Academic freedom

(1/4) > >>

I was amazed to read recently about a science professor in a Texas state school who on his class Web site stated that he would not give recommendations to students who believed in creationism over evolution. A student, backed by some conservative interest group, took him and the university to task. The university defended the professor by citing academic freedom, but they are being sued by the student.

How can this be academic freedom? The student should be evaluated on his ability to articulate the theory of evolution (or for that matter any other scientific concept), and need not be required to abandon his religious faith in creationism. To withhold a recommendation from a perfectly informed student seems to me an outrageous violation of the student's right to academic freedom and, moreover, religious freedom. There seems to be some implication on the part of the professor that fundamentalist Christians are incapable of comprehending the idea of evolution, or that they must believe it to pass muster with him.

Let's take this to a less politically charged arena. I teach the history of modern art, and many students have trouble with Mondrian. What would happen if I openly stated on the class Web site that "if you don't like geometric abstraction, I will not write you a recommendation"? Some of my smartest and most thoughtful students immensely dislike abstract art, although they can discuss its many forms quite well.

Has anyone had experiences like this, or does anyone find the professor's viewpoint viable? I went to a Jesuit school where they taught Chardin's theories, and would be greatly amused to see how our Texas professor would respond to that!

An invisible adjunct:
It's obvious you have a huge investment in seeing the academy as a vast liberal conspiracy. But is this the best you can come up with?!

This is clearly a question of academic freedom. A letter of recommendation is a form of personal endorsement. No one should be forced to recommend/endorse something or someone against his/her own judgement. And if a conservative Christian science professor wants to refuse to write recommendations for students who believe in evolution instead of creationism, he or she should be free to do so as well.

Providing letters for students is a voluntary act and up to the individual, regardless of how irrational their reasoning.  

If he alters the student's grade, however, that's another matter ...

New Faculty:
Dear Aslan,

You have been mislead, or have intentionally misstated the professor's position. He does not require students to "believe in" evolution over creation; he requires them to be able to provide a scientific answer regarding the origins of life. One can believe anything he or she wants and still provide a scientific answer. The professor does not require the students to disavow creation.

This raises a question: Isn't the student who believes in creation but provides a scientific answer to the evolution question in essence betraying his own faith?  The answer is absolutely not. If he understands the differences between religion and science it becomes clear that religion is a way of thinking about or believing in things that are supernatural and based on faith (belief without proof). Scientific theories, on the other hand, are based solely on observable and quantifiable phenomenon. Therefore, one does not "believe in" evolution, rather, evolution is a way to explain other biological phenomenon scientifically.

I think it is entirely reasonable for a biology professor to expect biology majors to understand these differences, and to be able to explain a scientific theory. Furthermore, many, many scientists have no conflict in believing in creation and that evolution is our best scientific explanation for many biological phenomena.

I often withhold letters of recommendation simply because I don't know a student well enough; simply getting an A in a huge introductory lecture class is not enough fodder for a recommendation. I usually tell them that I will write a letter saying that although they got an A, I never spoke individually with them, don't know what they look like, and have no idea about what they are qualified for. They usually don't ask for the letter. My point is that I am under no obligation to write recommendations for anyone, even good students.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page