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No real debate on academic freedom

“He’s just going to squash me like a little bug,” said senior Jack Posobiec, describing a professor whom he disagreed with politically. “This is someone who has a Ph.D. in the subject. There’s not much I can really do to debate him.” Posobiec, a political science major and chairman of Temple College Republicans, said he… Read more »

“He’s just going to squash me like a little bug,” said senior Jack Posobiec, describing a professor whom he disagreed with politically.

“This is someone who has a Ph.D. in the subject. There’s not much I can really do to debate him.”

Posobiec, a political science major and chairman of Temple College Republicans, said he and other conservative students are unfairly singled out in the classroom by professors who hold liberal views.

“A lot of the problems stem from the fact that students were too scared to do anything about it,” continued Posobiec during a recent interview. “This is the kind of thing that keeps students away from trying to put in any type of formal or informal complaint.”

In July, however, the university’s Board of Trustees adopted a new academic freedom policy that details a course of action for students with complaints. Entitled “Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities,” the policy took effect on Aug. 1.

Including a statement of principles establishing student and faculty rights, the policy states that “faculty are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial (or other) matter which has no relation to their subject.”

The policy outlines a full student grievance procedure, in which students can petition university personnel ranging from an ombudsperson to the provost. Professors have included a reference to the new policy on their syllabuses along with a link to its full text.

The policy was implemented largely due to the academic freedom hearings held on Main Campus in January, according to Director of Communications Raymond Betzner. During the hearings, then-president David Adamany testified before a panel of state legislators who questioned him about the academic climate on Temple’s campus.

“President Adamany at the time said he was going to do two things: He said he was going to take a look at each policy that each school and department had in place. He also said he was going to make students more aware of their academic freedom rights,” Betzner said. “That’s exactly what the Trustees have done with this policy.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Theresa Powell said that a student grievance policy had always existed on Temple’s Campus, but was never so openly advertised.

“This was in place, but it wasn’t named; it wasn’t put out there like this,” Powell said. “I think it makes it crystal clear for all students now to know the policy and be able to take advantage of it.”

Both Betzner and Powell said that due to a lack of substantive complaints, the new policy would not dramatically affect teaching methods at Temple.

The majority of faculty members who were interviewed agreed.
“There is a procedure in university policy that has already been in place,” said Nathaniel Norment, Jr., chair of the African American studies department. “So I don’t see much difference in what is identified here as opposed to what has already been identified as to faculty responsibility in terms of tolerance and so forth.”

Norment also said he encourages and almost demands that students debate his perspectives, and that his colleagues do the same.

The policy also emphasizes that “student performance should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.” Rachel Tolliver, an adjunct professor of English, said that she often mentions facts in the classroom that concur with her political beliefs.

“I definitely haven’t been careful about what I say in the classroom, … but I think it’s impossible to remain objective as a professor also,” she said. “But I wouldn’t grade based on that. I read over the statement and I included it in my syllabus.”
Tolliver added that she believed there was a liberal bias on most college campuses, but that widespread political indoctrination of students was just “right-wing paranoia.”

Many students remain apathetic about the policy.

“I got my syllabus and I thought, ‘Oh, academic freedom, I don’t know what that means. Oh well,'” said junior psychology major Dominique Dumay. “I wish professors would just say what it means because there’s no way we’re going to go online just to check what it means.”

Others were skeptical about the policy’s effectiveness. “I just feel like the idea of it is a good thing, but I don’t think that people are going to pay much attention to it,” said junior journalism major Tiffany Hall, adding that her professors made a thorough effort to inform their students of the policy. “I don’t think everyone understands it yet, though. So it needs to be clarified a little bit more.”

Despite student apathy, Posobiec remains enthusiastic. He said he is hopeful about the policy’s potential to create more of a critical thinking method in classroom, where students can readily analyze and challenge class material.

“Instead of having a teacher give out an opinion and having 35 to 40 students nod their heads and write down exactly what they say, I think it’ll benefit students because it’ll open up classrooms a lot more,” Posobiec said. “Every time I go to one of my first classes this semester, I kind of have to smile that it’s actually there.”

Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at venuri.siriwardane@temple.eduthe

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