Academia

Academic Freedom

"Universities and institutions of higher learning are supposed to promote intelligence, but the University of Texas-Pan American in Brownsville might be taking that mission a bit too literally. The university may soon offer classes sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal intelligence agencies. That's right, UTPA students may soon get a degree in the CIA.

"Long a recruiting center for the clandestine agency, UTPA is floating a plan to join four other universities in the country that house an intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence--a $1 million academic program run by the 15 federal agencies that comprise the US Intelligence community...

"Some faculty and students aren't thrilled about their school's new academic program. "They are profiling certain universities that have a high minority enrollment," said Josi Mata, a 40-year-old UTPA student of anthropology. "They want students to fit in in Third World countries, specifically Latin America." Mata points to the long-running presence of the CIA, the FBI, the military, and defense companies at UTPA...

"Samuel Freeman, a professor of Political Science at UTPA, added, "I think [the center] can conceivably have a chilling effect on academic freedom"...

"As Samantha Garcia, a biology major from Corpus Christi, put it, "You just cannot have a government agency inside the classroom--it's indoctrination"" ("Marchers, McCain, Y Mas." Texas Observer, April 21, 2006: 4).


"...Senate Bill (SB) 24, an academic bill of rights that would require "curricula and reading lists" at all Ohio colleges (public and private) to "provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints" (calling all publishers of Holocaust deniers and flat-earthers!). The bill argues that faculty should "not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose"...

"A right-wing infrastructure has been hard at work on this issue. Most important are David Horowitz and his organization Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), which has been documenting cases of alleged liberal bias in the classroom on its website. Now they're pushing the academic bill of rights, which they argue is necessary to protect students who would otherwise fall prey to the liberal professoriate...

"The campaign is making headway. In addition to Ohio, so-called academic bills of rights have now been introduced in Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Maryland and New York. After protests emerged from some savvy faculty in Colorado, the legislature yanked its version of the bill and accepted a less binding agreement. Something similar happened in Georgia. And in California the bill has been reintroduced after being killed earlier...

"In late 2003 Congress introduced legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Georgia Representative Jack Kingston--a congressman who wants the Ten Commandments posted in the House and Senate chambers--tried to attach an academic bill of rights to the reauthorization...

"So get ready for a war over the popular perception of academia. It's fueled by a long legacy of anti-intellectualism and right-wing populism that focuses anger on liberal eggheads" (Kevin Mattson. "A Student Bill of Fights." The Nation, April 4, 2005: 16-18).


"Meanwhile, over in the groves of academe, Native-American activist Ward Churchill was disinvited from a speaking engagement at Hamilton College because of an essay in which he called the CIA office workers who died in the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns." Not to be outdone, Bill O'Reilly, in a column on his website, called the entire tenure system "a dastardly con that protects teachers for life. They know they can't be fired so they become little Ayatollahs." Calls abounded for Churchill to be fired from his home institution, the University of Colorado, and he has already resigned his chairmanship of the department of ethnic studies. No such fate has been suggested for the powerful, corporate-sponsored O'Reilly.

"In this war of words and polemical personalities, there is an increasing privatization of speech. New, well-funded organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) specifically urge universities to monitor and divest themselves of those engaged in "rank political indoctrination" -- which even they rather sheepishly acknowledge is an awfully thin line away from political speech. The model of the university they espouse is not the one envisioned by Louis Brandeis, to whom even open antagonism was a necessary component of civic engagement because "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people... The path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies." These days, the ability to speak has become subject to the whims of a literal rather than metaphorical marketplace. According to FIRE, "voluntary association" is a measure of academic freedom and funding is an "expressive act."

"And so we find ourselves in an era when speakers like Michae Moore are spurned by campuses because major donors might get upset and students don't want their funds spent on anything they don't agree with. We seem to have entered a time of shunning that bears a passing strange resemblance to blacklisting. And with that shunning an ethic of "don't listen." "A scholar," says FIRE, "is entitled to shout his ideas from the rooftops, but he or she is not also entitled to do so in front of an audience or to do so while being bankrolled by those who deeply disagree with those ideas"" (Patricia J. Williams. "Power and the Word." The Nation, Feb. 28, 2005: 10).


"...I stumbled upon an article by a sociologist and was just amazed to find out what was happening with the universities – that in many ways they, too, were becoming privatized. The dynamics were different, but it was a similar intrusion of market forces into an area that had previously been governed by non-market principles...

"I think the threat to the public commons is really at the heart of my book. Historically, universities have played an important role in preserving the public domain for knowledge that we all can draw upon for free. We do not tend to think about knowledge as something one can own. People don’t realize how much we depend on this free flow of information, but historians of common innovation, economists and legal scholars are starting to grow very concerned about this shrinking of the public domain, particularly as it affects innovation and new technological discovery.

"The basic building blocks of science need to be commonly shared in order to advance scientific ideas. Many people now question whether we would even have had the biotechnology revolution or the computer revolution -- which were both born in these academic research lab -- in this more corporate, proprietary atmosphere. Now the universities are trying to make a lot of their discoveries proprietary, even very fundamental, basic research...

"There is a case at the University of Utah in which a professor discovered a human gene that is responsible for hereditary breast cancer. This research was funded by U.S. taxpayers – approximately $4.6 million – and the University of Utah did not make that gene broadly available to the scientific community. They raced to patent the gene, they licensed it to the professor’s own start-up company, Myriad Genetics. Myriad Genetics proceeded to hoard the gene and prevent other academic scientists throughout the world from using the gene in their own research. That’s a very vivid example and I could point to many others. Basic stem cell research has been exclusively licensed to private companies...

"Probably the most important thing is for people who are on these college campuses to start to look into where industry money is playing a big role and demand to see the contracts. Increasingly, universities are signing contracts that allow industry to dictate the terms of the research in ways that violate academic freedom. The only ways those contracts can become public is if someone starts to raise questions and insists on openness" ("University, Inc.: An Interview with author, Jennifer Washburn." by Jennifer Borden, Special to CorpWatch, April 11th, 2005).


"Republicans in Florida's legislature are pushing a bill that would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities. "Students who believe their professor is singling them out for 'public ridicule'--for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class--would aldo be given the right to sue," reports The Independent Florida Alligator" ("No Comment." The Progressive, May, 2005: 11).


Colby Glass, MLIS