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onCampus--Ohio State's faculty/staff news

Vol. 38, No. 18

By: Julia Harris

OSU reaffirms principles of academic freedom

In classrooms across the country, students and faculty are wrestling with the issue of academic freedom. What is it, what limits should be placed on it and what rights do students and faculty have when it comes to the dialog that can and should go on in the higher education arena?

The political climate has become so charged that in June 2005, the American Council of Education - the major coordinating body for the nation's higher education institutions - issued a statement concerning academic freedom and intellectual pluralism on American campuses. Included in the statement are the following six principles:

-- Academic freedom and intellectual pluralism are core principles of America's higher education system;
-- Government's recognition and respect for the independence of colleges and universities are essential for academic excellence;
-- Colleges and universities should welcome diverse beliefs and the free exchange of ideas;
-- Grades and other academic decisions should be based solely on considerations that are intellectually relevant to the subject matter;
-- Neither students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions; and
-- Any member of the campus community who believes he or she has been treated unfairly on academic matters must have access to a clear institutional process to address grievances.

This statement was subsequently endorsed in October 2005 by Ohio's Inter-University Council, a consortium of public universities. The IUC went on to pass a resolution recommending that all four-year public universities across the state communicate the six principles to their respective campus communities.

President Karen Holbrook was one of the 15 Ohio university presidents to sign the resolution, expressing Ohio State's ongoing commitment to academic rights and responsibilities. Michael Sherman, vice provost for academic administration, is leading the initiative to inform faculty and students about relevant procedures for addressing concerns.

"The Office of Academic Affairs is taking the lead in communicating and upholding the principles," Sherman said. "Our plans include interactions at a number of regularly scheduled faculty governance meetings, including the University Senate Steering Committee, the Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, and Faculty Council."

Student governance groups will be encouraged to disseminate the principles to their constituents, with Sherman serving as a resource to those who have questions.

"It's important that faculty familiarize themselves with appropriate classroom discussion and, consistent with their syllabus, remain committed to evaluating students on the thought process, substance and factual accuracy of their work - not on whether the student's view conflicts or supports their own," Sherman said. "Knowing that this has now come to the forefront of academic responsibility should encourage faculty to re-examine their classroom and grading practices."

According to a March 9 memo to Sherman from Ohio State's Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, much of the substance of the ACE statement is conveyed in the University Faculty Rules, notably in section 3335-5-01 on academic freedom and responsibility.

"CAFR finds that the current University Faculty Rules do support essential principles of academic freedom and responsibility, and do provide a clear institutional process to address cases where a student believes those principles have been violated," the statement concluded.

Sherman said information about academic responsibility and the established channels for addressing related grievances will be included in new student and faculty orientation packets, in new faculty and graduate associate sessions held by Faculty and TA Development and through the university's faculty, staff and student communication vehicles. The information also can be acquired online through the Office of Academic Affairs Web site at http://oaa.osu.edu/pdf/Academic_Rights_and_Responsibilities.doc.

"Ohio State has always prized freedom of thought and expression, respect for multiple points of view and the civil and open expression of these views," said Executive Vice President and Provost Barbara Snyder. "By encouraging renewed consideration of these issues across our campus, we are nurturing the most fundamental academic right - that of the free exchange of ideas. My hope is that all members of the university community will reflect further on the foundations of academic inquiry and, so, the very purpose of an institution of higher learning."

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