“Moral” Judgment vs. Academic Freedom

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So, I guess I would say I kind of saw this kind of nonsense coming.

I have always been concerned about institutions of higher education who have affiliations so strong with religious organizations that the doctrine dictates the academics.  In my mind, some of them border more on education-affiliated churches than religiously affiliated universities.  Are they teaching knowledge or beliefs?  There is a difference.

At any rate, what I think makes most universities strongholds of academia is academic freedom–a dedicated pursuit of knowledge.  That pursuit cannot always be unbiased, but I hold the most respect for scholars who work to be objective.  (Intelligent design is “cart before the horse” pseudo-science and therefore has a motive and cannot be objective, so I have no pity for all those professors who were “expelled” in Expelled.)

So, today, I saw this video (hat tip: Towleroad):

Here is a woman who is trying to advocate against academic freedom on the basis of her religious values.  State Rep. Byrd thinks that “controversial behaviors” should not be studied at the university, and if they are, that the state should have some sort of subjective input as to what it will finance and what it won’t.  It shouldn’t be surprising that she’ll be partnering up with the Christian Coalition in her crusade against the gays and perverts.

While there is obvious heterosexism motivating her point of view (since queer theory is important to the understanding of everybody‘s sexuality and gender identity), this is more of a case of values trying to trump knowledge.  Her understanding of why anyone might study things such as male prostitution (which could have important sociological and healthcare impacts) or oral sex (which is perhaps more widely practiced than Rep. Byrd would like to admit) suggests she does not even appreciate the importance of university research.  She is more concerned with dictating “morals” than pursuing knowledge.

This is disturbing, and we cannot stand for it.

The university needs to pursue all kinds of research and should not be held to scrutiny by uninformed (and untenured) lawmakers.  If lawmakers intercede at all, it instantly destroys the university’s reputation for providing objective, unbiased research.  What’s next?

“We don’t need women’s studies; women and men now have equal rights.”
“We don’t need any of the ethnic studies, because we already know everything we’re going to know about each culture.”
“In fact, let’s not have any support resources for any of those groups.  Women, ethnics, the disabled, and gays deserve no special rights or accommodations on college campuses.”

We know that’s where this could go.  As someone who works with a variety of underrepresented populations on a college campus, I know the importance of making sure they have the support they need to be successful students.  Women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the queer community face many unique challenges specifically because of their identities in our society, and everybody needs to learn how to better support them and include them equitably in society.  There are tomes of research that support these efforts.

Let’s not open the Pandora’s Box of letting values subjectively dictate what a university can and cannot do.

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