Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Academic Freedom

Police were shocked, schocked,
to discover nudity and gambling
in Lingerie cafes in Garden Grove.

I don’t know how many people are shocked to learn that the Koch brothers have donated a million and half (I believe that is the right amount) to the Florida State University Economics Department to hire faculty, but only if they have the right to decide who is hired. (and presumably will be able to conrol). I am pretty sure this kind of thing has been going on for years but never before has it been exposed so blatantly. Business has slowly and insidiously infiltrated our schools for years, from the kinds of food served to our children, to enhancing the school budgets for selling their products, the kinds of textbooks available, the funds available for research, and to the quality of the faculty hired and retained. This attempt by business to take over control of our educational system has reached crisis proportions (in my opinion). It can also be seen in its more outrageous form in the recent movement to privatize our schools. Fundamentally, what it means is the abandonment of the very basis of academic freedom.

This shocking development can also be seen in attempts in various states and localities to do away with the tenure system. What opponents of tenure do not tell you, if, indeed, they are themselves even knowledgeable enough to understand it, is that the tenure system was not installed to insure permanence of employment for teachers. It was begun to insure freedom of speech, and to make certain that teachers could not be fired because they were minorities or considered ideas that were unpopular. Even in the tenure system as it exists currently it is entirely possible to fire teachers for incompetence, moral turpitude, or criminal behavior. For the most part elementary schools and High Schools do not usually have tenure systems as such, although they can reward teachers with relative permanence of employment once they have proven themselves. If there are abuses in the system they are not the result of the system but, rather, of misunderstanding, misapplication, or corruption.

The result of having business meddling in our institutions of learning is that it destroys the very basis of academic freedom, the major reason for having education in the first place. If teachers are not at liberty to teach various points of view, if they have to fear losing their jobs for not following some party line, the entire foundation for their existence disappears. This Koch brothers’ shameful attempt to interfere with a University faculty is just the tip of an iceberg that has slowly attempted to do away with free speech and academic freedom. I have seen this before when politicians have attempted to overrule faculty decisions about tenure or other matters. This is dangerous beyond belief to a democratic society. The very idea that schools (and Universities in particular) should be privatized is diametrically opposed to the very idea of education as we have formerly conceived of it. A truly viable democratic system assumes an informed citizenry, no doubt the origin of the public school system to begin with. But public schools, just like public anything, are now accused of being socialistic and as such, taboo in the U.S.

Another place this attack on education can be seen is the increasing use of adjunct or part-time faculty members. If a University can hire part-time teachers they are, of course, cheaper, and there is no question of tenure or even benefits involved. This is a trend that has become more and more prevalent in these times of budget shortfalls. But here, again, this is terribly destructive of our educational institutions, to say nothing of shamefully exploiting faculty.

Universities should be generously funded by states and the federal government. They should not be allowed to be exploited by private interests, nor should they have to fear being unfunded because they engage in education rather than propaganda. Professional schools, like Medicine and Law should not be considered part of a University system unless they are independently financed and do not accept research funds from pharmaceuticals or other business interests, where such exists essentially makes a mockery of education, academic freedom, and even democracy itself.

If a nation, any nation, is seriously interested in its continuation and success it cannot disvalue education, and in fact should give it one of its highest priorities. Our schools should be well funded, our teachers well paid, our Universities kept independent and allowed to pursue knowledge for its own sake with no strings attached. I would personally go much farther and argue that we should have free public Universities where anyone of any age or interest would be welcomed to enroll in classes and even encouraged to do so and thus improve their minds, whether they sought a degree or not. You must have an educated citizenry or eventually perish as a democracy. As we here in the U.S. have come to believe education has no basic value other than perhaps getting one a job, and the educated are regarded simply as “pointy-headed intellectuals,” or those who “teach because they cannot do,” higher education is becoming beyond the reach of most people, and the ignorant are allowed to override the informed as in the case of global warming, we are eventually going to pay a price we cannot afford. It is already beginning to happen.

Today I saw something I have not previously seen. One of Huchabees primary advisors, a woman named Janet Porter, apparently claimed that President Obama was born in the Soviet Union and was bred to be a spy. Where do they find these people?

One of the arguments you sometimes hear about the deficit is that the government is no different than an ordinary family, and just like a family should not overspend its budget. This is of course utter nonsense, but there is another thing about families these people never mention, when Uncle Harry or Grandpa, or some other member of the family becomes so difficult and impossible to deal with, arguing for example, that no additional revenue is needed to pay the bills, or just automatically saying “no” to everything, or that the solution to the family debt would be to send money to the filthy rich side of the family, or by taking food out of the mouths of the children, and so on, they can eventually fall prey to the men in the white coats that come to take them away. Our government cannot do that, pity.

Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
John Adams

It has now been established that at least some animals have a sense of right and wrong, hence morality.

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