Academic Freedom Group Hits Snafu at Marquette · 16 November 2006

By Rincey Abraham
Filed under: Press Coverage

 The Marquette Tribune

Students for Academic Freedom has multiple hurdles to jump before it can become an official student organization on campus, but those involved still don't know what those hurdles are, according to Charles Rickert, a senior in the College of Business Administration.

Rickert said the organization submitted its constitution one month ago to the Office of Student Development and has yet to hear a clear response from the school.

"They have given us very vague suggestions, but they have given us no straight answers or specific lists," he said.

Kelly Neumann, coordinator for student organizations and leadership, said she could not comment on the situation with this specific organization, but said OSD looks at the process for each organization separately.

Rickert said there have been a lot of behind the scenes meetings the university will not talk about, including a closed-door session in a Committee on Faculty meeting, which Rickert did not know about until he read about it in Tuesday's Tribune.

"They never called me or told me they were having this meeting," Rickert said.

He hopes the closed-door meeting was not a way to hide faculty opinions and feelings because he said he wants more communication between students and the university.

According to Rickert, the group wants to create an assembly to better highlight underrepresented ideas. He said Marquette pulls out a "Catholic veto" whenever it does not agree with an idea on campus. He said there is academic freedom available for faculty members who may have unpopular viewpoints and the same should be available for students.

The constitution submitted states the group's purpose is to promote intellectual diversity on campus and establish an academic bill of rights for students.

Members of the Committee on Faculty said many professors had expressed concern about the aims of the group. The committee went into closed session last Thursday so faculty could discuss the issue. Discussing a student group is a rare task for the COF, according to Kristy Nielson, chair of the COF and assistant chair of psychology.

Some are worried the group would try to pressure faculty into teaching a particular way or ideology, according to William Thorn, associate professor of journalism and secretary of the COF. Instead of expanding speech, Thorn said, faculty worry the group would instead restrain speech.

Rickert met with OSD in the past and he said there have only been two clear comments made about the organization. First, students do not have academic freedom. Second, he has been told that if approved, Marquette does not want the campus chapter to be affiliated with the national organization. While he is willing to cut ties from the national group, he is unsure why Marquette does not support them.

John McAdams, associate professor of political science and faculty adviser for the group, said he has spoken to OSD and the office would not speak frankly about the group. However, he believes the organization will give Marquette a hard time when it infringes on student academic freedom, such as when the university denies campus events like a presentation of the "Vagina Monologues."

"If Marquette does not approve of certain events, they can say it is not endorsed by the university," he said.

Rickert said he will be meeting with Neumann and Mark McCarthy, assistant vice president of the Office of Student Development, on Monday. Neumann said the meeting will serve to clear up questions and to help move the organization along in the process.

Tim Horneman of the Tribune staff contributed to this report.