Academic scholars Cary Nelson and Stanley Fish will host the eighth annual Arthur N. Rupe Debate in Campbell Hall today at 8 p.m. to discuss the role of academic freedom in higher learning.
“Academic freedom is always important,” David Marshall, Executive Dean for UCSB’s College of Letters and Science, said. “The crisis has to do with interest in the larger crisis of public education. [There have been] cases where political issues have spilled to the classroom. The debate is about boundaries and public concern. The real concern is about professors who lost jobs for what they have said and allegations of political abuse.”
Santa Barbara philanthropist Arthur N. Rupe created the annual event in order to increase discussion about important social issues. This year’s debate will focus on the boundaries and limits of discussion in the classroom. Both of the visiting scholars have recently published research pertaining to the topics of freedom in their books — Nelson’s No University is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom and Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time.
According to Fish, professors are blurring the lines of teaching course materials and spreading their own personal ideologies.
“Some professors have used classrooms now as a training ground for soldiers in the culture war,” Fish said. “[Professors have the] freedom to do [an] academic job, which does not include personal views. I always felt academic freedom was invoked too often by faculty members who do not want to accept responsibility with the position.”
The public forum will also discuss issues including whether tenure is still relevant and how the definition of academic freedom has changed.
According to Nelson, the reduction of tenure is currently the greatest threat to faculty’s academic freedom.
“A number of teachers are not eligible for tenure,” Nelson said. “If they can fire you tomorrow, you do not have academic freedom.”
Nelson said discussion during the debate will include findings from his book.
“Academic freedom is the set of principles that are most fundamental to the lives of universities,” Nelson said. “It guarantees faculty members and others great latitude to decide what to do in the class room, what kind of research and what kinds of statements they can make about fields.”
Marshall said students should attend the debate if they care about the future of the university.
“[Rupe] was concerned about the level of political discourse, and the way people seemed to just shout at each other,” Marshall said. “He wanted to encourage civil debate. … He increased funding to ultimately an endowment to bring in intellectuals to promote important issues. [Academic freedom] is a topic of increasing importance that impacts students experience with type of faculty and diversity of opinion.”
Stanley Fish is the professor of Humanities and Law at the Florida International University. Cary Nelson is the Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois.
In addition to topics on higher education, previous years’ debates have included “The Impact of the Media on American Life”, “Religion in American Politics” and “Torture and the Law.”