Drexel U. Students Endorse Academic Bill of Rights · 10 November 2006

By Editors of the Drexel Triangle

The Drexel Triangle

It's always exciting when University departments sponsor public policy forums and panel discussions. The College of Arts and Sciences sponsored a forum Nov. 9 on the death penalty in the Faculty Club. While capital punishment doesn't usually make polite dinner conversation, it is nonetheless vital to see how efforts are made to frame multiple viewpoints on a given subject - that is, a diversity of thought.

The panelists made a concerted effort simply to provide facts without offering their own personal commentary, thereby leaving students on their own to evaluate the evidence and form their own decision. This is laudable. We hope professors will follow this example in their classes. Although the University formed a committee to study our current level of diversity in faculty and support staff, little attention is given to intellectual diversity.

Obviously not all viewpoints are legitimate. Racism comes to mind. But to side-step the nuances of what a university is - such as whether the purpose of a university is to transmit America's cultural values or to transform them into something else - it's sometimes a chagrin to students how facts are arranged on given issues.

For instance, the forum lacked discussion of the argument that the death penalty deters violent crime. We are not suggesting that is the case, but it is a legitimate viewpoint that we feel merits discussion. Of course, forums always have limitations such as time, cancellations and the like, but a greater effort needs to be applied in how questions are framed.

Intellectual pluralism should be applied for the selection of speakers and allocation of funds for speaking events. Course readings are another excellent example. If every textbook or reading article in an economics class came from a Marxist perspective, professors are doing students a disservice, because they are claiming a monopoly on truth. This is indoctrination, not education. Professors should not assume that because students live in a society that's primarily capitalist that they have a firm grasp on how it works.

The American Association of University Professors in 1911 published the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure. It forbids faculty from "taking unfair advantage of the student's immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher's own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own."

The AAUP reinforced this again in 1967 with its Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, which advocated "the freedom to teach and freedom to learn." Sadly, nowhere are these principles enshrined in Drexel's Student Handbook, leaving students in the dark. Students need to understand these principles so that if the faculty violates them, they will know how to handle it professionally. It will also give them confidence that professors will grade them solely on how well they reason their arguments, instead of their political or religious beliefs. More importantly, faculty will understand that academic freedom is the right of the student as well.

We hope that adopting an academic bill of rights will encourage students to speak their minds without fear of reprisal in grades, rather than sit back and mute their beliefs - which more often than not are vital contributions to the pursuit of truth. We hope professors at Drexel understand and affirm the freedom to teach and freedom to learn.