ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Academic Freedom for Me, but Not for Thee?

August 8, 2005 by ACTA

Writing for Cliopatria, KC Johnson reports on the latest chapter in Brooklyn College's ongoing difficulties comprehending the concept of free inquiry. Johnson, whose tenure case was nearly derailed by the petty politicking of colleagues who defined his principled willingness to speak his mind as "uncollegial," is himself Exhibit A in BC's troubled and unpromising learning curve, but the other exhibits are striking, too. They include the history department, which voted last spring to appoint outspoken ideologue Timothy Shortell to the post of chairman, with no apparent regard for the manner in which such an appointment would compromise the school (Shortell eventually withdrew his candidacy). They also include the School of Education, which has been engaging in the risky and inappropriate business of assessing the competence of aspiring teachers by way of their political leanings (when Johnson exposed this practice at InsideHigherEd.com last spring, he received a letter from a group of ed school faculty and administrators admonishing him for publicly criticizing the school and--even more peculiarly--justifying that admonition in the name of academic freedom). Read his response here.

In his current coverage of Brooklyn College's serial administrative missteps, Johnson focusses on the Clarion, the monthly publication of CUNY's Professional Staff Congress. Dedicated to the theme of "Academic Freedom Under Attack at CUNY," the issue features the astonishingly insular comment from historian Ellen Schrecker that the "system" of academic freedom "only works if the men and women who enforce the norms of the academic profession are academics themselves." If the Clarion spread is any indication, the CUNY system as a whole is in need of pointed training about the value of intellectual and procedural transparency in academe, about the importance of genuine debate among thoughtful people who don't all think the same way, and about the travesty that is committed when public institutions of higher learning behave as though theirs is and ought to be a closed shop, immune to public criticism and even, on occasion, above the law.

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