Jump to content
The Education Forum

Academic Freedom


John Simkin
 Share

Recommended Posts

There was a story in today’s Guardian that might interest anybody creating a website on a school server. The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote to Birmingham University and demanded that it remove a website being produced by Sue Blackwell, an English lecturer. They objected to links from Blackwell’s site to another website that compared Israel to Nazi Germany.

The authorities responded to this by deciding to ban 300 websites maintained by academics at Birmingham University. The Association of University Teachers have taken up the case. Further details can be found at:

http://web.bham.ac.uk/web_campaign/

http://web.bham.ac.uk/sue_blackwell/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is scary, isn’t it? The comment that struck me most forcibly is on the following page:

http://web.bham.ac.uk/web_campaign/flaws.html

which reads as follows:

Currently, a university teacher holds the intellectual copyright on their course material. If the university refuses to allow for personal information providers, then a teacher can legally refuse to allow the university to use WEBCT or whatever stupid system they use to mount the material on the web; indeed, those who let them do so may well be giving up their copyright in so doing. So, effectively IT is pursuing a strategy that can only REDUCE the amount of web-based teaching materials. The university may well have plans to have all course materials mounted on the web. If they abandon the Personal Information Providers then I do not believe they can achieve this. I, for one, would refuse point-blank to allow my teaching material to appear on a managed web-site.

I would certainly refuse to relinquish control over teaching materials that I have created. Has Birmingham not learned anything from our North American cousins? York University Toronto comes to mind as a university that bungled technological change. It turned into a bitter dispute:

http://www.caut.ca/english/bulletin/97_dec/it-nego.htm

http://www.nyupress.org/professor/webintea...apt6_main.shtml

See also David Noble’s series of articles:

Noble D. (1997-2001) "Distance Education on the Web", a series of five articles: http://communication.ucsd.edu/dl

Try searching under Google using "David Noble" "York University"...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a university professor, I applaud the new policy! Academic freedom doesn't mean the right to say anything on any subject you want ... This is the role of speakers' corner, not of an academic institution...

Academic freedom means the right to debate of your recognized field of expertise!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a university professor, I applaud the new policy! Academic freedom doesn't mean the right to say anything on any subject you want ... This is the role of speakers' corner, not of an academic institution...

Academic freedom means the right to debate of your recognized field of expertise!

This is an interesting definition of academic freedom. However, Sue Blackwell is a lecturer on English Literature. This is a subject that enters many areas including the Middle East. Should she not have been allowed to comment on this subject? Why are some groups so concerned about people having the right to comment on their “specialist” area? What are they likely to say that will undermine the expert’s views on the subject? I am always suspicious of people who are keen to censor the views of their opponents. It gives me the impression that their intellectual arguments must be weak if they do not want to enter into a debate on the subject.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the issues at stake is that of control against a background of technological change. While I accept the view that a university has to be wary of the content of materials that appear on its websites, especially in view of possible breaches of copyright and ensuing legal action, this could be the thin end of the wedge. The headlong rush into setting up VLEs in educational institutions is creating a situation where the academic staff are increasngly emasculated. I believe this was one of the issues that led to the dispute at York University Toronto. See the references that I have cited in my earlier posting, especially the series of articles by David Noble.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

New technology gets us into a lot of intellectual impasses, doesn't it.

The question of intellectual property rights comes up when educational institutions try to get teachers to put lessons on platforms (such as WebCT and Blackboard). I think this is a situation which is analogous to the question of who ultimately controls the content of teachers' websites: the teacher or the university.

Institutions can use force (we'll close your site if we aren't allowed to control what is there and how it is further disseminated); or they can use blandishments (you only get support/development funds if you cede control); or they can engage in dialogue (let us discuss how right we are … but they fall back into one of the other categories as soon as they refuse to accept a conclusion which doesn't correspond with the one they first thought of).

However, we teachers have a few tricks up our sleeves too. We often respond to force by sitting on our hands - ultimately resulting in stultification, since we're often the only really educationally creative employees the institution has.

We often respond to blandishments by taking the money and then ultimately failing to deliver the goods (i.e. by producing something we want, rather than the product the institution wants), mostly because we have a lot more patience and interest in the end product than the institution does.

And we often respond to dialogue by taking part, dutifully, at first, and then either dropping out (when it becomes clear that 'dialogue' doesn't really mean a conversation between two equal partners) or by participating enthusiastically whenever the dialogue is real.

We can also do an 'end-run' by, say, starting our own websites - so that the interesting conversations happen on The Education Forum', rather than on The Virtual School.

Or we boycott the 'official' channels. I occasionally have to remind my bosses that the instructions they've given me are to teach English well - not to use a particular technology, such as blue whiteboard pens rather than green ones, or the platform they've bought, rather than open web pages. If the institution gets heavy with me, I'll just go back to another form of information technology: envelopes and stamps.

Edited by David Richardson
Link to comment
Share on other sites

English literature in the Middle East???

She can comment on literature in english in the ME... On politics? What has she published in the relevant journals? In which seminars did she debate? Where did she present a relevant work on the subject?

These are the relevant questions, not a title of "professor"!!!

Is she using her title of "professor" to indoctrinate in something on whuch she has no expertise? My reading of her site would make me answer yes to this question.

Academic freedom is not the right to say anything on any subject!

Unhappily a lot of academics don't have the sense to understand that!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've read a couple of Alma's postings, and I find the view of what a teacher does/should do quite interesting.

One of the first courses I studied at university was Formal Logic. It has virtually no direct connection with anything that I've subsequently taught … but at the same time it has probably had more influence on the way I approach intellectual tasks than anything else I ever studied.

In other words, at university, I feel I was taught to think - not taught to be good at reproducing information in a specific subject area.

Now, it's quite possible to claim that the philosophy of physics is an entirely different philosophy from the philosophy of history (or that the philosophy of English Literature is entirely different from the philosophy of Middle Eastern politics) - it's just that I've never seen that claim stand up to serious intellectual examination. In other words, a teacher of English Literature has just as much right to make statements and ask hard questions about Israel and Palestine as a 'certified' teacher of Middle Eastern politics. And, at the same time, the Literature specialist has to have her views and the information on which they are based questioned and examined. However, so does the 'certified' teacher of Middle Eastern politics. This is way the western scientific method has worked, since Socrates was standing in the Agora in Athens.

Something else we were trained at university to be wary of is the "genetic fallacy": the idea that the truth or falsity of a proposition can be determined simply by looking at the identity of the person making it.

Alma, are you sure you're not falling into the genetic fallacy yourself by focussing on the identity of the teacher at Birmingham University (i.e. her background in English Literature), rather than on the truth or falsity of what she says?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...