Academic freedom is such a pressing issue that President Trump has issued an Executive Order on Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities - although the order was fuzzy on freedom and aimed primarily at consumer information. Meanwhile, politicians are mandating freedom of speech while coming down hard on speech that they don't like.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on USF Tampa in EDU 317. On the agenda: bargaining, consolidating USF, selecting the travel grant recipients, and scheduling the meetings during summer. For details, see the agenda. Come and check us out.
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When President Trump signed his executive order, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., wrote that "The president is right to stop our government from handing out taxpayer dollars to subsidize institutions that practice censorship - regardless of whether that censorship is used against those on the left or the right." But Liberty University's own problems with a free student press raises the question of whose freedom of expression Falwell is defending.
But first, a clarification.While "academic freedom" is often cited, most of the debate seems to be about freedom of expression as understood from a First Amendment point of view. Academic freedom is usually associated with Wilhelm von Humboldt's University of Berlin, with its ideals of the freedom to teach (Lehrfreiheit) and the freedom to learn (Lernfreiheit). This is a strictly academic notion, and as Article 5 of the UFF USF Collective Bargaining Agreement observes, entails responsibilities as well as privileges. But the prehistory of academic freedom appears to be associated with the ancient immunities of sages, judges, jesters and prophets, which included the right (even obligation) to speak truth to power - as jesters and prophets were particularly prone to do. As a matter of law, modern judges are jealous of their own prerogatives, respectful of First Amendment restrictions on governmental retaliation against people who speak their mind, and occasionally dismissive of academic freedom of individuals unless protected by a contract (like ours).
College and university campuses are full of young people exploring a life of ideas - witness student athletes offending pundits by bending the knee during sporting events. They are also magnets for off-campus enthusiasts seeking an audience - witness Created Equal's traveling Vote Anti-Abortion campaign. News reports (occasionally garbled or exaggerated) may inspire politicians to try to intervene to protect the speakers, or to protect the students from the speech, or even to use the entire affair as a distraction from something the politicians would rather not talk about.
When it is an off-campus organization, especially a well-connected one, then there can be all kinds of political forces at work. Consider Turning Point USA, a sort of political action committee for electing student government officers and representatives "for Free Markets and Limited Government", or perhaps more importantly, win "America's Culture War". TPUSA supports student government candidates - occasionally covertly - as an effort to, um, "take over student-government associations," as founder Charles Kirk once indelicately put it. According to Kirk, college and university campuses are "Islands of totalitarianism," but alas, "You're not going to get teachers fired" (although they do maintain Professor Watchlist, a random sample of faculty and their ideological peccadillos). In 2018, TPUSA tried to meddle in the 2017 USF student government election.
All this media attention has attracted politicians, and consequently, legislation. Politicians are concerned about faculty indoctrinating their students, and some outside organizations (such as Stop K-12 Indoctrination) have persuaded politicians to propose legislation to stop the indoctrination (e.g. several legislatures, including Florida's, are considering legislation to mandate at least equal time to competitors to standard scientific descriptions of climate change and evolution).
Another example in Florida is House Bill 839 (An act relating to higher education), a legislative train that has expanded from 22 to 34 pages, and now mandates "an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" at each public college as well as each public university. The United Faculty of Florida is concerned that this mandate could provide a vehicle for ideologically-driven legislative micromanagement of teaching and research. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called for Florida public colleges and universities to adopt something like the University of Chicago's Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression on inviting controversial people to speak on campus. Of course, the Chicago report addressed the freedom of institutions and affiliated organizations to issue invitations to controversial people (including, presumably, performance artists who make strife part of their show) and not to the issue the Governor raised: the reception by the audience, which includes people who want to listen and people who want to express their opinion of the speaker (or the speech).
And occasionally, politicians and pundits weigh the relative rights of the audience by how much they are personally sympathetic to the speaker. And sometimes, something else is going on.
Dilbert's Scott Adams once suggested that this sort of thing could be political posturing. On the other hand, it may be a way of changing the subject. For example, pundits yammering about free speech on campus are not debating the decline of government support of higher ed. The Florida Policy Institute reports that "Florida funding for four year universities and colleges in 2016 is 22.7% lower when adjusted for inflation than it was in 2008. Simultaneously, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees at Florida public colleges and universities for the same period increased by 64.3%." Florida is not unique in underfunding higher education, and politicians embracing tax cuts for wealthy donors may prefer to discuss something other than higher ed funding. And incidentally, as far as higher ed funding goes, as of April 8, the House proposal involved cuts while the Senate Proposal involved fiddling with formulas. Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association's priority this session is Fund Our Future, and is aimed at appropriate and rational funding of K-20 education in Florida.
Debra Smith is an Instructor in the the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications at USF Tampa. She received a $ 500 travel scholarship towards travel expenses to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last summer. This is her account.
Thanks to the travel scholarship I won from United Faculty of Florida at USF in April 2018, I was able to save money for my students and myself when we traveled to France last June for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2018. I attended this conference with seventeen USF students as part of my three-week study abroad program, entitled, USF Advertising in Paris & Cannes.
Cannes Lions is considered the largest and most prestigious gathering of worldwide advertising / PR and marketing professionals, designers, digital innovators and entertainment executives. Each June, over 12,000 registered delegates from nearly 100 countries attend this week-long conference in southern France to celebrate the best of creativity in brand communication. Galleries are set up to showcase communication campaigns from all over the world. The judging takes place at the event, with winners receiving the prestigious Cannes Lion Award.
Seminars and workshops are held to discuss industry issues and trends among fellow professionals, as well as students of the industry. Students are especially excited for the opportunity to gain access and exposure to global industry superstars, creative leaders and entertainment celebrities that they normally would not have. It was inspiring to attend Cannes Lions with USF students and assist them in navigating this huge event. One of the highlights was watching them participate in a creative workshop to do a campaign for a global brand.
Thank you UFF for having these $ 500 travel scholarship drawings. From some instructors, it's often the only travel money we receive.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, April 19, at noon, on USF Tampa in EDU 317.
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