Thursday, April 19, 2012

Censorship and Suppression of Academic Freedom at UCLA

UCLA Professor David Delgado Shorter has been asked to remove a link on his website that calls for the boycott of Israel, according to the Los Angeles Times. The university has asked him to remove the link and claimed he has agreed to not use the link in the future. Shorter claimed he never made such an agreement. In fact, he thought they had agreed to continue discussions over the issue and to provide an explanation of the campus policy on the matter.

Shorter said the link was one of a number of suggested links for his course “Tribal Worldviews.” The links were not required reading and were provided only as part of a “clearinghouse” of ideas.

The UCLA leadership was acting on a complaint by the Zionist AMCHA Initiative organization, a group of Jewish faculty that has accused other UC campuses of ignoring anti-Semitism and allowing harassment of Jews and that has acted as an apologist for the state of Israel.

While it is commonly believed that a professor’s job is to teach students how to think, not to think for them, exposing students to political movements, protests and other partisan activities cannot be banned or limited without also diluting or undermining the very nature of many courses. Furthermore, it’s a stretch to argue that exposing students to a cause is in any way condoning it or recruiting for it.

A political science teacher might ask students to visit the website in order to study how digital fundraising can influence an election, while an ethnic studies professor might ask students to visit a hate group’s website to study how they recruit new members or to analyze the content of their speech.

Prohibiting political links on a professor’s website could prevent a philosophy of science teacher from posting links to organizations opposing stem cell research or those denying evolution or climate change, even those there are pedagogically sound reasons for asking students to study such organizations.

Such academic policies suppress academic freedom, critical thinking and learning and do little, or nothing to prevent the proselytization of students. Merely posting a partisan link as one of many in a clearinghouse of resources available for students is not at all the same as espousing or condoning a particular viewpoint. If our goal as educators is to teach students how to think, and not what to think, we must be allowed to expose them to a variety of resources and viewpoints, including controversial ones and ones we may ourselves oppose, while at the same time encouraging them to assess the content critically.

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