Jay Bergman has a fine new piece up at the NAS Forum, puncturing the sanctimony that surrounds the ever-expanding sphere of “academic freedom” in the minds of many professors (see “Ward Churchill, sober research scholar, victim”)
In response to the increasing contention that “academic freedom protects professorial speech in any circumstance Bergman cites the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles, and its statement that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”
At Central Connecticut State University where I am a professor, this distinction is sometimes ignored. Last fall, a professor sent the students in one of her courses more than 100 e-mails containing articles advocating the professor’s opinions on matters entirely extraneous to the course — for example, that Israel committed war crimes while fighting Hamas in Gaza last summer, and that comparisons between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany are reasonable. She also invited students to join her in attending seminars, such as Workshops on Peace, that were designed to advance the professor’s political agenda.
What is even worse, during one class, as a way of demonstrating how the American colonists stole Indian land, the same professor took a student’s backpack without permission and in front of all the students emptied its contents onto the floor, naming each item one by one. It is hard to imagine a more egregious violation of a student’s privacy, or a more flagrant abuse of the power professors have over students by virtue of their grading them and writing recommendations for them for jobs after they graduate.
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. In my 17 years at CCSU, about half of my students have told me, on their own initiative or in response to my asking them, that one or more of their professors not only interjected their political opinions in class on a regular basis, but did so in an effort to convert their students to their point of view.