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Proposed Revisions To UW Faculty Code.

HOW WELL DOES THE UW FACULTY CODE PROTECT ACADEMIC DREEDOM? Roger Rabbit

 A proposal (see document) has been sent to the UW faculty to revise our Code to address protections for Faculty Free Speech.  My own opinion is that the proposal is weak and may even decrease faculty rights. 

The UW faculty do not have a union nor do they have individual contracts.  Instead, faculty rights are protected by an elaborate Faculty Code negotiated beteen an elected Senate and the Administration.

Violations of Faculty Codes have become a major national issue.  Recently the tenure of University of Colorado Professor was “suspended” because of her teachings on the sociology of prostitution.  This is not new, a similar case at UC dealt with an outspoken professor who made strong charges about the abuses faced by Native Americans. In a similar case at Washington’s Clark College, James Craven was effectively fired. Other satte universities with similar issues have included LSU, Hunter College, Ball State,  and many more. Here at the UW it has now become normal practice for charges of academic misbehavior … eg scientists claiming credit for each others work or charging falsification of data to be adjudicated by the administration rather than by faculty councils.

The issues in all these cases is not who should be fired but whether administrators should control free speech on the campus of a public university the way free speech is limited at a private corporation.  

TA’s resident rabbit* comments:

My reading  of this proposed legislation is that a faculty member could be removed for deviating from a prescribed curriculum he believes to be incorrect.  Suppose, for example, the physics department adopts a curriculum that says gravitational forces act instantaneously across the distance of space, because the department head and/or a majority of departmental faculty decided that’s the correct theory, but a dissenting professor wants to teach his students an alternative theory that gravity has speed and therefore physics should inquire into whether gravitational force can travel faster than the speed of light.   (Reference: http://metaresearch.org/cosmology/gravity/speed_limit.asp)  Under this faculty code, he could be ordered to stick to the approved curriculum or face expulsion from the institution.  This issue becomes even more squirrelly with respect to academic disciplines not susceptible to empirical research and proofs.

I realize this paragraph is a rewrite of existing language and this problem already exists in the Faculty Code.  Not having an academic background, I don’t have a good feel for the appropriateness of an “approved curriculum” or how academics balance such a thing with the concept of “academic freedom.”  The existing Faculty Code language attempts to address this to some extent.  The institution, department, and students do have an interest in whether a maverick professor is teaching quack physics, for example.  That is, I can visualize a quandary in reconciling the concept of academic freedom with professional competence and generally accepted knowledge within an academic discipline.  The existing language also takes a stab at making explicit the right of faculty members to participate in political protest and this clearly derived from the 1950s witch hunts and 1960s anti-war protests.  The revision removes all of this language, so unless this right is specified elsewhere in the Faculty Code, the revision leaves the F.C. silent on this point and it’s not hard to see what that could lead to.
With the qualifications that I don’t have the entire Faculty Code in front of me, and I have no expertise on the subject, I’m inclined to agree with you that the revisions do appear to weaken academic rights to some extent.  
* Roger Rabbit is a retired attorney with extensive experience in Washington State Administrative Law.

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