By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
On Nov. 18, the Washington College Student Government Association released via a campus-wide email an attachment of the Resolution on Academic Freedom, which, according to the email, was resolved by the College faculty “in response to the many attacks seen on curriculum nationwide.”
According to the resolution, many state legislative proposals and local resolutions are being introduced across the United States that target critical race theory and other related discussions. In response, members of the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, PEN America, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities presented the Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History on June 16. This document stated the groups’ “firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals being introduced across the country” restricting U.S. schools from discussing issues pertaining to racism. It also addresses how it is the responsibility of “educators, not politicians, [to] make decisions about [the] teaching and learning” of racial inequality, inequity, and injustice.
In addition to affirming this statement, the document also declares that the WC faculty “rejects any attempts to restrict or dictate college curriculum on any matter, including [those] related to racial and social justice”; “stands with [both] K-12 and Public Institution colleagues in the region and throughout the country who may be affected by this pernicious legislation”; and “calls upon the President and Provost to affirm that they reject any attempts to restrict or dictate [this] curriculum.”
According to Professor of English, Chair of the English Department, and member of the College Faculty Council Dr. Sean Meehan, it is particularly crucial that the College faculty support the same level of academic freedom be granted to all educators, regardless of what level they teach, because it is “[the] particular kind of core principle” that allows educators to freely express and initiate discussions on certain ideas without the threat of scrutiny or outside interference.
“[This resolution asserts that] if we’re educators, and if we’re going to truthfully educate about a topic like race…there should be academic freedom [for all levels of education],” Dr. Meehan said.
“It’s useful for us…to have [that freedom] be a core part of what it means to be in a college, [including teaching and learning about] topics…that go beyond our familiarity, or, in some cases, even beyond our comfort level.”
According to the document, the resolution addresses how affirming support of rejecting these academic limitations reinforces core values previously instigated by the College. These values are embodied by the Mission Statement, which believes in “[engaging] with cultures and communities both local and global to offer our students ample opportunity for personal exploration and shared challenge…[and] develop[ing] habits of analytic thought, clear communication, aesthetic insight, ethical sensitivity, and civic responsibility in our students.” The Diversity Statement makes incoming and current students, staff, and faculty members alike “pledge to create a respectful and supportive environment for collaboration, empathy, and the building of meaningful relationships among members of WC,” as well as “commit to fostering a more equitable, inclusive, and engaged community that embraces all the complexity that each person brings to [the College] campus.”
Throughout the remainder of the 2021-22 academic year, the College Faculty Council plans to further communicate this resolution to the rest of the WC campus. Currently, the resolution has been presented to the Board of Visitors and Governors, and is scheduled to then be delivered to Interim Provost Dr. Michael Harvey to further develop guidelines that will help “present a better understanding” of how to approach discussing these and other potentially divisive subjects in a civil and fair manner, according to Dr. Meehan.
“This [resolution] was intended to be a kind of starting point…and not an end point,” Dr. Meehan said. “Academic freedom is an important context for education on this campus, and there are important principles that we can use that go beyond just protecting certain kinds of speech…[including] thinking about how we learn and how we educate.”
“[And] while…we can’t control the political world outside of the campus, I think it’s legitimate for us to…focus on what we can, which is that we have a context for thinking about [and] studying topics critically, [and how it] should be celebrated as any one of our students.
Elm Archive Photo
Featured Photo Caption: The Washington College Faculty Council resolved The Resolution on Academic Freedom.