The largest university system in the country is expected to abandon its long-held belief that politics and passion do not belong in the classroom.
Administrators at the nine-campus University of California system are rewriting the institution’s 69-year-old academic freedom policy to reflect “the goals of the modern university,” which, some officials say, no longer demand dispassionate and disinterested teaching or an arrival at the truth.
The move has drawn criticism from those who fear that a liberal dominance is being further entrenched at the university. It also has sparked debate on the rights of faculty to teach freely and the rights of students to receive a fair and balanced education and not be indoctrinated.
It was the university’s outgoing president, Richard Atkinson, who, in January, urged that the 1944 policy be updated. He has since pushed a new version through the policy-making bodies of the 200,000-student system, with the final hurdle to its adoption being met at the end of June. Mr. Atkinson has final say on the policy and is expected to adopt it before he leaves office in August.
The new policy removes language that protects classrooms from “domination by parties, sects or selfish interests” and declares it “alien and hostile” to the university’s duty for a professor to “convert or make converts.” The new policy states that the university can not accomplish its goal of instilling in its students “a mature independence of mind” unless “students and faculty are free within the classroom to express the widest range of viewpoints within the norms of scholarly inquiry and professional ethics.”
The old policy specifically precluded the classroom from being used as a platform for propaganda and stressed intellect over passion, and truth to combat error.
“It is a travesty that UC would consider revoking those protections,” said Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who has testified before Congress on education issues. “Students in today’s academe are already under pressure to conform to their professors’ political points of view. This says something frightening about the state of higher education in this country.”
UC Berkeley law professor Robert Post drafted the new policy, which has met the approval of the system-wide Academic Senate, a representative body of faculty who craft academic policy. Mr. Post, a First Amendment expert, said the current policy is wrong.
“It understands academic freedom to turn on motives, rather than the quality of scholarship,” Mr. Post said in an interview. He said that teaching and research can be political and that both should be passionate.
In a letter to Mr. Atkinson, he wrote that, “Political passion is the engine that drives some of the best scholarship and research at [the university].”
Professor Gayle Binion, chair of the Academic Senate, said the old policy was a political compromise born of an era when state legislators feared government subversion at UC Berkeley.
The competence of instruction and research is most relevant when it comes to academic freedom, Ms. Binion said, adding that in some fields, “searching for the truth is just plain silly.”
“It isn’t about the truth, but about what is interesting,” Ms. Binion said, at the same time stressing that professors must adhere to the facts and cannot just say whatever they wish.