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28 May 2013

Opinions Expressed Here Are a Contested Commodity

"The opinions expressed here are not those of my employer." Statements like these have always angered me. Their root seems to be here, in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which states:
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution. [emphasis added]
The assumption here is that sometimes I might say things with my citizen hat on that are somehow separated from things I might say with my teacher hat on. Largely, these two identities are inseparable and not mutually exclusive--at least for social scientists and humanists. One can easily imagine a physicist making an authoritative comment about the nature of subatomic particles and then stating an unrelated opinion about which political party she supports. It's not as easily bifurcated for, say, a sociologist. One can easily imagine a sociologist making an authoritative comment about the negative outcomes of institutional racism and then stating an "opinion" about which political party's platform is best at alleviating such social problems. My political pronouncements are the product of--or at the very least are logically consistent with--my professional academic inquiry.

Beyond that, though, the selective association that institutions wield over employees, distancing themselves from the teacher over controversial matters and claiming the teacher when beneficial, is baldly exploitative. If college administrators are unwilling to stand by faculty in the tough times, they should not get to stand near them in the good times. In other words, if I'm expected to tag my blog posts and tweets with the above disclaimer, I should rightly consider tagging my peer-reviewed publication, patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property as well.

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