(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
Americans appear to have developed a quite distinct but two sided vision of what we like to call "free" speech on campuses. On the one hand, we have embraced the idea of universities as a place of deep and sometimes fractious open discourse, where students and faculty work diligently in the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it may take them, and for its dissemination through instruction that is meant to challenge and train. On the other hand, we have increasingly come, again, to view faculty the way aristocrats once thought of the tutors for their children-- as staff that ought to be careful about their place and their role.
These views are irreconcilable and both are deeply held. Their interaction tends to work tolerably well in times of relative social calm. But when there are substantial social and political rifts, the contradictions become more plainly visible. The resolution of that incompatibility tends to formally embrace the "open discourse" premise while creating functional systems that strip "open discourse" to a quite precise meaning the control of which is no longer in the hands of faculty. And indeed, at times of the greatest social and political rifts, it tends to be the faculty that bears a substantial amount of the brunt of this exercise of control--faculty are after all, charged with the care of the progeny of adults deeply divided in their politics and social and economic stations. And many of these adults (and the children they have produced and proffered up to the university for "finishing") prefer to keep it that way.
The move toward models of servant or teacher, or perhaps servant-teacher, appears to be the thrust of recent trends in academic disciplining of faculty--that is, of the construction of the rules within which one can distinguish between appropriate and naughty conduct in an institution where free thinking (within bounds of course) must be permitted for the edification of those being prepared to assume their stations within society's social, economic and political hierarchies, but where that free thinking and its challenge must be well managed within the bounds of propriety and the sensibilities of those at the apex of power structures. This is the ancient aristocratic tutor model now dressed up in democratic garb, where the aristocrat has given way to the think tank, media authorities, and the usual array of institutional leaders. Within it, "smart" is purchased but to be applied in ways that may be appropriate to the expectation of training suitable for the social and economic station expected to be assumed by the students who are sorted into institutions that are themselves ranked and constituted to serve the various levels of American social, economic and political organization.
The use of social media has been the current focus of efforts to discipline and regulate faculty speech. It is an easy target because it is new and because it tends to leverage faculty voices enough to make them more important than other conventional forms of expression. Faculty publications and lectures, however provocative, tend to have a fairly narrow audience in most cases. Social media tends to permit faculty voices to be heard more "loudly" and thus to compete for a role in managing mass culture with traditional social culture leaders. The contentious nature of debates about faculty behavior on special media--and who may control it--has produced some reaction. The AAUP's Draft Report: Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications
(Nov. 2013) may be accessed HERE
. It has also produced some study. E.g., Mike Moran, Jeff Seaman, and Hester Tinti-Kane, Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media
, Pearson Learning Solutions and Babson Survey Research Group (April 2011).
Both governance approaches are much in evidence in two recent reports from the Chronicle of Higher Education
each described briefly below. On the regulatory aspects of managing faculty speech: Peter Schmidt, Colleges Are Divided on Need for New Speech Policies, Chronicle of Higher Education
, March 10, 2014. On the invocation of social norms to inculcate appropriate internalization of speech boundaries in faculty: Peter Schmidt, One Email, Much Outrage
, Chronicle of Higher Education
, March 10, 2014.
Each provides a glimpse of an aspect of the rising forms of the management of faculty speech. Together they serve to illustrate the evolving social system within which faculty are better taught to understand their place. Added to evidence the governance effects of these trends is the current and proposed rewritten policy on social media use drafted for approval by the Kansas Board of Regents. Available HERE: Social Media Work Group Draft Policy ( .PDF )