Volume Five of the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom
I'm pleased to announce that Volume Five of the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom has just been published. This issue of JAF is focused on the intersection of electronic communications and academic freedom, specifically exploring the shifting landscape for academic freedom resulting from the proliferation of social media. Our intent with this issue is to examine how the advent of sites such as Facebook and Twitter blur the lines that separate areas of research expertise and broader public engagement, often leading to both a facilitation of and impingement on academic freedom.
The bulk of this year's issue deals with various assaults upon academic freedom, most notably those originating from the increasingly techno-oriented world outside of the classroom that is now permeating the halls of academia. But we also devote a large portion of the issue to examining the systemic threats to our profession, whether it's assaults on tenure, hiring, and the specter of corporatization that threatens to undermine the very ideals of higher education.
Hans-Joerg Tiede kicks off the issue with an essay reminding readers that the AAUP was not founded solely to protect academic freedom, but also as an Association determined to democratize institutions of higher education that were being threatened by corporate interests. Tiede's essay is an extremely timely reminder of the democratizing ideals that animated many of the AAUP's founders at the time of the organization's inception.
Kenneth Garcia also looks back to the founding ideals of the AAUP nearly a century ago. For Garcia, the AAUP's famous statement of principles in 1915 was characterized by a determination to pursue truth in its broadest possible sense. Since then, Garcia argues, the right to seek out knowledge has become increasingly constrained within the narrow confines of specialized disciplinary knowledge.
Next, Richard Teichgraeber takes up the gauntlet thrown down by the 2006 report of the Modern Language Association Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion; chiefly, how to justify the institution of tenure to a non-academic audience. Teichgraeber approaches this challenge through the eyes of a historian, leading him to conclude that tenure cannot consistently be seen as a single concept or policy, uniformly applied across institutions and time. Instead, he argues that tenure should be regarded as a complex set of practices that have evolved very significantly during the last half-century.
Jeffrey Buller examines how the twenty-first century has shaped the culture of higher education, revisiting C.P. Snow's famous lament concerning the bifurcation of intellectual culture into two antithetical traditions: the sciences and the humanities. If Snow's diatribe was an attack on the scientific philistinism of the British ruling class, Buller argues that a yawning gap is opening today between those who view a university education as the cornerstone of a democratic society, and those who view it simply as a form of job training or as an economic development program.
Timothy Shiell's essay is a timely examination of some of the assaults on free speech and academic freedom that have become commonplace in higher education today. Shiell discusses debates about university hate speech policies, which have been unfolding for over thirty years, and uses a hypothetical student Facebook post to examine the forms of discipline that institutions can implement. Despite the fact that broad regulations concerning hate speech on campus have repeatedly been struck down by courts, Shiell notes, most universities still have policies that violate free speech guarantees.
Gerald Turkel's essay discusses the 2010 suspension of two faculty members after it was concluded that they posed a danger to themselves and their colleagues. The background to this discussion of course is the terrible spate of campus violence of recent years, from Virginia Tech to the University of California, Santa Barbara. While most institutions have developed policies relating to student conduct, Turkel argues, many have yet to articulate clear guidelines for how to cope with faculty members who engage in dangerous or erratic behavior.
Adria Battaglia considers the use of academic freedom as a kind of rhetorical football. Far from being a transparent and universal guarantee of freedom of inquiry, speech, and learning in higher education, academic freedom is a privileged label that grants legitimacy to those who wield it, Battaglia suggests. In particular, Battaglia documents David Horowitz's campaign with the organization "Students for Academic Freedom" to demonize professors teaching what he views as partisan material.
The final set of three essays included in this volume focus specifically on electronic communications and academic freedom. We lead with an essay by Jonathan Poritz that focuses on the lack of shared governance over a key site of the contemporary university: information technology. Poritz argues that faculty members seldom have any idea about, let alone any input into, decisions regarding this essential domain of university operations.
Next, Jenny Bossaller and Jenna Kammer discuss a related and similarly under-acknowledged area of concern relating to electronic communications. For Bossaller and Kammer, increasingly popular e-textbooks and "courses-in-a-box" constitute a significant threat to academic freedom. Such resources are attractive to administrators since they allow instructors to teach more students for less money. For overworked (and often precarious) professors, they can be seductive because they significantly diminish faculty workload. But, as Bossaller and Kammer relate, there are many negative aspects to these outsourced materials.
This volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom concludes with Dan Colson's paper discussing the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) policy on the "Improper Use of Social Media." This policy holds not only that social media such as Facebook and Twitter postings should be put under identical scrutiny as scholarly articles. In addition, since the writing up of scholarly research is part of one's official duties as an employee of a state university in Kansas, university administrators in Kansas can fire professors if their writings are seen as damaging the interests of the university.
You can read all of the 2014 JAF articles now on the AAUP website, as well as our previous years' issues.
The challenges to academic freedom today are legion. Indeed, as the essays in this volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom make clear, the foundations of the modern are under unprecedented stress today. During my two-year editorship of JAF, there has been much contention over the definition of academic freedom itself. From debates over academic boycotts to campaigns for and against the firing of faculty for statements on social media, academic freedom is invoked by nearly everyone to justify their antagonistic positions. Given the capaciousness and radical limitations of the concept of academic freedom, the temptation is strong to discount the term entirely as an empty cipher manipulated by whoever has the most power in the university. But this would be a terrible mistake: academic freedom continues to be a vital tool for dissident voices intent on speaking truth to power.
Editor, AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom