by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Peter Bonilla writes for the Martin Center about potential threats to academic freedom in the college syllabus.
The syllabus is such a basic document that most of us tend not to think much about what goes into making one. What are its necessary ingredients? A listing of the required study and reading materials, obviously. Dates of important milestones, like term papers and exams, as well. Lecture schedules, weekly assignments, and a rubric on how the assignments and exams factor into overall grades.
Oh, and an acknowledgment—mandated by the institution—that your campus was built on land stolen from Indigenous peoples, and that your being there contributes to an ongoing intergenerational trauma.
That particular hypothetical isn’t a hypothetical: It was considered for adoption by the University of Maryland’s (UMD’s) School of Public Policy as part of a broader statement on “Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in the School of Public Policy.” …
… To its credit, UMD has clarified that the School of Public Policy is not requiring faculty to use or affirm the Land Acknowledgement statement. Rather than dismiss it as a curiosity, however, it’s worth unpacking further, as we’re bound to see other statements like it. …
… That we’re in the position of reminding institutions of the Supreme Court’s scorn for compelled speech shows the work we have ahead of us.
This isn’t the first time the college syllabus has been a front for larger cultural battles. In recent years we’ve had debates over trigger warnings, which can to a degree be instructive. Separate from the question of whether trigger warnings are effective (and there is some research suggesting they have a negative effect on resilience) was the question of who should make the call on using them.
That we’re in the position of reminding institutions of the Supreme Court’s scorn for compelled speech shows the work we have ahead of us.
My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, viewed the matter significantly as one of individual academic freedom.