Dr. Pauline Yu, the president of the American Council of Learning Societies, spoke to a number of Colgate professors and administrators in a lecture entitled, “Academic Governance and Academic Freedom,” sharing her stance on political bias within American institutions of higher education.
Yu said that alternative strategies of academic governance and administrative tactics have become necessary “in response to financial, demographic and political changes.”
One situation that was discussed in depth was the controversy surrounding University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill. Churchill made remarks in support of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that have become the core of a movement to control the degree to which educators should express their personal ideologies in class.
The uproar over Churchill’s comments has led to countless proposals demanding the political integration of college faculty. Yu compared these fierce attacks on professors’ teaching styles to Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare movement of the 1950’s in which people were sought out and persecuted because of their stances on certain issues.
Many feel that the predominance of liberal professors on college campuses bombards students with one-sided influences and not the well-rounded set of views mentioned in the mission statements of most liberal arts schools.
As Yu explains, the problem lies in deciding on the amount of interference, if any, that educational administrations should exercise over the personal teaching methods of professors. Ideally, colleges should aim to maintain some degree of academic governance at an institution, while not limiting the academic freedom of the instructors.
“The best knowledge is that which is freely developed,” Yu said, discussing the importance of having bi-partisan integration of campus instructors. However, she does not feel that schools should be exempt from governing who they hire and, to a degree, what their instructors teach.
“Self governance by universities is key,” said Yu, who went on to explain how this would limit the outer influences on academic policy, such as the media, that do not always have the best scholarly interests in mind.
Yu also discussed how professors should be willing to examine the views opposite their own. Although many stubborn academics would view this as compromising their ego, according to Yu it would ultimately allow them to have fuller, more extensive knowledge of the issue.
Many feel that if the administration has a hand in what views professors can or cannot express, it qualifies as breach of their right to free speech. This concern has caused critics to view such censorship as anti-intellectualism, constraining professors to the policies of their employers and rendering them unable to express themselves fully to their pupils.
Yu concluded by discussing the prominent assumption that people’s beliefs always come out in their teachings, directly influencing the feelings of their students.
“No one believes that people are not necessarily what they teach,” Yu said, suggesting that professors do not receive enough credit as impartial sharers of knowledge. Regardless of their views, they should be trusted to present students with a fair, unbiased form of information. The recent disputes on academic freedom have led to instructors not being recognized for what they are: the true cornerstones of academia.