Letter to the editor

This spring we have had a number of campus conversations around issues of diversity, both in and out of the classroom. The Executive Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty wanted to take this opportunity to express our commitment to principles of academic freedom in the classroom and on campus. We maintain a strong commitment to principles of critical and independent thinking, which are the very core of a liberal arts education. Contrary to any impression students may have, at no time should a student feel the need to withhold their informed critical viewpoint, even if contradictory to the instructor’s. Doing so runs counter to principles of academic freedom. In June 2007, the American Association of University Professors issued the “Freedom in the Classroom” Report. The following excerpts, directly quoted from this report, elaborate on the distinction between indoctrination and engagement (link to full report: www.aaup.org/report/freedom-classroom).

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“Instructors indoctrinate when they teach particular propositions as dogmatically true. It is not indoctrination when, as a result of their research and study, instructors assert to their students that in their view particular propositions are true, even if these propositions are controversial within a discipline. It is not indoctrination for an economist to say to his students that in his view the creation of markets is the most effective means for promoting growth in underdeveloped nations, or for a biologist to assert her belief that evolution occurs through punctuated equilibriums rather than through continuous processes.

Indoctrination occurs when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them. . . .But professors of logic may insist that students accept the logical validity of the syllogism, and professors of astronomy may insist that students accept the proposition that the earth orbits around the sun, unless in either case students have good logical or astronomical grounds to differ. . . .

Indoctrination occurs when instructors assert such propositions in ways that prevent students from expressing disagreement. Vigorously to assert a proposition or a viewpoint, however controversial, is to engage in argumentation and discussion – an engagement that lies at the core of academic freedom. Such engagement is essential if students are to acquire skills of critical independence. The essence of higher education does not lie in the passive transmission of knowledge but in the inculcation of a mature independence of mind.”

The Executive Committee of the Arts and Sciences Faculty strongly encourages students to remain critically engaged and to participate actively and civilly in arguments both in and out of the classroom.

Sincerely,
The Executive Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty
(Peter Shoemaker – Dean; Kelly Goedert – Chair Pro Tem; Dawn Apgar – Secretary; Tom Rzeznik – Chair, Educational Policy Committee; Angela Weisl – Chair, Human Rights and Dignity; Leslie Bunnage and Sean Harvey – Chairs, Nominations and Elections; Mark Couch – Chair, College Core Curriculum; Matthew Corrigan – Chair, By-laws; John T. Saccoman – Chair, Rank and Tenure; Mary Balkun – Chair, College Planning Committee; Andrew Simon – Chair, Strategic Plan Steering Committee; )

Author: Letters to the Editor

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