Academic Freedom

Azusa Pacific University, 2013. Emmanuel Christian Seminary, 2012. Interdenominational Theological Center, 2012. University of Illinois, 2010. Carroll College, 2005. Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, 2005. Unfortunately the list could go on and on. Academic institutions in the land of the free and the home of the brave dismissing faculty for saying or writing something that offended their doctrines. This is the land of my birth, and yet I’m still rocked by its permissiveness. That’s not permissiveness in that sense. I was latterly working on a paper called “the myth of academic freedom.” I know too many people for whom that myth has become a reality and all the while the governments, state and national, try to decide on more important issues such as whether or not to give children equal opportunity, our institutions crumble for petty points of pretentious pugilistic piety. Not only books may be banned, but those who potentially write them as well.

“You say you’re afraid for America,” Ellen Hopkins’s “Manifesto” suggests. Academics, of all people, should be afraid. Our society asks us to borrow thousands and thousands of dollars to become experts in some obscure topic only to release us from any possibility of finding employment that allows us to pay off said debt. “I don’t need no arms around me,” but I sure could use a podium in front of me. I am afraid for America. I am afraid for a nation that doesn’t defend its thinkers, instead following the wealthy to the peak of an unscalable Everest.

Academic freedom was once the guarantee that no question was disallowed, no thought anathema. We live in a time of pronounced conservative pushback, where those who feel threatened by knowledge persecute those who dare to think. Ironically in this situation many academics have become complacent. Having a place of your own, and the compunction not to make waves in this bathtub will allow your toy boat to float for many a year. Long enough to reach safe harbor. Beneath the surface shipwrecks lurk and books will never be written. Banned books are easiest to engineer at the aborted career stage. Even a pro-lifer knows that.

They don't write 'em like that anymore...

They don’t write ’em like that anymore…

7 thoughts on “Academic Freedom

  1. In a sense we have brought this dilemma upon ourselves. A few yrs back, colleague, univ. Dean, wrote a review of a film/book by the ‘BAR Crowd’ and within a short time received a cease and desist letter from the authors legal staff. And colleagues were quiet. Little has changed in that those that ‘speaketh the loudest’ for academic freedom are the first ones to say no, when one needs their backing. Yet they will be the first ones on the BAR bandwagon when it comes to those annual meetings. Totally hypocritical when there is money, fame and fortune riding on it.

    When one tries to enter a discussion with the faculty which should be keeping an eye on these matters, they too are reluctant to speak out as thy often have been bought out by the media to maintain a low profile.

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    • That’s definitely part of the problem, Joe. I’ve been reading quite a bit about this, and I wonder why so many intelligent people can’t seem to get the gumption to work on a solution. I know academics are busy–I was one for fourteen years. Still, to be complacent in the face of this unprecedented crisis in academia is ethically unjustifiable. Especially ironic is the fact that many religious people refuse to speak up for what’s clearly right. The point of my paper was that academia has figured out how to silence the professorate. They’re going to have to speak louder if they want me to hear their protest.

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  2. I learned very early that academia is a farce when it comes to free ideas. I gave that up decades ago.

    And this post reminded me of the publication bias where “No difference” is not published. Lots of research showing no differences between a treatment and non-treatment, but this information is rarely published. It is almost criminal.

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  3. One of the things that has bothered me for quite a number of yrs is why a US univ. professor was allowed to testify before a US congressional hearing in which he basically defended David Koresh of Waco TX fame. His testimony was a few weeks after the Okla. City building was blown up, two yrs to date, in memory of Waco by Timothy McNeil. Around 250 innocent people were killed in these two incidents and the fact that a univ. professor testified on the belief that Koresh and co. were entitled under the freedom of religion to act as they had done, is hard to fathom. If one can somehow justify that, then why not Jonestown ?

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    • I often ask myself the same kinds of questions, Joe. It is difficult for a people who won’t even invest funds into the study of religion to define what it is to make informed decisions on the issue. State universities tend not to have religion departments, and we find ourselves constantly reacting to religions that we know nothing about. It makes no sense to me.

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