Promoted by Steven D.
On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen, horrified (as we all were) by what had happened that morning, started writing (like many of us). That evening he emailed to progressive websites his hopes that the United States would not use the tragedy of that day as an excuse for aggressive war. As an afterthought, he also sent the article, which he called “Stop the Insanity Here,” to Texas newspapers, including The Houston Chronicle. Under the title “U.S. Just As Guilty of Committing Own Violent Acts,” it ran in the Chronicle later that week.
The talk-radio furor that followed led UT president Larry Faulkner to respond: “I convey my personal judgment that Jensen is not only misguided, but has become a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy. Students must learn that there is a good deal of foolish opinion in the popular media and they must become skilled at recognizing and discounting it. I, too, was disgusted by Jensen’s article, but I also must defend his freedom to state his opinion.”
Writing from the vantage point provided by five intervening years, Jensen recounts this and subsequent events at UT relating to academic freedom. His new article, “Academic Freedom on the Rock(s): The Failures of Faculty in Tough Times,” appearing in the ePluribus Media Journal, is an indictment both of our university administrations and their faculties. Neither, in Jensen’s view, has lived up to its responsibilities to the concept of academic freedom, the bedrock of the greatest university system in the world.
All teaching — especially in the humanities and the social sciences — has a political dimension, and we shouldn’t fear that. The question isn’t whether professors should leave their politics at the door (they can’t) but whether professors are responsible in the way they present their politics and can defend their pedagogical decisions. It’s clear that every decision a professor makes — choice of topics, textbook selection, how material is presented — has an underlying politics. If the professor’s views are safely within the conventional wisdom of the dominant sectors of society, it might appear the class is apolitical. Only when professors challenge that conventional wisdom do we hear talk about “politicized” classrooms.
But just because the classroom always is politicized in courses that deal with how we organize ourselves politically, economically, and socially, we should not suggest that it’s all politics. Because there’s a politics to teaching doesn’t mean teaching is nothing but politics; indeed, professors shouldn’t proselytize for their positions in the classroom. Instead, when it’s appropriate — and in the courses I teach, it often is — professors should highlight the inevitable political judgments that underlie teaching. Students — especially those who disagree with a professor’s views — will come to see that the professor has opinions, which is a good thing. Professors should be modeling how to present and defend an argument with evidence and logic.
For the complete article, visit Academic Freedom on the Rock(s): The Failures of Faculty in Tough Times on the ePluribus Media Journal.
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