Senate Freedom Committee draft policy

The Senate Ad Hoc Freedom Committee, chaired by Michael Dreiling (Sociology prof and faculty union president) has now met several times with President Gottfredson and his advisers. The Committee has posted its draft Academic Freedom policy on the Senate website, here, along with an explanatory memo. (Full disclosure: I am part of this committee, but for reasons I won’t go into I did not attend the meetings with the administration. All of the information in this post is from public sources.)

Perhaps the most interesting development, given the recent hubbub about Oregon State’s efforts to restrict employee’s access to public records, is the governance part of the draft policy, which discusses UO employee access to information.

Senate Workgroup Draft Policy on Academic Freedom January 7, 2014

This policy on Academic Freedom builds on existing commitments to Freedom of Inquiry and Free Speech at this institution and elsewhere by defining additional freedoms that are specific to the proper functioning of our academic institution. Academic Freedom exists in the contexts of scholarship, teaching, governance, and public service.

• SCHOLARSHIP. The University’s research mission requires that faculty and students have autonomous freedom to conduct research and produce creative work, and to publish and disseminate that work, limited only by the standards and methods of accountability established by their profession and their individual disciplines.

• TEACHING. The University’s responsibility to help students to think critically and independently requires that faculty and students have the right to investigate and discuss matters, including those that are controversial, inside and outside of class, without fear of institutional restraint. Matters brought up in class should be related to the subject of courses or otherwise be educationally relevant, as determined primarily by the faculty member in charge of the class.

• GOVERNANCE. The university is governed by the faculty and the president, with authority delegated as appropriate by the faculty to the University Senate. Institutional policies and practices are informed by consultation and advice from the faculty, staff, and students. Therefore, members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy, action, or administration, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance. In the context of governance, consultation and advice requires timely and meaningful access by staff, students and faculty to information pertinent to institutional policies and actions, whether such requests arise from a university member acting from an agency of institutional governance, or as an individual.

• PUBLIC SERVICE. Public service requires that members of the university have freedom to participate in public debate, both within and beyond their areas of expertise, and to address both the university community and the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, cultural, or other interest. In their exercise of this freedom, university community members have the right to identify their association or title as university faculty, staff, or students, but should not claim to be acting or speaking on behalf of the University unless authorized to do so.

The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal. Only serious violations of this policy – ones that rise to the level of professional misbehavior or professional incompetence – should lead to adverse consequences. Any such determinations shall be made only in accordance with established, formal procedures involving judgment by peers in the profession and not by administrators. These freedoms are rights protected by the university. This policy shall be incorporated in employment agreements and comparable corresponding contractual agreements with university employees.

This policy, when approved by the UO Senate and the President, shall be incorporated into the Faculty Handbook, the UO University Policy Library, and all letters of appointment or other contractual agreements.

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4 Responses to Senate Freedom Committee draft policy

  1. Anonymous says:

    Defining violations as “professional misbehavior or professional incompetence” and requiring judgment by professional peers seems like the right course for when academic professionals engage in scholarship and teaching. I heartily endorse that.

    But this policy also covers speech by non-professionals, and speech outside of one’s expertise under the public service section. The policy’s definition of “serious violations” doesn’t seem to cover that. How would the policy apply to things that clearly shouldn’t be protected speech, like threats of violence, harassment, plagiarism, etc. when the speaker or the context is not under the “professional” umbrella? For example you could read this policy as saying that administrators have no jurisdiction over students committing plagiarism or making threats. I doubt that is the intent.

  2. Thomas Jefferson says:

    The draft policy looks excellent. I am glad you consulted with your administration on it. I think, however, that it should begin…”We the People…”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sounds both principled and reasonable. I’m sure the administration will object.

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