Balancing academic rights and responsibilities

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Knowledge for Social Change co-author Ira Harkavy’s recent article that appeared in University of World News, an abridged version of a keynote address he delivered earlier this year.

In my judgment, there are two core purposes of higher education in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere. They are education for democratic citizenship and the creation of knowledge to advance the human condition, which significantly involves developing and maintaining a democratic society. These purposes can be powerfully achieved through university-community partnerships.

After a long period of disengagement, higher education leadership across the United States has increasingly recognized that colleges and universities cannot hold themselves aloof from their neighbors. The fate of the university and its local environment are intertwined. Given their resources, particularly their human capital (idealistic and able faculty, staff and students), higher education institutions can make significant contributions to the quality of life in their communities and cities.

The academic benefits of engagement have been illustrated in practice – and the intellectual case for engagement effectively made by leading scholars and educators. That case, simply stated, is that higher education institutions would better fulfill their core academic functions, including advancing knowledge, teaching and learning, if they focused on improving conditions in their societies, particularly their local communities.

Service-learning, engaged scholarship, community-based participatory research, volunteer projects and community economic development initiatives are some of the means used to create mutually beneficial partnerships designed to make a positive difference in the community and on the campus.

More broadly, a burgeoning higher education democratic civic and community engagement movement has developed across the United States to better educate students for democratic citizenship and to improve schooling and the quality of life.

Turning out informed democratic citizens

Given the current development of ‘illiberal democracy’, claims of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ and attacks on science and knowledge itself, universities have an increased and pressing responsibility to contribute to both the education of informed democratic citizens and the advancement of knowledge for the continuous betterment of the human condition. For this to occur, academic freedom and institutional autonomy must be maintained and strengthened.

Stated directly, significant levels of institutional autonomy and academic freedom are necessary for intellectual creativity, free inquiry and progress. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy, moreover, are intertwined with academic and institutional responsibility.

In her speech at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 2019 annual conference, Joan W Scott, former chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and professor emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, emphasized that academic freedom and institutional autonomy were needed to advance “the common good.”

She said: “The common good will not survive – and for that matter neither will individuals survive – without medical knowledge, knowledge of climate change, knowledge of history, knowledge of how structures of discrimination work at the economic, social, political and psychic levels to perpetuate inequalities of race, gender, sex and religion. Academic freedom protects the production and dissemination of that knowledge.

“It is that knowledge that nourishes and advances the common good. The future of the common good and of academic freedom are bound up together; the one cannot survive without the other.”

Threats to academic values

The interconnection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy with academic and institutional responsibility as well as the democratic purposes of higher education have been increasingly recognized across the world.

For example, in June 2019 a Global Forum was held in Strasbourg on Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy, and the Future of Democracy (co-organised by the Council of Europe, the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, the Organization of American States, the International Association of Universities, and the Magna Charta Observatory), involving participants from 41 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

The immediate background for this Global Forum was increasing concern that the values we have come to take for granted are now under threat in ways Europe and North America have not seen for at least three decades, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While democracy has never been without potential for improvement, its basic premises are now questioned in Europe through nationalism and populism and attempts to advance ‘illiberal democracy’. Analogous developments are occurring in the United States.

There are, of course, differences. For example, the focus in the United States has largely been on academic freedom and its relationship to the right to free speech on campus.

In Europe, the focus has been largely on institutional autonomy. The traditional European emphasis on institutional autonomy concerns the legal relationship between public authorities and higher education institutions.

The different emphases in the United States and Europe should not be overstated however. The commonalities are much greater.

The interference of both the state and national governments in university affairs has increased significantly in the United States in recent years. The University of Wisconsin board of regents, for example, approved a policy mandating that students who disrupt speakers twice be suspended and those who disrupt three times be expelled.

Similar policies and legislation, while less punitive than those proposed (it was not approved by the governor) in Wisconsin have been passed in approximately 17 states.

Both houses of Congress have introduced similar bills that would apply to all public colleges and universities. The right-leaning Goldwater Institute has proposed and advocated for model legislation that has served as the basis of these bills requiring disciplinary policies for disruptions.

In a similar vein, President Donald Trump signed an executive order last March connecting federal funding to how colleges and universities enforce the right of free inquiry.

Needless to say, the instances cited represent increased governmental interference in university affairs, significantly affecting institutional autonomy and academic freedom. They also represent the weaponization of free speech for political and ideological purposes, which resonates with the use of laws in some European countries to limit academic freedom to support the ideology of the state.

Threats to academic freedom and institutional autonomy, of course, come from many sources, not just government. Private funding has been given with specified conditions that have influenced the content of study and the hiring of faculty.

Equally troubling is funding from private sources that subvert the core values of the university. With the rise of the so-called neoliberal entrepreneurial university, profit for the sake of profit too often appears to be the primary purpose of institutions of higher education. This, of course, has negative impacts on both research and education for the public good.

Rights and responsibilities

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are mediated rights that come with responsibilities. Working with and contributing to their local communities are essential if colleges and universities are to function as responsible institutions. In my judgment, it is also an institutional responsibility for universities to work in democratic partnership with their community, demonstrating openness, transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

One of the best ways to practice academic freedom and institutional autonomy as well as academic and institutional responsibility is to engage locally. Local participatory democracy is necessary for the development of a democratic culture that goes beyond the crucial act of voting and extends to all areas of life.

The benefits of a local community focus for colleges and universities are manifold. Ongoing, continuous interaction is facilitated through work in an easily accessible location. Relationships of trust, so essential for effective partnerships and effective learning, are also built through day-to-day work on problems and issues of mutual concern.

In addition, the local community provides a convenient setting in which service-learning courses, community-based research courses and related courses in different disciplines can work together on a complex problem to produce substantive results. Sustained local partnerships of this kind foster the civic development of university students while advancing their academic learning and knowledge.

The local community is also a democratic real-world learning site in which community members, academics and students can pragmatically determine whether the work is making a real difference and whether both the neighborhood and the institution are better as a result of common efforts.

As colleges and universities work collaboratively with their neighbors on locally manifested universal problems, such as poverty, poor schooling, inadequate health care, environmental degradation and climate change, I believe they will be better able to advance knowledge, learning and democracy.

In so doing, they will also satisfy the critical performance test proposed in 1994 by the president of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, William R Greiner – namely, that “the great universities of the 21st century will be judged by their ability to help solve our most urgent social problems”.

Higher education should, indeed must, stand for core universal values, including tolerance, diversity and inclusivity, open inquiry, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy as well as academic and institutional responsibility are necessary for universities to realize these values and to contribute to developing and sustaining fair, decent and just democratic societies for all.

Ira Harkavy is associate vice president and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and Chair of the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy. This is an edited version of his keynote to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation International Quality Group Annual Meeting: A Global Quality Forum on 30 January.

Go “Back to School” with Temple University Press books

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate the start of the fall semester with some of our favorite education titles.

2448_reg.gifIn Journeys of Sociology: From First Encounters to Fulfilling Retirements, edited by Rosalyn Benjamin Darling and Peter J. Stein, twenty-two eminent retired sociologists reflect on their lives and their career choices.

For most sociologists, their life’s work does not end with retirement. Many professors and practitioners continue to teach, publish, or explore related activities after leaving academia. They also connect with others in the field to lessen the isolation they sometimes feel outside the ivory tower or an applied work setting.

The editors and twenty contributors to the essential anthology Journeys in Sociology use a life-course perspective to address the role of sociology in their lives. The power of their personal experiences—during the Great Depression, World War II, or the student protests and social movements in the 1960s and ’70s—magnify how and why social change prompted these men and women to study sociology. Moreover, all of the contributors include a discussion of their activities in retirement.

From Bob Perrucci, Tuck Green, and Wendell Bell, who write about issues of class, to Debra Kaufman and Elinore Lurie, who explain how gender played a role in their careers, the diverse entries in Journeys in Sociology provide a fascinating look at both the influence of their lives on the discipline and the discipline on these sociologists’ lives.

2411_reg.gifAddressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, edited by Catherine Kaukinen, Michelle Hughes Miller, and Ráchael A. Powers, considers what we know, what we are doing, and how we can improve our prevention of and response to violence against women on college campuses.

Violence against women on college campuses has remained underreported and often under addressed by both campus security and local law enforcement, as well as campus administrators. The researchers, practitioners, and activists who contribute to the pertinent volume Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses examine the extent, nature, dynamic and contexts of violence against women at institutions of higher education.

This book is designed to facilitate an ongoing discussion and provide direction on how best to prevent and investigate violence against women, and intervene to assist victims while reducing the impact of these crimes. Chapters detail the necessary changes and implications that are part of Title IX and other federal legislation and initiatives as well as the effect these changes have had for higher education actors, including campus administrators, victim advocates, and student activists. The contributors also explore the importance of campus efforts to estimate the extent of violence against women; educating young men and women on the nature of sexual and dating violence; and shifting efforts to both make offenders accountable for their crimes and prompt all bystanders to act.

Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses urgently argues to make violence prevention not separate from but rather an integral part of the student experience.

2464_reg.gifKnowledge for Social Change: Bacon Dewey, and the Revolutionary Transformation of Research Universities in the Twenty-First Century, by Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, John Puckett, Matthew Hartley, Rita A. Hodges, Frances E. Johnston, and Joann Weeks, argues for and proposes concrete means to radically transform research universities to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions.

Employing history, social theory, and a detailed contemporary case study, Knowledge for Social Change argues for fundamentally reshaping research universities to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions dedicated to advancing learning and knowledge for social change. The authors focus on significant contributions to learning made by Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Seth Low, Jane Addams, William Rainey Harper, and John Dewey—as well as their own work at Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships to help create and sustain democratically engaged colleges and universities for the public good.

Knowledge for Social Change highlights university-assisted community schools to effect a thoroughgoing change of research universities that will contribute to more democratic schools, communities, and societies. The authors also call on democratic-minded academics to create and sustain a global movement dedicated to advancing learning for the “relief of man’s estate”—an iconic phrase by Francis Bacon that emphasized the continuous betterment of the human condition—and to realize Dewey’s vision of an organic “Great Community” composed of participatory, democratic, collaborative, and interdependent societies.

1941_reg.gifRace and Class Matters at an Elite College, by Elizabeth Aries, considers how race and class collide at a prestigious liberal arts college. Aries provides a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by black and white college students from widely different class backgrounds as they come to live together as freshmen. Based on an intensive study Aries conducted with 58 students at Amherst College during the 2005-2006 academic year, this book offers a uniquely personal look at the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of students as they experience racial and economic diversity firsthand, some for the first time.

Through online questionnaires and face-to-face interviews, Aries followed four groups of students throughout their first year of college: affluent whites, affluent blacks, less financially advantaged whites from families with more limited education, and less financially advantaged blacks from the same background. Drawing heavily on the voices of these freshmen, Aries chronicles what they learned from racial and class diversity—and what colleges might do to help their students learn more.

2248_reg.gifSpeaking of Race and Class: The Student Experience at an Elite College, by Elizabeth Aries with Richard Berman, examines the challenges of diversity from freshman orientation to graduation. This follow-up volume to Race and Class Matters at an Elite College, completes a four-year study of diversity at a prestigious liberal arts college. Here the fifty-five affluent black, affluent white, lower-income black, and lower-income white Amherst students whom Aries interviewed in their freshmen and senior years provide a complete picture of what (and how) each group learned about issues of race and class.

Aries presents the students’ personal perceptions of their experiences. She reveals the extent to which learning from diversity takes place on campus, and examines the distinct challenges that arise for students living in this heterogeneous community. Aries also looks more broadly at how colleges and universities across the country are addressing the challenges surrounding diversity. Speaking of Race and Class testifies to the programming and practices that have proven successful.

Liberating Services Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement, by Randy Stoecker, challenges—and changing—our thinking about higher 2401_reg.gifeducation community engagement.

Randy Stoecker has been “practicing” forms of community-engaged scholarship, including service learning, for thirty years now, and he readily admits, “Practice does not make perfect.” In his highly personal critique, Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement, the author worries about the contradictions, unrealized potential, and unrecognized urgency of the causes as well as the risks and rewards of this work.

Here, Stoecker questions the prioritization and theoretical/philosophical underpinnings of the core concepts of service learning: 1. learning, 2. service, 3. community, and 4. change. By “liberating” service learning, he suggests reversing the prioritization of the concepts, starting with change, then community, then service, and then learning. In doing so, he clarifies the benefits and purpose of this work, arguing that it will create greater pedagogical and community impact.

Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement challenges—and hopefully will change—our thinking about higher education community engagement.

2414_reg.gifIncidental Racialization: Performative Assimilation in Law School, by Yung-Yi Diana Pan, examines racialization, inequality, and professional socialization.

Despite the growing number of Asian American and Latino/a law students, many panethnic students still feel as if they do not belong in this elite microcosm, which reflects the racial inequalities in mainstream American society. While in law school, these students—often from immigrant families, and often the first to go to college—have to fight against racialized and gendered stereotypes. In Incidental Racialization, Diana Pan rigorously explores how systemic inequalities are produced and sustained in law schools.
Through interviews with more than 100 law students and participant observations at two law schools, Pan examines how racialization happens alongside professional socialization. She investigates how panethnic students negotiate their identities, race, and gender in an institutional context. She also considers how their lived experiences factor into their student organization association choices and career paths.

Incidental Racialization sheds light on how race operates in a law school setting for both students of color and in the minds of white students. It also provides broader insights regarding racial inequalities in society in general.

 

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