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Academic Freedom on the Rock(s)

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Original Publication Date
01/20/2007

Threats to academic freedom -- direct and indirect, subtle and not so subtle -- come from a variety of sources: Politicians, the general public, news media, administrators, corporations, and students. In my academic career, I have been criticized from all of those quarters. Though these attacks have been relatively easy to fend off in my particular case, the threats are real and should trouble us; they require of us sharper analysis and a strategic plan to fend off attempts to constrain inquiry. But, even with that understanding of the seriousness of these external threats, I will argue that the most important aspect of the current controversies is how they mark the complacency and timidity of faculty members themselves. I will focus on two specific incidents in my career -- one involving administrators and the other students -- that illustrate these threats. Then, I will examine the responses of faculty members on my campus to the events, and offer suggestions for analysis and action. Throughout I will remain rooted in my own experience at the University of Texas at Austin. While Texas may in some ways be idiosyncratic, I do not believe my experience at that university is radically different from others around the United States. My concern with this issue is not rooted in optimism for the short term. While I would like to see U.S. academics, as a class, take a leading role in movements to assert radical humanistic values that have the possibility of transforming society; I don't believe it is likely, or even possible, in the near future. In fact, I assume that in the short term there is very little progressive political change likely in the United States, with or without the assistance of university-based academics. Instead, I will argue we should work to hold onto what protections for academic freedom exist to provide some space for critical thinking in an otherwise paved-over intellectual culture, with an eye on the long term. Toward that goal, I will suggest ways to approach these threats to academic freedom and attempt to assess realistically the conditions under which such defenses go forward.

Academic Freedom on the Rock(s): The Failures of Faculty in Tough Times - Part II

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Original Publication Date
01/17/2007

What I am not saying, politely ...

I am not arguing that all faculty members must commit themselves to my politics or my style of public political engagement.

I am not bitter. Given the contemporary political landscape, I do not expect support from faculty members for my political activities.

Digital Learning Apartheid

Digital Learning
Original Publication Date
01/03/2007

Traditionally, when the term at-risk is applied to education, it refers to the risk of school failure for learners due to low social economic status (SES). Dropping out of school is generally considered a measurable event, while future success in adult life and limited functioning as productive adults are difficult concepts to define.

Many well-meaning politicians and citizens are basking in self-congratulations for having successfully eliminated the at-school digital divide (the gap between individuals able to benefit from technology and those who aren't). But, millions of our country's economically and socially disadvantaged learners are still suffering a Digital Learning Apartheid. For them, digital isolation at home only further expands the gaps in digital learning participation and academic achievement between them and the have learners.

Have-not Learners

Although the more generally accepted term in education for this class of learners is at-risk students, I have chosen instead to use the term have-not learners first, to better clarify the cause and amplify the severity of their situation. Second, substituting the term learners for students broadens the definitional scope to include former dropouts from formalized learning institutions who wish to use re-education or workforce development to gain more meaningful employment.