Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on academic freedom in Missouri

I have stated repeatedly that the current crop of 'academic freedom' bills have little to do with academic freedom. In fact I just posted an entry about Missouri. So let's get a little more specific. In Missouri what is academic freedom?

At the University of Missouri I found a little document describing academic freedom, and it is one I wholly subscribe to. And while this document does not have the force of law, it represents the state of academic freedom in the Great 'Show me!" State. Let's look at some key phrases:

"Academic freedom is the right and the responsibility of university faculty to pursue their scholarship wherever it may lead and to present their findings and works to their students, to their scholarly peers, and to the public without fear of suppression or reprisal, as long as these results are scrupulously supported by the rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence and represent the well-informed and ethical exercise of their scholarship. "
Here is the opening line and I think it summarizes the idea very clearly. Please note the part that the so-called academic freedom bills tend to ignore: "as long as these results are scrupulously supported by the rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence and represent the well-informed and ethical exercise of their scholarship." In other words right now today teachers and students in Missouri can discuss, study, research nearly anything they want and as long as their work adheres to 'rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence . . .' can be presented and opening discussed without concerns for poor grades, censorship, or getting fired.

So if that is true, why does Missouri need a bill supporting academic freedom? Could it be because groups like the Discovery Institute want to end run the need for "rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence . . ."? That's how I see it!

What do you think of this:
"The faculty does not lightly and without good scholarly or pedagogic grounds entertain the introduction of material extraneous to these specialties or to the scope of any particular class or program of study, and in this sense, and only on well-established academic grounds, academic freedom is limited."
Like 'Freedom of Speech', there are limits on real academic freedom and one of those limits is "well-established academic grounds". How often have you seen wording in these bills making such a reference? No, these bills open the door for anything and everything and not only protects the teachers while they introduce information without well-established academic grounds but refuse to hold the student accountable for not understanding the material that is well established.

Here is the reason i think the bills are being introduced so often:
"For students, academic freedom is the right to engage in reasoned discussion and critique in the classroom; with that right comes the responsibility, just as for the faculty, to apply their merging understanding of facts, methods, and controversies in their various fields of study, rather than to rest intellectually on unquestioning adherence to received disciplinary norms, tenets of political conviction or religious faith, or personal or cultural predilection."
This is the part that makes a religious pseudo-science, like Creationism and Intelligent Design, an anathema to academic freedom. You cannot have academic freedom when the concept you are pushing is based on religion! So in order for these religious ideas to be pushed, the current concept of academic freedom, as laid out clearly here, have to be superseded by a bill that truly goes against what academic freedom is designed to accomplish!

So the current standards of academic freedom would allow someone to bring in Intelligent Design, providing they did so in a rigorous and firmly rooted in scholarship manner. No wonder the Discovery Institute is trying to change things. So far even their own people have not managed to explain Intelligent Design is such a way! So of course when you can't do the science, look for a political alternative to push your agenda! As clearly laid out in their Wedge Strategy document!

Keep science in the science classroom and keep academic freedom a reality!

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