Ds Scholarship

Author discusses his new book on academic freedom

Henry Richman’s new book is the product of his studies and activism. Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, has previously published books on academic freedom and censorship in schools. For the past nine years he has also been chair of the American Association of Professors’ A Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure. his new book Understanding Academic Freedom (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Answered questions via email.

Q: There are a lot of books about academic freedom. What is your goal with this?

a: In a review of my previous book The future of academic freedomKeith Whittington opined that it “must be read by every professor working in the United States” and that the study of academic freedom should be “an essential part of … professional training”. I was certainly flattered, but I wasn’t entirely sure that my collection of essays was necessarily the “invaluable entry point” that Whittington suggested. I wanted to write something shorter, less objective, perhaps eternal with a bit of good time, which could serve as a concise, accessible introduction and exploration of the topic, based on both historical and contemporary experience. In some ways, Matthew Finken and Robert Post’s 2009 book, For the common good, was a model, but not only is it a bit outdated, it also fails to cover the students’ academic freedom, the defense of the position, and ironically, given that the authors are law professors, and the legal environment each gets a chapter in Understanding Academic Freedom. I hope that college and university administrators, lawyers involved in higher education law, journalists and even politicians, and most of all, regular faculty, career path and units, and graduate students will find the book a useful guide.

Q: In several places you’ve noticed a low percentage of academic staff hired, but you also say that in matters of academic freedom, it doesn’t matter if the professor has a position. why it does not matter? Do you worry that drawing attention to this might undermine efforts to reverse tenure trends?

a: It is not that the position “does not matter” any more than that that contractual term is our strongest defense of academic freedom, both for those who can claim it, and perhaps more importantly, for our faculty as a collegiate body. As the American University in America and the Association of American Colleges and Universities acknowledged in their 1970 Interpretive Commentaries on the 1940 Joint Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, “The protection of academic freedom and the requirements of academic responsibility apply not only to probationary and permanent instructor, but also to all others, such as Part-time faculty and teaching assistants, who exercise teaching responsibilities.” The permanence system is based on the conviction that once teachers have obtained academic qualifications only but have gained sufficient classroom experience to demonstrate competence and fitness for their positions, they should have the right to presume continuing appointment, with dismissal only for appropriate reason such as determined by a statutory hearing before a qualified panel of a body Teaching. As I mentioned in Understanding Academic FreedomHaving a sufficiently large group of proven faculty members can ensure that dissidents and intellectuals can have a community of supporters who are able to advocate on their behalf. I hope this helps protect dissidents and part-time and unprepared dissidents. An institution that claims a commitment to academic freedom but does not embrace tenure is one whose claim will be easily abandoned.

Q: You write critically about Turning Point USA and the Professor’s Watch List. Why isn’t this just another example of freedom of expression?

a: In a sense, this is an example. But just because people are free to say what they say does not guarantee that what they will say will be constructive. This certainly does not mean that such expression should in itself remain immune from condemnation. As the Arab American League Committee on National Security in a Time of Crisis noted in 2004, “Private entities … are protected by the First Amendment from state scrutiny or sanctions as long as they remain within legal limits. They are protected by the same freedom of expression we seek for ourselves, and they are also subject to reprimand.” public. In so far as a particular professor can be pushed into the harsh public arena, the law demands, as one eminent legal scholar once said, a certain tightening of the mental cover. This is the price of freedom of speech.” I will not contest the First Amendment rights of these organizations, nor do I advocate censorship or punishment for them.

However, I condemn efforts to intimidate or silence faculty, and urge others to do so as well. College and university boards have a responsibility to defend academic freedom and institutional independence, including protecting institutions from undue public interference, resisting calls for faculty dismissals and condemning targeted harassment and intimidation. The entire academic community should join the American Historical Association’s explicit 2017 call to “condemn the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists – through media (social and otherwise) – that identify specific individuals in ways that can lead to harassment and intimidation.”

Q: What are the problems with academic freedom during the pandemic?

a: It has become something of a cliché to refer to how the experience of the pandemic has brought to light already long-standing problems in American society, including higher education. I was honored to serve on the Arab American University Inquiry Committee that published in May a special report on COVID-19 and Academic Governance. While that report found “little evidence that the boards and departments of the institutions investigated terminated the services of affected faculty based on considerations that violated their academic freedom; nevertheless, the commission faced compelling evidence that their tenure—and thus academic freedom—confronted a direct attack on These institutions and many others in the wake of the pandemic.”

The renewed attack on tenure, initially justified by the alleged need for “flexibility” in the face of the challenges of the pandemic, like the pandemic itself, has now been politicized. What started in Kansas — where the state board in early 2021 approved a policy allowing for “emergency” terminations and suspensions of established positions — has now extended to Georgia, where a recent investigation by the American University in the United States concluded that newly approved policies rejected academic due process to members Confirmed faculty dismissed through posttenure review, essentially stripping tenure-related safeguards. In South Carolina, the Full Professor Tenure Abolition Act seeks to eliminate tenure at public state colleges and universities for all employees hired in 2023 or later. And of course, while not directly related to the pandemic, the appalling attack, including by legislation, on teaching and scholarship dealing with race and gender, exemplified by the moral panic of “critical race theory,” has made the general climate of academic freedom as toxic as it was At least since the McCarthy era, if not in the early twentieth century.

Q: Can you discuss the Amy Wax case?

a: Wax is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania who has been widely condemned for public statements that most people consider racist, including remarks about University of Pennsylvania students of color, although no direct evidence has yet been provided that she discriminates against anyone. the students. There were calls for her dismissal, and her dean responded by forbidding her from teaching compulsory first-year classes. Whittington described her case as “a classic example of ‘speech outside the walls’,” noting that the argument against wax is the same as the argument “turned against professors who engage in racially inflammatory rhetoric that might make students believe they will be judged by the color of their skin.” His opinion, “Professors are allowed to denigrate groups of people in such a way that they may fear students not being treated fairly in class. Professors are not actually allowed to treat students unfairly.” He has a point, but the criterion by which we should judge academic expression outside the classroom is how relevant that expression is to a faculty member’s authority to perform teaching and other duties.

as requested in Understanding Academic FreedomCan Wax’s repeated disdain for minorities, including minority students in Pennsylvania, create a situation in which these students can really expect that she will not treat them fairly, even if the evidence that she did discriminate is insufficient? That said, might this be related to her suitability to teach?” Frankly, I can’t answer definitively, and the real point of academic freedom and survival is that providing an answer is not my role in the first place. If such questions are asked, the answers must come neither from an outsider like myself nor from outraged students, not to mention the administration of Pennsylvania, but from a qualified panel of legal scholars in due process proceedings. As I conclude in my book, it must be “extremely difficult to dismiss a stable faculty member for lack of physical fitness on the grounds that her expression outside her walls alone can create a classroom atmosphere too intimidating for some students to learn, implying her suitability for the position.” …in principle, however, this is inconceivable. However, great care must be taken.”

Q: What should professors do to protect academic freedom on their campus – when there is no attack on a particular faculty member?

a: This is perhaps the most important question facing today’s faculty as a group. The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly relevant. The best protection for academic freedom are institutional rules and regulations that comply with procedural recommendations developed by the Arab American University, specify how and why the institution can terminate the service of a faculty member or properly enforce discipline, and which stipulate the tenure of faculty members. It is the duty of all those engaged in teaching and conducting research in higher education to advocate for the adoption of such rules; educate themselves and others about its importance; They insist that administrators, guardians and politicians not only comply with and enforce them, but defend them.

A strong system of shared governance and, where possible, a strong and active faculty union (and a collective bargaining agreement that provides a basis for enforcing the rules and regulations governing academic freedom) are critical tools. We are teachers, but if we are to learn freely, we must educate ourselves, not only about our disciplines but about the critical importance of academic freedom to the very mission of our institutions. and conclude Understanding Academic Freedom With a long quotation from an American University investigation in 1956 on the impact on academic freedom of the anti-communist hysteria of that era, which includes these words that may provide the best answer to this question: and guardians and officials, and, as far as possible, the students – to stand firm even as they endeavor, with patient understanding, to broaden and deepen popular understanding of the nature of academic institutions and society’s dependence on unflawed thought and freedom.”

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