November 22, 2017

Freedom in Academia- Fact or Just a Myth?

Freedom: a simple word with major significance. Every day, we wake and do things we are supposed to do. Perhaps that’s the way freedom works. Since our childhood, we are told that we are born to be free, but somewhere down the line, our life is going round in circles, and the sense of freedom somehow lacks in our lives. We all like to have freedom in our lives. In fact, people have literally died fighting for freedom; but standing in the 21st century, can we say it with a firmness that we are absolutely free? Perhaps no! We may not be slaves, but even the most privileged ones among us do encounter a lot of restrictions on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, the freedom in academia is also a myth.

Irony, isn’t it? The very institution that taught us about the significance of freedom and liberty in the first place isn’t absolutely free. When it comes to academia, a community that is engaged in higher studies, a lot of us have fancy ideas about how things work around here. In fact, a lot of bright and young minds get drawn towards the arena of academia believing that there’s a lot of intellectual freedom to exercise; but in reality, the censorship in higher levels of academics is even more rigorous than the hardcore professional sphere. There may be a certain level of liberty in the field of academics, but it’s absolutely not the way which most of us have imagined till now.

In the recent times, a few people have raised the issue of infringement of academic freedom in the UK. It has come to light a number of controversial arguments are being suppressed by the higher authorities as they contradicted the previously established theories and ideas. In fact, a lot of scholars have spoken up about the fact criticising the work of a senior scholar or administrator hasn’t gone well for them. In an article published in The Telegraph UK, it was reported that Thomas Docherty, a professor of English and Comparative Literature was suspended from his post at Warwick University with the charges of disobedience towards his head of the department. In the same report, another instance was mentioned where Carole McCartney, a Reader in Law was warned by her former managers at the University of Leeds for sending political tweets.

People need to understand that the advancement of knowledge is possible only through debates and discussions where two or more ideas can challenge each other and even surpass the previously held orthodoxies. And to do that the battle of ideas requires a certain amount of openness. Suppressing contradictory views and closing down debates are ultimately not going to benefit any of us.

While the situation is not quite favourable for the scholars, it will be wrong to presume that the professors are the ones who are enjoying absolute liberty in academia. There is a series of restrictions that dictate how a professor should do his/her job and even though it may seem a little strange to you, there are some common myths about the role of the professors in academia which need to be busted.

As a student, you may be aware of your side of the story, but here we are going to discuss a few misconceptions about the freedom in academics that concern the professors more than the students.

1. Professors are allowed to say anything they want in the classroom

Since our childhood, we used to think that all the restrictions are for the students, while the teachers and professors can enjoy a full liberty of doing anything they want. In fact, the most of us still think the same. Well, the reality is slightly different than how we assume it. You must be familiar with the quote “With great powers comes great responsibility”. Well, for the professors, the situation is quite the same actually. Academic freedom comes with a huge burden of responsibilities. For a professor, it’s not right to say or do ANYTHING in the classroom. It is inappropriate for a professor to share personal opinions on politics or religion when those topics have nothing to do with the subject he/she is teaching.

Basically, each and every activity that the professors perform in the classroom should be done on the grounds of educational purpose allowing the students to gather knowledge about a particular discipline. There is liberty in choosing the way a professor wants to teach his/her students. Although that does not allow them to verbally abuse students when they don’t get the expected answer from those students, as that may scare the students or place them in danger. In fact, the administrations in most of the universities take some serious steps if the professor goes over the line. Intolerance from the professor’s end is not tolerated.

2. Professors indoctrinate students

This is, in fact, a popular belief that the professors are the reason behind a student’s political and religious views. Well, if you have watched “Dead Poets Society” and think that every other professor in the world is influential like John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the film, but in a negative way then you are wrong. Professors do influence students, but they are not the ones who tell them to change their political or religious views like that. They can’t even if they want to.

Professors work towards educating the students, helping them to open their minds and think critically and independently. They are not allowed to influence the students’ political or religious views in another way, and most importantly, the majority of the professors don’t possess that kind of command over the students. If you look at the matter from a professor’s perspective, you may realise that their impact on the students is very limited. Besides, the job of a professor is to introduce the students to the facts and allow them to think critically.

Students are independent thinkers, and they make their own decisions based on the values that they have gotten from their family and peers, and the intellectual skills that they have developed from their education. So there’s no point believing the fact that the professors indoctrinate the students.

3. Academia requires government oversight

There is a long-running debate about the fact that academia, which is dominated by liberal thinkers, should be checked by the government to ensure that the curriculum is balanced and fair and these keeps students away from indoctrination (about which we talked in the last point). It has been a centre of discussion for a lot of people because if this is allowed in reality, chances are there that the politics may substitute for science and alter the curriculum, reflecting the ideology of the people in power.

The activities of the professors should be judged, but not by the politicians. It is okay if the academic peers and administrators judge them based on their performance. It is important to understand that education should be free-flowing. There’s a very good reason why a lot of bright minds from different middle-east and Asian countries come to UK to get the education. It is because there’s no academic freedom in those states. A student gets the best education when he is allowed to pursue it freely.

The freedom in academia is highly required in today’s date to advance the process of learning to a greater height, but it is also important to understand that there must be some regulation in order to prevent people (whether it’s the student or the professor) from mistreating the liberty. It is crystal clear that the boundaries are there for both students and the faculty in academia, but the situation is much dire for the students (or scholars) as those restrictions are stopping them from them continuing their designated job. The recent examples that have come to light have highlighted the fact that students or scholars who have contested a senior scholar’s view, have faced some serious trouble. This is the reason why a lot of people who share their theories or view on the open academic forums use anonymity since they don’t want to put their career in jeopardy.

However, if we say that there’s no academic freedom for the students then we will be wrong. Even though restrictions are there, students still can exercise their freedom in academics to some extent. However, a major reformation in academia is still due.

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