Saturday, February 26, 2005

<>A letter I wrote published in today's Bloomington Pantagraph in response to Thomas Sowell's column:

To the editor:

Thomas Sowell's attack on academic freedom (column, Feb. 16) is so full of mistakes that his factual errors almost obscure the larger flaws of his opposition to freedom of expression on college campuses.

For example, Sowell falsely claims that professors control college investments and ban students from fraternities and Reserve Officers Training Corps. Trustees, not professors, determine investment policies. No college has ever prevented a student from joining a fraternity or ROTC. Shared governance, tenure, and academic freedom have helped to make American higher education the finest and freest in the world despite ongoing cutbacks in government funding.

Sowell argues that a professor should be fired for spending 10 seconds in a class talking about the war in Iraq or homelessness. Would he also fire a professor for telling a joke, discussing the weather, or starting class 10 seconds late? Would Sowell ban professors from ever expressing an idea that someone, somewhere, finds offensive? Imagine what our newspapers would look like if this standard was applied to them; they certainly wouldnt ever include Sowells writings.

As a student, it angers me when censors like Sowell seek to silence my professors, and me. A college is not a job training course. Professors should expose students to controversial ideas beyond the narrow scope of a particular class. There is nothing wrong with a professor expressing an opinion. Students are not infantile idiots who must be protected from ideas Thomas Sowell doesnt like. We can think for ourselves.

Sowell contends that we need to abolish academic freedom in order to fire professors who might write or say something offensive. But a professor like Ward Churchill can be dealt with in a simple way: ignore him, or argue with him if you like. To demand the censorship of all 1.1 million faculty in America because one of them might say something you dont like is dangerous. It endangers the freedom of professors to speak their minds. It endangers the freedom of students to hear controversial ideas. And Sowells attack on academic freedom endangers everyones freedom to dissent.

John K. Wilson

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