Academic Freedom in this Course

      In this class, subjects for writing and discussion are meant to be as diverse and wide-ranging as possible, within the limits of a serious college course.  However, I do not do "fluff" subjects (entertainment, sports, shopping) or traditional high school themes (skateboarding, "my room," "my locker," etc.), since you are adults now (or will be very shortly!) and deserve something better than an intellectual diet of  "cotton candy and soda pop."  I also generally do not do "the news of the day" type themes, since  none of us know any more them beyond what the media feeds us, and the only thing any of us can do is just paraphrase what we all heard in the news or read in the paper. That is a fairly useless exercise, as far as I can see. And, of course, I do not do party politics or candidate issues in class, for obvious reasons.

What I do use are ongoing, essential themes of adult life, ranging from ecology or nutrition to war and peace, to relationships and intimacy, to faith and disbelief, to wealth and poverty or life and death. I strongly believe that one "learns to write by writing to learn," and what one learns in college are the big questions of life. During a past semester one or two students complained that I am "very opinionated" on these questions and that "only my opinion matters" in class.  I beg to disagree.

Obviously, in questions of how the class is run, what you are taught and in what order, and how you will be graded, it is true that "only my opinion counts," in as much as I am responsible for the class. In education, "the customer is NOT always right!"  In many cases it is not even my call--the State of Texas and the University mandate what is expected in many classes.  If your opinion is that we should read more great literature or that you should be able to write more poetry or personal-feeling narratives or take field trips to a museum or go bow-hunting, it is true that your opinion matters very little--and my opinion matters very little as well!  We're all stuck with what we need to do, just like in any other college class.

But as to my opinion about issues we discuss or write about in class, that is another matter.  Here, you have what is known as "academic freedom."  Yes, I am a very opinionated person, and I do not ever apologize for my beliefs. But on the other hand, I never demand that class members agree with me in order to succeed or get a good grade in my courses. 


In fact, I have greater respect for a student who reasonably, energetically and passionately disagrees with me than for one who sits and passively agrees with everything I say, just because I am the one in charge  With the exception of things that are prohibited by law or University rules, you have full academic freedom in class to express and defend your opinion on any subject, in writing and in person.  Of course, I may limit discussion due to instructional or time considerations, but if you ever feel you have been unjustly silenced or squelched in class, please bring this to my attention and I will be glad to remedy the situation to the best of my ability by allowing you to explain your point of view in writing to the class if appropriate, or by offering other opportunities for you to express yourself.

However, every right comes with a duty. This being college, our right to freely express our own opinions comes with the duty to defend those opinions.  In fact, very often in class I will disagree with, argue against, question, challenge or deconstruct a student's statement or opinion (even one that I strongly agree with!) just in order to seek to increase the studentís skill in self-expression. That's what we are here for, and if I fail to do this, I am not giving you your money's worth for the course.  In college, challenging someone else's opinion is not "rudeness," much less "disrespect" or  "taking away their freedom to believe what they want to believe,"  it is the learning process itself. The notion that freedom somehow means "I have my opinion and you have yours, and nobody's opinion is better than anyone else's" is completely foreign to what college all about: self expression by logical presentation of ideas.  And I intend to conscientiously teach that, by example more than by lecture.

Sometimes "self-expression" can become a little rough-and-tumble in the verbal sense, but it is a bit like studying karate: you learn the moves, defensive and offensive, strengthen your muscles and sharpen up your reflexes, and eventually you can earn your black belt.  And, in the process you may get thrown to the mat once or twice. Or, you may throw someone else (including the instructor) to the mat if you get very good at it (or very lucky).  But all the while, everyone knows that no disrespect, harassment or intimidation is intended to anyone involved.  I hope everyone in class understands this process, and does not hesitate to participate fully.

OW Fall, 2008


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Owen M. Williamson - Education Bldg 211E - phone: (915) 747 7625 - fax: (915) 747 5655
The University of Texas at El Paso - 500 W. University Ave. - El Paso, TX 79968
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