Two weeks ago, I blogged about one of the most pressing concerns facing the quality of higher education: freedom of expression. Today, in light of the release of the California Association of Scholars’ latest report entitled ‘A Crisis of Confidence’, I thought I should address an equally as serious topic: academic biases in higher education. The report’s primary concern is the politicalization of universities and the use (or abuse) of the classroom by faculty as a pulpit for promoting specific ideologies. It argues that professors, especially in public universities, have an obligation to students to fairly present multiple points of view, and to equip students with tools for intellectual development that encourage analysis not action. The report notes that, “Students will never learn to think for themselves if their thought processes must always conclude by fitting into a particular set of beliefs”, and argues further that using state institutions to promote political agendas weakens the legitimacy of democracy. They prescribe regents to more strictly enforce existing codes and policies against such politicalization.
But how can this possibly be consistent with the freedom of expression promoted by groups like FIRE? The report addresses this question, and its answer lies in the distinction between constitutionally protected freedom of expression and academic freedom in the classroom. Of course professors have a right to express themselves politically outside of their classroom, and prohibiting them from doing so would be wrong. But if the objection’s main concern is censorship, it should consider the form of censorship that occurs when one legitimate point of view, work, or author is intentionally omitted from a classroom. Students rely on higher education to gain the ability to understand the world in a meaningful and honest way. If they are presented with actions instead of analysis, with answers instead of questions, they are being robbed of their chance to decide for themselves and their education becomes indoctrination. In this way, politicalization in the classroom is in itself a form of censorship in so far as it omits alternative points of view and replaces sincere discourse with preformed conclusions.
Though I have encountered politicized classrooms in my life, I have had surprisingly few encounters at the University of Virginia. On the question of philosophy, economics and policy my professors have faithfully presented Cohen next to Friedman, eagerly defended Keynes one week and Hayek the next and called into question the virtue of even beloved figures like Gandhi. Considering that FIRE gave UVA a green light on freedom of expression, this would suggest that academic freedom and non-politicalization are not incongruous. However, I encourage students across the nation to read the report and critically evaluate the state of politicalization in classrooms at their University.
The report can be found here:
By Wendy Morrison, Staff Writer