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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Roundtable: “Beyond David Horowitz: Perspectives on Academic Freedom in the 21st Century”

More random notes from conference:

David Beito (University of Alabama): comes from different perspective than most here: from libertarian perspective. If one good thing comes out of this war it is an increased discussion across divides, and we’ll need that to stop another war. Issue of speech codes and Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights: mostly concern of conservatives, chilling academic freedom and discussions. Discomfort, because we need to work with people we don’t like and don’t agree with. Horowitz tries to divide these issues, and we will be more successful if we can link them.

Matthew Bokovoy (University of Nebraska Press): How scholarly publishing has been affected by issues of academic freedom. Problem of system of soft reviews can open up an author and publisher to pressure. A good press will have a broader array of ideological perspectives. Importance of keeping that open and balanced in order to avoid images of ideological distortion. Limited markets and profit motive can limit publication horizons, even tho it may review well. Political pressures from donors, etc. 3 layers designed to keep a clean process: peer review, internal review, and ? Several recent high-profile cases of tenure review cases, and example of Ward Churchill–detractors more easily made case against him because he published at a small publisher (City Lights Press) that perhaps was not careful enough with peer review process.

Deirdre McDonald (University of Texas-Pan American): role of libraries in academic freedom debates. Libraries are the biggest allies in these fights. Issues of control and access come up daily in our work. Major ethical question is protection of privacy: that you can look at material without fear of exposure, that people can look at material privately. Librarians face same internal pressure as rest of university: budget cuts, tenure. But since 9/11 new external concerns: government laws (esp. USA Patriot Act), and changes in faculty attitudes. USA Patriot Act is particularly bad because it violates library ethics of privacy. Due to gag order, we don’t know if this happens or how common it is. Informal surveys say 5-10% of libraries have been searched. Librarians look for ways that they can inform public about this with things like signs that say that the FBI has not been here this week, watch for the removal of this sign. Also issues of outright censorship. Oct 2002 told to remove Gov’t printing office geological survey CD-ROM. This only happens when an issue of misprint, but in this case it was destroyed. In another case of 5 publications was able to keep it. EPA libraries closing (defunded), saying that information will be online–but it is not, and no librarians to help find information. Closures, censorship, and Patriot Act are most important concerns. Another issue is how business models change how librarians are run. Libraries are anti-business, anti-capitalist. Can’t make profit, we give things away. We don’t follow a business model. But if everything has to turn profit, we cannot do that. With business model comes idea of student as consumer. Leads to drop in demand: pay for grade, rather than work harder. Problem of electronic information going through IT who do not have same security concerns, and are willing to give any info to gov’t. So, now can only assure that if you look at a print book and do not check it out your privacy can be secured. With technological changes with social networking sites, students are no longer concerned about giving info away.

Larry Gerber (Auburn University): historian against war, but here as spokesperson for AAUP. How do we protect academic freedom? Main idea of tenure is to protect academic freedom. More than 1 million instructional faculty in US, but only 1/3 are tenured or tenure-track. We need to prevent erosion and to build protection back. Faculty governance is important to maintain freedom. Threats come from 2 places: external (McCarthy, etc.). Importance that faculty should be in control of their affairs because of their expertise on the subject. Faculty can violate the rights of other faculty, but it is better for us to be in control. 2: corporatization of university, often from administrators and board of governors. So, faculty control is key academic freedom.

Discussion: Horowitz presents universities as leftwing, but tend to be deeply conservative parts of establishment. Focus on cultural issues, but little attention to structural concerns. David: pragmatic liberalism. Term limits for administrators, so that faculty keep focus on academic freedom. Most willing to cave in on academic freedom is from administrators who are most distant from education. Related to explosive growth of administrative positions.

Ellen Schrecker (Yeshiva University, Chair): These are not easy issues. Where do we take these concerns? We have a lot of education to do, because our fellow academics often don’t understand what is going on (as in the libraries). Those of you who don’t belong to AAUP should join. For all of its problems and issues, it is the main organization dedicated to academic freedom. So, go to http://www.aaup.org and join!

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