Operation Academic Freedom - part 1: probing the defences
The attachment is a letter from PA State Represenative Tom Stevenson, 42nd district. It demands a number of pieces of information in anticipation of hearings to be held later this year on Academic Freedom.
"What this select committee requests from you in order to get this inquiry initiated are several things:
- a copy of your institution's statement of principles regarding student academic freedom
- a copy of your institution's policy (or policies) describing the resolution of complaints by student's regarding violations of academic freedom
- a copy of your institution's procedure for dealing with complaints, including a step-by-step description of the office or person handling the complaint, the make-up of the board that decides the validity of the complaint, the deadline for filing and the necessary content of a document of complaint.
- data documenting the number of students in the past five years who have filed complaints related in any way to academic freedom, the means of determining the validity of complaints and the outcome of these complaints.
- any action taken by the institution to correct the problem(s) that created the complaints.
The text of the letter, cleverly, states that the committee has knowledge of at least one incident - but they don't say which incident or which institution, so they're clearly setting a "cover-up" trap.
Oh, and they want all this by next week. Departments/faculty are directed to respond by friday. This week.
Interestingly, there were rumours a few years ago that a student organization was trying to "set-up" astronomy faculty in gen ed classes by asking leading questions on age of the Earth, Big Bang cosmology and personal religious beliefs. I know in one of my classes someone did persistently, and politely, ask:
the answers were: "4.5 Gyrs", "best bet cosmology" and "not pertinent".
To the best of my knowledge no one complained - the complaints were all about the "math" content and difficulty.
I do confess the "math" is both a matter of ideology and philosophy for me; and it is done knowing that some students feel threatened by algebraic equations and may receive low grades for failing to correctly identify the correct answers, as determined by me. I am a bit of an absolutist on this. It is a matter of professional responsibility.
Anyway, this answers one question - the PA Senate "Select Committee" is not going through the motions, they're going to find someone to make an example of, and I fear I know some of their target selection.
I would caution my colleagues who are spoiling for a fight - this must be resisted, but testifying to the committee is a trap. Representatives get real prickly in these hearings, any "lecturing" will be poorly received.
I expect the Universities to lawyer up; I also expect the administration to fight for the faculty on this one. Or else...
PS: all the information on policies that they want is on http://www.psu.edu/ufs/policies/ as found by 5 minute browsing through the PSU student info web pages. Don't these guys have staffers.