Re: Academic Freedom

by The Editors

Robert, I agree that when we discuss academic freedom, we should generally specify who the agent is. Calhoun’s use of passive voice obscures that. He focuses on what is said rather than who says it. 

But I also agree with Calhoun in his characterization of academic freedom: It does not mean anything goes in an academic context. His discussion of the live sex demonstration at Northwestern is a good example. Just because the professor thought it was “educational” does not mean that it was appropriate for the classroom. The common perception of academic freedom is as carte blanche immunity from criticism and correction. Calhoun makes an important point: academic freedom exists for a purpose, and the purpose is “free inquiry in pursuit of truth” — and not mere provocation for its own sake.

Today “The Vagina Monologues” is an old artifact of the culture wars, and students perform it in order to feel as if they’re pushing boundaries. Any attempt to stop or hinder it just makes its producers think they’ve achieved something. So I don’t favor attempts to keep this vulgar play off campus. That doesn’t mean that producing it is a meaningful exercise of academic freedom. It’s just a meaningful exercise of bad taste — especially at a Catholic university.  

Academic freedom also comes in when those on campus who have objections to its performance can’t voice their dissent. The Gonzaga events for the week of the play, unlike most events on campus, were closed to the public, and those who planned them, Calhoun wrote, “studiously avoided including dissenting voices.”

Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.