Scrutinizing Academic Freedom
UH Professors worry about
students evalutating their professors
At the end of each semester students get a chance to evaluate the
styles, a debate is on about whether these evaluations help improve
quality of teaching or restrict the academic freedom of instructors.
Law Professor Michael Olivas, associate dean for research
for the Law Center and author of The Law and Higher Education,
said many court cases involve administrative or external controls
about what to teach and how it should be taught, but just a few cases
have risen from a student's objection to a teacher's professional
"The paucity ofstudent dissatisfaction taken to court isdue
in part to the relative powerlessness of students, but is also attributable to nearly absolute autonomy accorded to professors freedom
norms," Olivas said.
Recent developments show that
teaching styles and methodologies may be
open to greater scrutiny.
Olivas predicted that the state will
regulate teaching methodologies more. He
said 22 states have laws to regulate teaching
methodology concerning a teacher's accent.
He said the law discriminates against foreign
speak with traditionl accents.
The state policy requires every class
to be evaluated and evaluations are to be put
on display in the library. The evaluations at
UH are kept on the third floor of the M.D.
Students don't take the evaluations
serious because they don't believe they'll be
taken serious, said Olivas
Olivas said to be more efficient and
accountable, schools are going to evaluate
"Faculty rights are going to prevail
because the faculty has to be responsible for
the entire class, whereas students' individual
rights often have to be subordinated to faculty rights," Olivas said.
He said, however, in some cases faculty members who
cursed at students in class were dismissed from tenured positions.
Even though the faculty member claimed swearing was his academic freedom to get students excited about learning, Olivas said
courts don't accept it as a defense and find it insulting to students.
The American Association ofUniversity Professors defines
academic freedom in the classroom as: "The teacher is entitled to
freedomin the discussing (his/her) subject, but...should be caeful not
to introduce into (his/her) teaching controversial matter which has
no relation to (his/her) subject."
Faculty members have the responsiblity to enlighten
students, but students are often uncomforatable because of different
has to he
ideas, said Judith Walker de Felix, assistant dean of the College of
Education. Nevertheless, she said teachers have to give up their
biases and explore ideas.
Bredo Johnsen, the chairmen of the Philosophy Department, said his freshman philosophy students feel uncomfortable
when he talks about God. "I talk about rationality of God and
refigiousbefief. Studentsdon'twantto touch thatareaoftheir lives.
I know they are uncomfortable, but that doesn't prevent me from
talking about it," Johnsen said.
Johnsen believes academic freedom is an unquestionable
right of the professor. "Individual people have to be free to
investigate and find truth." Academic freedom can be abused like
anything else, but the solution is not to put restrictions on it.
"Professor are bound to treat students in a professional
way. Students aren't entirely powerless,"
said Johnsen. Students havearighttopresent
their side of the case, he said. Regular mul-
tify abuse problems, but free form of evaluations, which allows students to comment is
better suited to find out if there is abuse of
academic freedom on the part of faculty, he
If a professor's style is in question,
students'evaluations canhelpto diagnose the
problems, said Felix. Complaints affect
faculty's salary increase decisions and promotion, she said. Afaculty member's tenure was
denied recently because of teaching problems, she said.
David Tomatz, dean of the School of
Music, said he is a strongbeliever in academic
freedom. "The university is an idea factory.
The only way that thought can develop is to
share ideas," he said.
"It is hard for me to imagine a rational
professor abusing the academic freedom
policy." Students don't have to sign up for a
professor if they don't like his or her teaching style, said Tomatz.
Richard Bannerot, chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department, said faculty members don't have an unlimited right because the should stay within the context of their
subjects when teaching. Bannerot said although his department
has student advisors, in addition to the chairman, to respond to
complaints. Students who are uncomfortable tend to go toafaculty
member they trust instead of the advisors.
Mustafa Lokhandwala, dean of the College ofPharmacy,
said evaluating a complaint is not difficult. "When you boil things
down to individual cases, it is easy," he said. In the College of
Pharmacy, grievance committees for both students and faculty
make recommendations to the dean about problem situations.