State University, included the following comments in an address to the faculty at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year:

Regrettably, our nation is fiercely divided over many issues surrounding that war. If we are ever going to be able to resolve those and other important national issues, thoughtful open minded discourse is sorely required. In much of the public media to which our students are exposed, there are few examples of earnest efforts to find understanding of differing points of view or to reach common ground.

I am growing increasingly concerned that the kind of unbiased deliberation, espect for competing ideas, active listening, problem solving and honest searching for the truth of issues and the better idea, are becoming indangered behaviors. As academics, we have been trained through the rigor of our individual disciples, to engage ideas... but more importantly, to sort fact from opinion, test hypothesis, and gather all the data required to reach good decisions. Sadly, it may be only here in the university that students will be able to observe these behaviors consistently used. I think we have no more important challenge in the next year, and those that follow, than teaching and demonstrating to our students the wisdom of these intellectual values. If we can do so successfully, we will have provided them powerful tools to use to protect and defend our democratic society. If they learn to use them well, perhaps neither they, nor their friends, nor their classmates will again be called to harm's way to do so.

That is no small hope, but I have a quote under the glass on my desk that reminds me every day to, "Believe that a small group of hardworking committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

These bold and courageous words seem to indicate a turning point in Academic Freedom. As universities around the country are increasingly pressed to provide students with "fair and balanced" learning opportunities, as well as opportunities for freedom of expression (even for conservative students) one welcomes such statements of support from the highest levels of administration.

However, there is a caution in this tale. To the liberal mind, this speach could be interpreted as an attack on conservatism. (Use your imagination, it's a stretch, I know.) Many liberal professors who use their classes as bully pulpits simply don't recognize that they are promoting one side to the exclusion of others. Calls for "free and open discourse" fall on deaf ears to these people. The only realistic way to expose students to multiple points of view is to have a diverse faculty who each promote their own point of view to the best of their ability. This is extremely difficult to achieve when whole fields of study are dominated by a particular ideology (consider evolution in the biological sciences, government redistributionism and interventionism in the social sciences, religious studies at state institutions, etc.). How can the universities achieve a diverse faculty when over 90% of all academics in a particular field subscribe to one point of view? We have to generate new faculty who have different points of view! But where will they come from, when they have to earn their advanced degrees from the same people who already dominate the field?? Although it's not true that someone with a minority view can't get through a Ph.D. program, the problem has more to do with self-selection. People who don't agree with the dominant ideology don't want to stay with (or even start) the program. How many conservatives would put 4+ years of advanced education into "Women's Studies?" Yet, you can't become a Women's Studies professor unless you do. "Global Studies" is a similar example. And what happens when someone does go through this process and maintains a minority point of view? Once in the profession, he or she has to advance as a scholar by publishing articles in journals that are ideologically based and tend to reject works that challenge the mainstream thinking.

True academic freedom is a difficult thing to achieve. But let's keep it coming.