Academic Freedom in the Classroom

Prof. Daniel E. Lee
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While those of us who teach and do research zealously defend our own academic freedom — and appropriately so, we often overlook the fact that academic freedom is just as important for the students in our classes. As instructors, we sometimes act in ways that are detrimental to the academic freedom of our students. Academic freedom is at risk if students perceive that they might receive a lower grade if they disagree with the instructor about a controversial manner. A classroom environment in which students fear that their grades are jeopardized if they disagree with the instructor results either in a class of robots functioning in a non-reflective manner or a class of proficient liars who say what they believe they have to say to get a good grade — hardly the types of skills appropriate for a person who is liberally educated.

Academic freedom is also at risk if students are intimidated by other students in the class. The professor has a special responsibility to ensure a classroom environment in which all persons and all views are respected, even as all views and all perspectives are challenged (an essential part of the teaching-learning process.)

The presentation concludes with observations about two practical issues: (1) the extent to which it is appropriate for instructors to use as assigned reading books and articles they have written (I suggest that this can be done as long as books and articles giving expression to contrasting views are also assigned and students are assured that they are not taking their lives in their hands if they choose to defend a position other than that taken by the instructor,) and (2) the extent to which it is appropriate for the instructor to use shocking and abrasive comments as pedagogical devices (though risky, I suggest that this can be done as long as students are apprised of what is happening and are assured that their own views and perspectives will be respected.)

Keywords: Academic Freedom for Students, Classroom Environment, Intimidation in Classroom, Grades and Academic Freedom, Shocking and Abrasive Comments
Stream: Teaching and Learning
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Ensuring Academic Freedom for Students in the Classroom

Prof. Daniel E. Lee

Professor of Ethics and Director, Augustana Center for the Study of Ethics, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois

Daniel E. Lee teaching responsibilities include courses in medical ethics and business ethics. He is the author of several books, including "Navigating Right and Wrong: Ethical Decision Making in a Pluralistic Age" (2002), "Generations and the Challenge of Justice" (1996), "Hope Is Where We Least Expect to Find It" (1993) and "Death and Dying: Ethical Choices in a Caring Community" (1983.) His most recent book, which addresses the question of when — if at all — it is appropriate to intervene in the lives of other people is scheduled for release this summer. He writes a weekly column that appears in the op-ed sections of the 'Rock Island Argus and the Dispatch' (published in Moline, Illinois,) as well as occasional pieces for other papers. Op-ed pieces he has written have appeared in 'USA Today', the 'Chicago Tribune', the 'Chicago Sun-Times', the 'Journal of Commerce', the 'St. Louis Post-Dispatch' and several other newspapers. In 1996 he joined the news team at WHBF-TV4 in Rock Island, Illinois, as their political analyst. Social service activities include serving as advisor for the Augustana Habitat for Humanity Campus Affiliate, as a member of the Rock Island City Ethics Commission and as a member of the ethics committee for Alternatives for the Older Adult, Inc. Born in the mountains of Montana, he began his formal education in a two-room country school. A summa cum laude graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, he received the M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University. A Navy veteran, he served as a commissioned officer assigned to naval intelligence.

Ref: H05P0167