Sunday, February 06, 2005

Academic Freedom

There is a bill in the Ohio legislature (Link) that would require that students
be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study and shall not be discriminated against on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs. Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.

Talk about a mixed message. In one paragraph, this bill seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of students and curtail the First Amendment rights of the teachers. It is hard to argue with the idea behind first half of the paragraph. Students should not be penalized for holding different opinions than the teacher, or favored for holding similar opinions. The big problem is how it is enforced. It sounds like juries will start deciding what grades a student should receive, after a trial that should not be taking up court time. It could prove to be another Trial Lawyers Employment Act.

As for the second half, it not only violates Academic Freedom, it also violates the First Amendment. I believe it was George Orwell who described a particular idea as "so stupid, only an intellectual could believe it." Many in the academic community are fonts of crackpot ideas, but we should not want the government to censor them. One solution is the kind of publication found at certain universities in which students rate faculty members and warn fellow students away from the crackpots. Universities should not fire teachers for what they say in class, but they should fire them if no students want to take their classes.


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