Friday, April 13, 2012

Academic freedom essential to pursuit of truth and knowledge

In response to my "Dinner with the President" post a student named Monica suggests that students want to hear instructors' opinions on controversial topics:

"I would like it to be acceptable for students to be able to hear what the personal opinions of instructors are on controversial topics such as religion, and politics (in particular in classes that involve studying such topics). I do not think enough flexibility is given to instructors to be allowed to speak their mind. This would make classes a lot more engaging, and would inspire curiosity in my fellow students."

Monica, thanks for that comment. This is a subject that is near and dear to the heart of any academic institution as it involves academic freedom.

Douglas believes in the academic freedom of our faculty. At its core, this academic freedom not only allows independent thinking and expression but insists upon it.

In the classroom, and in the subjects you mention (I used to teach political science), often the objectives of the course are to expose students to a wide range of views and arguments and, more importantly perhaps, the evidence and assumptions behind them. This is in an effort to encourage students to formulate and/or examine their views. Sometimes, the expression of the instructor's views may be seen by some as possibly unduly influencing the student's own exploration. This is up to the instructor and their sense of the situation and their sense of professional ethics and obligations.

In other cases, simply asking the instructor what their views are may elicit a lively discussion. Again, it is up to the instructor whether s/he discloses. Don't be surprised if the instructor turns the question back on you, however, and asks you to explain not only your views but, more importantly, why you hold them. They may even ask you to 'unpack' the assumptions behind your views.

That being said, for many instructors the expression of their academic freedom can be found in their research and publications, in their blog posts, in their conference presentations, and/or in opinion pieces they have written - among other things. Our instructors have an amazing range of views and perspectives which is what makes Douglas a vibrant academic environment.

Higher education is about the pursuit of truth(s) and knowledge(s). As a teaching institution, what is most important is that students explore and expand their knowledge(s) and perspectives. If we achieve this, we are doing our work, and for many, our calling.

Our policy statement on this matter is:

"Douglas College will ensure a teaching and learning environment that supports academic freedom. Academic staff and students have rights and privileges to engage in independent thinking and expression unhindered by external or non-academic constraint, to pursue avenues of inquiry and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. These rights carry with them the duty and responsibility to use that freedom in a way that is consistent with the scholarly pursuit for truth, knowledge and understanding. These rights and privileges must be used within the applicable laws and College policy reflecting these laws."


1 comment:

  1. I have just read the outcomes of the Dinner with the President event. I appreciate hearing the students' voices as we work on our new strategic plan. I am wondering....Were students with disabilities (visible and invisible) in attendance at the Dinner?