What does student academic freedom entail? (essay)

The concept of academic freedom for faculty has been more or less clearly defined over the years. Its three components -- freedom in the classroom, freedom in research and publication, and freedom of expression as a citizen -- are widely acknowledged. They have been clearly articulated in both the Association of University Professors 1915 Declaration on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure and the 1940 Joint Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure (co-authored with the Association of American Colleges).

Recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University and elsewhere, however, raise anew the question of student academic freedom. The 1915 Declaration recognized that “academic freedom has traditionally had two applications: to the freedom of the teacher and to that of the student, Lehrfreiheit [to teach] and Lernfreiheit [to learn].” According to Ralph Fuchs, a former general secretary of the AAUP, “Student freedom is a traditional accompaniment to faculty freedom as an element of academic freedom in the larger sense.”

But what, concretely, does student academic freedom entail? May students, like faculty, claim some version of academic freedom beyond their own legal rights under the First Amendment? And, if so, what kind of academic freedom is most appropriate for students?

The question was addressed nearly 50 years ago in the wake of the civil rights movement in the South, the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley and burgeoning student movement against the Vietnam War. The AAUP and several other associations drafted the 1967 Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. The proclaimed aim of that Joint Statement -- a kind of Magna Carta for student rights -- was “to enumerate the essential provisions for student freedom to learn.”

It's worth looking back at that seminal document in light of contemporary concerns.

The joint statement protects not only the free expression rights of students generally but also speaks specifically to student academic freedom in the classroom. It requires “the professor … [to] encourage free discussion, inquiry and expression, [and to evaluate students] solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.”

The statement also addresses students’ rights outside the classroom. “Students bring to the campus a variety of interests previously acquired and develop many new interests as members of the academic community,” it declares. “They should be free to organize and join associations to promote their common interests.” The statement adds, “Students and student organizations should be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them, and to express opinions publicly and privately. They should always be free to support causes by orderly means which do not disrupt the regular and essential operation of the institution.”

Of no small importance is the statement's recognition of the right of students to participate in institutional governance: “As constituents of the academic community, students should be free, individually and collectively, to express their views on issues of institutional policy and on matters of general interest to the student body. The student body should have clearly defined means to participate in the formulation and application of institutional policy affecting academic and student affairs.”

The extent of such participation was left unclear, however. Nonetheless, in 1970 AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance and its council did issue a Draft Statement on Student Participation in College and University Governance. Perhaps reflecting then-current student demands for black and ethnic studies, that statement proposed that “Students should be consulted in decisions regarding the development of already-existing programs and the establishment of new programs.” It added as well that “Student opinion should also be consulted, where feasible, in the selection of presidents, chief academic and nonacademic administrative officers including the dean of students, and faculty.”

The 1967 Joint Statement considers students’ freedom off campus, noting that “students are both citizens and members of the academic community’ and as citizens “should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and right of petition that other citizens enjoy.” Moreover, the statement adds this important caution: “Faculty members and administrative officials should insure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.”

The detailed provisions of the 1967 Statement, I would argue, suggest a more systematic and reasoned view of the current wave of student unrest than the kinds of near-hysterical reactions -- The Wall Street Journal, for instance, called Yale protesters “little Robespierres” -- that seem to characterize much recent commentary. It is certainly true that the rights defined by this statement surely would include the right of students to upset other students, perhaps by wearing offensive costumes on Halloween. But, in many ways, more important is the right of the offended students to express their distaste as forcefully as they can without undue disruption of the institution's mission. As Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, recently put it, “Toleration does not imply acceptance or agreement. The freedom to speak does not give one the right not to be condemned and despised for one's speech.”

In this light, despite all the hubbub, it is difficult to identify even a handful of instances where recent student protests have actually violated the rights and freedoms of anyone, including faculty members and other students. Moreover, as Stone also suggests, protesting students are well within their rights even to demand that the institution take disciplinary action against other students, faculty or administrators who engage in odious behavior.

The real question is whether and how to act on such demands. As Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, has written, “Leadership matters -- not just on the substance of legislation, hiring or executive orders, but leadership in the face of emotionally evocative symbolic and narrative disputes.” Let’s take the incident at Yale that has aroused so much heat, in which a faculty residence adviser sent an email to a restricted list of students criticizing a message sent earlier by minority affairs counselors advising against offensive Halloween costumes. The adviser’s email spurred an angry response from minority students, some of whom demanded the adviser’s dismissal. This, I would argue, was well within those students’ rights. But were the Yale administration to accede to such a demand, it would be a different matter.

Indeed, as I’ve written elsewhere, the issue at Yale, Missouri and other institutions is largely not one of free expression but of communication, environment and values. Shapiro puts it well: “At a time of unprecedented economic inequality, students of color, immigrants and students from low-income backgrounds -- at rich, elite universities and state schools alike -- are painfully aware that the experiences they bring to campus are ill appreciated by many classmates, teachers and administrators, who come overwhelmingly from a culture of middle-class safety nets and an economy that rewards those who already have. That’s the issue.”

Here it's necessary to credit the students for their courage and determination in addressing the sometimes unconscious but nonetheless real and persistent racism that infects our society and our campuses. In doing so, they have made and will again make mistakes. They will offend others even as they respond to deeper offenses against their own dignity. They may demonstrate indifference to the rights of others, as protesters everywhere always have. But, in doing so, they will learn. And that, it seems to me, is the essential point. Student academic freedom, in the final analysis, is about the freedom to learn. And learning is impossible without error.

What is therefore most remarkable about today’s student movements is not their alleged intolerance or immaturity. It is not their intemperance or supposed oversensitivity to insult and indifference. It is that they have begun to grapple with issues that their elders have resisted tackling for far too long. Stone is right that “a university can legitimately educate students about the harms caused by the use of offensive, insulting, degrading and hurtful language and behavior and encourage them to express their views, however offensive or hurtful they might be, in ways that are not unnecessarily disrespectful or uncivil.”

But the university, and especially its faculty, must also be willing to learn from students. Faculty members should welcome the challenges the protesting students have posed. Student movements offer countless opportunities for students -- as well as their teachers -- to learn. To approach them in this way, in the spirit of the student academic freedom proclaimed and defined by the AAUP and its collaborators back in 1967, is therefore simply to fulfill our responsibility as educators.

Henry Reichman is first vice president of the American Association of University Professors and chair of the association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

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Did U of Delaware "pass the harasser"?

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When professors leave one job due to sexual harassment allegations, they can land new jobs and repeat the behavior elsewhere, a recent case involving the University of Delaware and San Diego State University suggests.

Buying a Grade as the Perfect Holiday Gift

A little holiday humor courtesy of Donald Moynihan, professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. On Twitter, he offered the perfect holiday gift:

And then he followed it up with:

Asked how he came up with the idea, Moynihan said, via email, "Came to me in my walk into work. Maybe it was the need to do holiday shopping. Or perhaps a deeper dread of the university being broke, and forced to monetize in ways that go against our better judgment."

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Suffolk U Breaks Ties With On-Campus Conservative Think Tank

Suffolk University is severing ties with the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative research center funded in part by the conservative Koch Foundation, The Boston Globe reported. A university spokesman said it was the center’s decision to leave, but David Tuerck, center director, told the Globe that Suffolk made it impossible to stay on there by denying research proposals and limiting funding sources. Tuerck said the trouble peaked about six months ago, after Margaret McKenna, a political liberal, became Suffolk’s president. Greg Gatlin, a Suffolk spokesman, denied the change had anything to do with how the institution treated the center. Rather, he told the Globe, Suffolk requires research centers to be self-sustaining and Beacon Hill had run a deficit for years.

Suffolk’s relationship with Beacon Hill became strained in 2013, after the center proposed a study aimed at weakening a regional initiative to reduce carbon pollution, the Globe reported. The university said at the time that the goals of that research were not in line with its mission. Tuerck said, "The entire administration made up their mind that they were troubled by what we were doing in some way, where we were getting money, how we were using the money, what we were saying, and they wanted things to change."

While some have criticized the center for accepting donations from the Koch Foundation, Tuerck told the Globe that the center receives just 1 percent of its funds from the organization, or about $33,000 over three years. He said he wasn't opposed to reasonable limits on fund-raising, but that those imposed on the center had become too onerous. But Kalin Jordan, a Suffolk graduate and co-founder of the group UnKoch My Campus, said via email that that is potentially misleading, since Beacon Hill has received more than $800,000 from the notoriously antiregulation Kochs since 2008, based on a database of federal tax filings she helps maintain. The center will move off campus next year, in what Tuerck called an "amicable divorce."

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State College of Florida Faculty Votes No Confidence

The full-time faculty at State College of Florida at Manatee-Sarasota voted no confidence in the college’s Board of Trustees this week, the Bradenton-Herald reported. The 118-2 vote comes after the board’s recent decision to eliminate the college’s tenure-like system even over the objections of college administrators, and after a proposal by one board member to consider faculty pay bids -- something like a fee-for-service quote -- in hiring decisions.

Robyn Bell, a professor of music at the college and president of its Faculty Senate, said in a statement that the board’s recent vote was the “final straw in a long list of deeds and actions that have proven more harmful than helpful to our college. Such ideologically/politically driven decisions have been made without research or merit and attempt to govern a public institution of education as a private, corporate business.”

Carol Probstfeld, the college’s president, said in a separate statement, “We all agree that our students deserve the best possible faculty to provide an impactful and competitive education. We remain committed to hiring and retaining the best possible faculty.”

Craig Trigueiro, board chairman, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote but that the board stands by its decision to end continuing contracts, which previously afforded long-serving faculty members in good standing due process protections that were similar to those ensured by tenure. Trigueiro said professors’ fears that they’ll lose academic freedom under the new year-to-year contract system are misplaced, in that the board “has no intention of decreasing academic freedom,” the Herald reported. “We support academic freedom. A college or a university without academic freedom, in my opinion, is not a college or university.”

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A new academic book analyzes fans' reactions to Mad Men (essay)

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV, from the University of Iowa Press, is not the first academic book devoted to the AMC series about hard-drinking, chain-smoking, decidedly nonmonogamous advertising executives in Manhattan in the 1960s. Not by a large margin: of the 14 titles on the program listed in the Library of Congress Catalog, 10 are from scholarly presses or otherwise manifestly professorial.

Unzipped is the ninth such title. Its senior author, Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, is a professor of psychology at Fielding Graduate University -- an accredited distance-learning program described on its website as offering graduate degrees in “the fields of clinical and media psychology, educational leadership, human development, and organizational development” -- and the other three authors also have some connection to Fielding. (For particulars, see the book's Facebook page.) Identifying themselves as “a team of media psychologists” who are also “members of the Mad Men audience,” they have “followed the show and the fans’ reactions to better understand both fandom generally and the Mad Men fan phenomenon particularly.”

Previous monographs treated Mad Men in its political, historical and philosophical dimensions, and there is already at least one effort to psychoanalyze the characters. With Unzipped, Dill-Shackleford et al focus on, in their own words, “the way people make sense of fictional stories and use what they learn to think about life” and “how the interactive world of social media allows us to contribute to the conversation.”

The authors announce their work as “cutting-edge psychological research on how fans make meaning from fictional drama.” The claim is too hyperbolic for its own good, considering that the study of fandom largely got underway with Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (1992) and now has its own publication of record, the Journal of Fandom Studies, launched in 2013. On the first page of Mad Men Unzipped, the authors stress that they reject “the misguided stereotype of the geeky fan who has had a mental break with reality.” Fair enough, but that simply repeats the inaugural gesture of fandom research, which involved responding to William Shatner’s satirical dig at Trekkers with, “That’s not funny!” (to paraphrase very loosely).

Then again, distancing their attitude from “the misguided stereotype of the geeky fan” makes sense if we assume that the book is meant for an audience of psychology undergrads and Mad Men aficionados, rather than of initiates in fandom-studies research. In that respect, Unzipped is a good conversation starter about the relatively unproblematic condition of “being a fan” in the everyday, typical sense: someone who enjoys watching, thinking and talking about a program, whether or not he or she goes on to attend or host a theme party, write fiction based on the show’s characters, or the like.

Granted, the more ardent expressions of devotion do sometimes lead to strange and interesting subcultures. But it’s casual fans who are more common and, perhaps, more teachable -- that is, able to benefit from turning their enthusiasm for a particular show into an occasion to reflect on how and why it means something to them.

“In our digital era,” the authors of Unzipped write, “stories live in what are known as ‘transmedia spaces.’ Transmedia means that the story crosses from one medium to another (TV, blog, fan video, theater, app), playing itself out in different spaces.” That certainly has implications for media-psychology research itself -- creating “a new era of social science in action” now that “dragging college sophomores into a lab and forcing answers out of them” is no longer necessary. Fandom, even casual fandom, documents itself. The authors can survey the range of reactions to Mad Men’s characters (Pete Campbell: Man or boy?) or depictions of changing gender roles (Joan Holloway: Second-wave feminist avant la lettre?) with an abundance of blog posts, tweets and other digital records, often put out into public space before an episode ended.

The responses themselves are seldom very surprising, at least to anyone who has had a chance to discuss with another viewer the pleasures, frustrations and ambivalences of following the show’s arcs of character development and depictions of social change (not to mention their likely post-1970 fallout). There are occasional exceptions, such as the authors’ observation that “the fans had precious little to say about alcohol addiction that went beyond ‘that’s how it was in those days,’” although they did want to talk about sex addiction. Another quoted commenter pointed out, “While the writers show great complexity in their development of working women at a turning point, they do not seem to know what to do about motherhood.”

And interviews with viewers working in the advertising industry at various points over the past 50 years tended to evaluate Mad Men as an extremely accurate depiction of life in a major agency -- except for those who dismissed it as unrecognizable and soap opera-like. As with judgments of Don Draper’s character or Bert Cooper’s sanity, questions of historical realism here are in the eye of the viewer. The very nature of the evidence, and of the jury, is that no binding judgment can be made.

Media psychologists can show us that audiences bring diverse and complex emotions and presuppositions with them that imaginary characters and dramatic situations can then evoke. My belief that Sally Draper went on to join the Symbionese Liberation Army tells you something about her or about me -- possibly both. Our meaning-making capacities can and do respond to works of fictional narrative in ways that media psychologists can show and analyze.

The more interesting thing is that some narratives invite or even demand such an engagement from the public and get it. Others don’t; some don’t even try. What sets them apart from one another is a question with historical and aesthetic aspects, but it also has a component that it seems as if psychologists would want to take up.

And as a spin-off study, someone ought to do research into another matter. There are Mad Men Barbie dolls and tarot cards and many other such items -- including the Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men. Why, for every such fan-oriented title, are there two aimed at an academic audience? With more to come, no doubt about it.

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'Mad Men' Barbies

Author discusses stone soup college social experiment

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It wasn't the Stanford Prison Experiment, but a research project at U of California San Diego quickly created two student societies and plenty of conflict to analyze.

How to help doctoral students complete their dissertations (essay)


The one thing that will actually lead to a completed dissertation, writes Kerry Ann Rockquemore, is the hardest thing for doctoral students to do.

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Hopkins Announces $25 Million Faculty Diversity Effort

Johns Hopkins University is the latest institution to announce a major faculty diversity initiative in light of the recent, nationwide student protests over campus race relations. President Ronald J. Daniels said in mid-November that the university was pursuing concrete ways to increase faculty diversity and earlier this week, Robert C. Lieberman, provost, along with nine academic deans, outlined a $25-million, five-year plan. Each academic division will establish protocols for faculty searchers to increase diversity in applicant pools, including unconscious bias training for search committee members and oversight of candidate short lists by division leaders. Individual schools within the university also will be encouraged to recruit senior faculty members from underrepresented groups. 

A Target of Opportunity Program stemming from an earlier initiative will offer up to $100,000 per faculty appointee to support recruitment of diverse faculty members beyond planned search cycles, and a new fund will support visiting faculty members who enhance on-campus diversity. A two-year Provost’s Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship Program aims to prepare postdoctoral fellows for tenure-track positions on campus or at peer institutions, particularly in fields with relatively few women or underrepresented minorities. And the provost will offer a $50,000 award in each of the next five years to a full-time faculty member pursuing research related to diversity and inclusion. The plan includes data tracking and other accountability measures.

The initiative "will support our firm commitment to locate, attract, and retain the best and most talented faculty, representing a broad diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences," the provost and deans said in their announcement. "Each academic division of the university will develop and execute a detailed plan, tailored to its specific academic discipline, to enhance faculty diversity and cultivate an environment that is inclusive of diverse scholars.”

While the plan was finalized during the student protests, it’s been in the works for a year. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, vice provost for faculty affairs, assessed current trends, consulted with faculty and administration, and reviewed strategies and best practices, according to information from the university. 

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Wisconsin Faculty Leaders Oppose Draft Tenure Policy

Faculty leaders on three University of Wisconsin System campuses objected to proposed new tenure policies ahead of a systemwide task force meeting on the new guidelines Monday. In a letter sent last week to the system’s Tenure Policy Task Force, chapter presidents of the Madison, Milwaukee and Whitewater American Association of University Professors chapters said that current draft policies “separate faculty from their primary responsibility for educational concerns,” and generally fail to meet professional standards for tenure.

The policy changes come in light of the state Legislature’s vote earlier this year to weaken tenure standards for public university faculty in Wisconsin, which previously were arguably the strongest in the country. The changes made it legal for universities to lay off even tenured professors for so much as program “modifications,” and campus and system administrators have since said they’ll find a way to preserve in university policy what was lost in state law. But a draft of the proposed tenure policy doesn’t ensure that that layoffs would have to be subject to any kind of faculty approval. "It is clear that [the new law] has threatened the reputation of the [Wisconsin system] as a world-class institution of higher education by enabling policies that threaten academic freedom, tenure and shared governance," reads the AAUP letter.

At a meeting on Monday, the task force heard similar faculty concerns about the draft policy. The task force said it will meet again at the end of the month before sending its final recommendations to the university system’s Board of Regents. The Madison faculty last month approved tenure protections that ensure professors only may be laid off for educational considerations that have been vetted by faculty peers, but it’s unclear whether that policy can stand if the board approves a more limited one.

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