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Real academic freedom

Reader comment on item: Conservative Professors, an Endangered Species

Submitted by Dave M. O'Neill (United States), Apr 13, 2005 at 16:20

Academic freedom is suppose to protect the speech of professors OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM--at rallies, talk shows, dinners, etc, etc. If they express unpopular and even some what kooky views in these venues, but behave themselves in the classroom, they should be left alone. However, if a professor is using his classroom mainly for aggressively promoting his political views he is not protected by academic freedom and he should simply be cashiered for not dong his job. Noam Chomsky is the best example of this situation. He goes around making absolutely idiotic anti-capitalism speeches. What should concern MIT is whether he is using his class in semantics to teach semantics or to continue promoting his political views.

Thus the problem with the Columbia commission was not that they only investigated intimidation of students but that they did not understand that using the classroom to promote political opinions is inappropriate, even if you allow students to answer back (which according to less biased observers they do not). College classes should be used to "teach students how to think, not what to think". In the words of Max Weber:

"It is generally agreed that politics has no place in lecture halls, and I
unreservedly support this....It is perfectly acceptable to present one's
political viewpoint to a general audience for then one is not pretending
to offer a scientific analysis, but trying to sway others to adopt one's
political standpoint....To do this in a lecture or clasroom would be a
wanton transgression....The teacher must take extreme care to avoid,
by virtue of his authoritative position on the cathedra, pushing whether
explicitly or by subtle suggestion, a political sandpoint on his students
...neither prophet nor demagogue have a place in the lecture hall"
("Wissenschaft als Beruf", Munich, 1919)

Oh Mr. Bollinger, won't you please take note!


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