Adventures in Academic Freedom

Four stories.

1) ALEC is meeting with legislators and talking about pulling funding from public colleges and universities if they don’t include more conservative views.

The academic freedom PC Run Amok people don’t seem to care. Note, this is a standard idea among conservatives, as evidenced by this Ben Carson interview.  If you aren’t terrified by this, you aren’t really concerned about academic freedom.

2) Donald Moynihan, a prof at University of Wisconsin, writes for the New York Times about these real threats. He’s not focused on ALEC, but on Wisconsin lawmakers who want to censor university professors, and the threat of guns on education.

If you truly believe that a university should be a place where people are empowered to pursue a fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas and evidence that benefit us all, I have a simple request: Look at the bigger picture beyond a few elite private institutions. For those of us who teach where most American students are educated, actual triggers are a more relevant danger than trigger warnings. Safe spaces are less threatening than shutting down teaching and research spaces.

Policy makers who accuse students of weakening campus speech should lead by example. Free speech on campus has survived and will survive challenges from students and other members of civil society. Its fate is much less certain when the government decides to censor discomforting views.

3) Meanwhile, the UK is worried about PC Run Amok.  Sigh.

4) Finally, conservative academics are mostly pretty happy, rather than the besieged minority that they are alleged to be.

I should first mention that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, conservative faculty are just as happy as their liberal counterparts, if not more so. In fact, in 2014, two-thirds of conservative faculty on a nationwide survey responded “Definitely yes,” the most positive on a five-point scale, to the question “If you were to begin your career again, would you still want to be a college professor?” Nationally, an average of 58 percent of all faculty members said they would, while 56 percent of liberal faculty responded in such a positive way — 10 points lower than right-leaning faculty. 

Interestingly, tenure does not play a role in levels of satisfaction, either. Tenured and nontenured conservative faculty members are both highly satisfied, at 65 percent and 61 percent respectively. The numbers look different for faculty members who identify as liberal: of those, 62 percent of tenured faculty would remain a professor compared to only 49 percent of those who aren’t tenured — a nontrivial difference.

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