Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, September 24, 2018

Faculty Senate: Increased attention to diversity ‘need not come at the expense of academic freedom’

Statement is latest in series of actions regarding academic freedom

Faculty Senate: Increased attention to diversity ‘need not come at the expense of academic freedom’

Ahead of President Sylvia Burwell’s inauguration this week, the Faculty Senate released a memo Wednesday reaffirming their dedication to diversity and inclusion initiatives at the University, especially within class curriculum. However, their statement came with a stipulation: that “increased attention to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion need not come at the expense of academic freedom,” according to the memo.

The Faculty Senate, consisting of 27 faculty and 2 non-voting members of the administration, has been vocal in recent years about academic freedom in the classroom. In September 2015, they unanimously passed a resolution stating that trigger warnings, or statements that warn listeners of potentially distressing information, should not be a mandated classroom policy.

The Senate’s reasoning was that it would allow students to “opt out of engaging with texts or concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries,” according to the 2015 resolution.

In their most recent statement, sent in a campus-wide memo, the Faculty Senate emphasized the importance of student input in curriculum. The Senate suggested that students make their voice heard through already established channels: the Faculty Senate’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, Graduate Curriculum Committee, AU Core Committee, Honors Advisory Committee and the Community-Based Research Scholars Advisory Council.

The Senate, currently chaired by professor Andrea Pearson, followed this suggestion with their own reaffirment to diversity and inclusion.

“The Faculty Senate remains committed to initiatives being developed, to provide more mentors from diverse groups, sensitize colleagues to the needs of our campus’ communities, cultivate empathy and civility across our community, and reinforce the strengths we all gain from the broadest exposure to the human experience,” the statement read.

However, the resolution also cited the Senate’s concerns about “faculty autonomy” in regards to materials covered in the classroom, a decision they said they did not want solely in the hands of students or administrators.

“For that reason, we defend the dual principles of professorial responsibility for syllabi content and professorial obligation to engage students in dialogue about competing ideas,” the resolution said.

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com


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