Academic freedom is the treasure of the university. In a world that (allegedly) prizes education for education's sake, the currency is ideas. We come to the university to learn, to be exposed to different ideas, to challenge ourselves and others. But what happens when certain ideas are stifled in the classroom, like what happened to one professor?
Colleges are where what's left of the dying discipline of philosophy (and other theoretical liberal arts) lives on. Academics and scholars continue to pursue and create the cutting edge of theory and research under the canopy of the university.
But, let's face it, some ideas are less popular than others. Universities don't always like certain things being researched or said. Professors espousing full out Marxism (Communism) are often subject to certain types of censorship and tenure issues. Most unpopular of all though, might just be Catholicism. Nothing says politically incorrect like those crazy Catholics. Religious Studies in general is considered increasingly suspect as well. Harvard doesn't even have an undergraduate department of Religious Studies or Theology.
Apparently though, the university gotten to the point where certain ideas aren't even allowed to be told in their entirety. Dr. Kenneth Howell was fired from the University of Illinois for teaching what the Catholic position on homosexuality is in a course on Catholicism. Yes, for telling students what the Catholic Church teaches in a class about Catholicism, he was fired.
Read the article here
. A student anonymously claimed that an email Dr. Howell sent to students explaining the Catholic Natural Law theory on homosexuality was hate speech. The email also included a utilitarian view and a plea for academic integrity and making thoughtful, informed decisions.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, has taken up Dr. Howell's case and is pushing for his reinstatement on the grounds that the university violated his first amendment rights and showed bias in censoring ideas merely due to their political incorrectness.
Should secular universities censor things they don't agree with? What about Christian universities? I personally favor allowing every position to be presented in the strongest light possible. I support honesty and putting political agendas aside in order to see and evaluate the agenda itself, and learning just to learn.
Isn't that what you're supposed to do in a college class? Present the ideas and study them? Or should we just reject ideas outright because they offend our delicate sensibilities? It would be absurd if a professor of political theory (who happened to be a utilitarian) was fired for teaching what John Stewart Mill taught, wouldn't it?
It saddens me that college has become a consumer product, bowing to students and their parent's money instead of academic ideals and commitment to knowledge for knowledge's sake. Academic freedom is what made college so important. Truth and untruth were out there to be weighed thoughtfully, though most people genuinely seek what is true. That's the point, education is help us figure out what is true, not to tell us what is true. We have to have as much information from as many different sources as possible in order to learn how to consider things and to see all the facets. Censoring ideas debilitates this process and changes education into conditioning.So here are my questions for readers: should there ever be a limit on academic freedom? Do secular/Christian universities have a right to decide what will/will not be taught? What is the value of political correctness? Does the university have an obligation to explore ideas regardless of how unsavory it may find them?