FAU Faculty Support Academic Freedom (Restrictions Apply)

By James F. Tracy

Are faculty at FAU and universities across America pristine embodiments of integrity and truth? Do they support a flourishing of scholarly perspectives, or are they political ideologues who carefully police their own ranks?

Flashback to Spring 2013: A liberal instructor and Democratic Party activist is under fire by conservative groups for a classroom exercise that at least one student claimed was offensive to his religious faith. He put in a kick and local media leapt on the event. After an outcry in the blogosphere FAU administrators responded apologetically to the student and public, stating instructors would never repeat such an experiment with students. Even Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, ever the opportunist, responded by chiding FAU administrators.

This was the famous, “Stomp on Jesus” incident, where FAU instructor Deandre Poole, an African American, was carrying out an exercise published in a widely-circulated communication studies textbook that asked students to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then see if they could draw themselves to drop the paper to the ground and place their foot over it.

After the incident was called out by conservative groups and Poole received death threats there was an outpouring by progressive left faculty members, students and community members, who placed pressure on the administration to defend Poole by publicly demonstrating in defense of  “academic freedom.”

“So consequently I think we’ve all been put on this alert now,” commented FAU Communication and Media Studies Professor Manjunath Pendakur.

“It’s like a light goes off. Everytime you’re in the classroom, you’re thinking, ‘OK. What’s going to happen to me if I did this?'”

Among strumming guitars and choruses of familiar 60s folk songs the “defenders of academic freedom” marched across campus and demonstrated in front of Florida Atlantic’s administration building.

“What we want [as representatives of] the faculty and the students is [for] the administration to finally stand up and make a statement regarding academic freedoms, sooner rather than later,” FAU faculty union president and professor Chris Robé declared to reporters.

Five years later, in 2018, a tenured and self-avowed politically conservative FAU professor who’s researched the Confederacy for over 30 years chooses to participate in a subsidized program where he teaches history and civics to an underprivileged and predominantly black prison population.

In this instance the professor is similarly targeted by foundation-funded political activists and organs (here, here, and here) with vicious smears of being a “Neo-Confederate” and “white supremacist.” The campaign involves intimidation and encourages vigilante-style action, as suggested by inflammatory placards strewn throughout the FAU campus. It is intense enough for the professor to fear for his family’s safety.

Although many of the same faculty members are well-aware of the above professor’s persecution, they are silent, thereby suggesting more-than-tacit approval of such behavior. The target’s personal views and beliefs, as defined and publicized by overtly political “research” and “opinion” outlets, are designated as suspect and labelled accordingly. This calls for mob-style tactics, including off-the-cuff analyses of the professor’s writings by undergraduate students with almost no knowledge of scholar’s discipline.

The message is clear. “We’re seeing red. Our political vanguard tells us so. This warrants an all-out-attack. Our ranks must be purged of the heretic. His message, which we haven’t examined but could be really bad, must be suppressed so students don’t hear it.”

The fact remains that students still attend college to “broaden their horizons”–to gain exposure to a variety of insights and perspectives–some of which will be unusual and disturbing.  Education is like that. This is, after all, what theoretically justifies the public subsidization of the country’s universities, and what so many families idealize when they see their children off to university.

Today, however, tenure and academic freedom of the professoriate are privileges reserved for those who can escape notice of universities’ de facto ideological censors on campus and throughout the community. Established following a conservative professor’s pronouncements on important public issues of the day, tenure was intended to protect faculty from formal and even certain extracurricular persecution. The above suggests how in the 2010s tenure and academic freedom are now rewards for correct political thinking and action; aberrant and unfashionable ideas be damned.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “FAU Faculty Support Academic Freedom (Restrictions Apply)”

  1. If he would have had them write the name of jesus (hezeus as illegal aliens pronounce it, being a common illegal alien name) garcia , they should have jumped all over it.

  2. The Deandre Poole incident reminds me of the Milgram experiment to determine obedience to authority. My gut take is that Poole is some kind of spook plant or other target of manipulation placed to muddy the waters. An operation to inflame academic critique with petty political correctness disputes.

    As an Essene-style believer I guarantee you I would have seen the exercise as tawdry pseudoscience and have left the classroom.

    Let’s say hypothetically that Mohamed was instead the subject name of the stomp rather than Jesus. Poole would probably have been slain. I can not conflate such puerile exercises with academic achievement.

    That said, Dr. Tracy, I want you to know I totally support your plight for academic freedom. I find your excellent academic foray into media analysis impossible to compare with Poole’s activity..

    1. Amen, Horsegirl. Poole`s was just a tool in the many academic psych -Ops that`s being play out in colleges and universities nationwide. All under the guise of critical thinking. It`s all data-smog to me.

  3. Thank you Jim for this interesting piece about the contradictions of and attitudes on academic freedom. The example of stepping on the paper with the word Jesus on it is a dramatic way of an “intellectual” shaming religion isn’t it? Regardless of whether one agrees or not with such a method or the conclusions from it, I would have to support the right of the instructor to do it no matter whose ox was gored.
    Exactly the reverse has happened in history. Over 4 centuries ago the Catholic Church was very powerful. They “metaphorically” did exactly the same thing by writing the words Galileo Galilei on a piece of paper and “stomping” on it. Of course Galileo Galilei happened to be the world’s greatest physicist who advocated the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of our solar system based not on beliefs, but observable evidence and facts available to anyone. This dictum conflicted with the belief system of the powerful folks who controlled the Catholic Church at the time. They nearly burned Galileo Galilei at the stake for advocating such “heretical” views that the earth was not the center.
    It took the Catholic Church about 350 years to admit they were wrong and the world’s greatest physicist was right after all. The only amazing thing is they admitted it at all!
    What if, instead of using this crude way to show contempt for religion, and possibly offend people who had been brainwashed with its dicta for many years, this instructor had assigned reading books by top authors such as: “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell or “Letters from the Earth” by Mark Twain? I doubt if such an assignment would have received any outside attention at all. These authors are among the world’s greatest intellects. They use logic, reason and humor and many other means, to “shame” religion down to its place in human enlightenment.
    There are many ways a teacher can attempt to get the attention of students. Many years ago even before high school, I had a mathematics teacher who, upon observing a student sleeping in class or not paying attention, would throw a piece of chalk or an eraser at the student to wake him or her up from slumber. He was a good shot too and his name was Alfred Keast from Missouri. He was a top mathematics teacher and once metaphorically “stood on his head” to prove that food eaten by mouth subsequently was moved by muscles “down” to the stomach.
    Galileo Galilei is considered the father of the scientific method, the strict set of rules, involving logic, mathematics, and physics, used by engineers and physicists and scientists to reach conclusions about any and all situations involving humans and their interactions with others and nature and public safety. Most people are brainwashed with religious dogma from childhood or birth. This is hard to overcome. Everyone has the right, in our system, to believe anything they choose to believe. However, I ask you to ponder this: Would you rather have your cars, buildings, bridges, airplanes, ships, crime scene investigations, …etc. done under the rules of the scientific method or religious mythology? This is not to say there is no value in religion in its place. But no one wants their cars to crash or bridges to cave in or buildings to fall, etc. do they? Would you have engineers trained in religion or the laws of physics and mathematics? Or how about astrology? Most newspapers have astrology nonsense in them every day but not a peep about Newton’s Laws of Mechanics. Would you advocate engineers be trained in astrology instead of physics and mathematics and the scientific method discovered by the world’s greatest physicist Galileo Galilei from Italy? While everyone is free to believe anything they want, violate the laws of physics at your peril.

    Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D., Physics

  4. Much as I respect my fellow MHB commenters, I have to disagree that the Jesus name exercise is a psyop, a brainwashing, a Milgram experiment to determine obedience to authority, or an intellectual shaming of religion.

    It was a college lecture was on symbols. Symbols often have a profundity beyond the intellectual. They can, in fact, be visceral. The exercise dramatizes this by focusing on a symbol with personal meaning to a majority of the students. The exercise’s inventor had fully expected that most students would hesitate to step on the name, and in their hesitation the power of the symbol would be revealed. Cue discussion.

    Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    Tracy describes how the two sides of political thought are treated differently in terms of faculty support or disapproval. Beneath this observation is the similarity in the initial condemnations of each professor. As he says of DeRosa, the criticisms are pronounced with no familiarity with the scholarship. So it is with Poole.

    The immediate vigilantism by the ideological censors (one wonders if it is an abreaction), is to excoriate and silence the speaker, claiming their speech is not fit for students’ ears. As if just hearing ideas can damage the student mind, and education is nothing more than inculcation in a prescribed ideology.

    1. There was the suggestion in previous comments to this post as well that Poole may have been in on this as some sort of stunt. I have no reason to
      believe this. He was a student of mine before going to pursue his doctorate at Howard University. I found him to be a gentleman and most sincere.
      He was at least as flabbergasted as anyone when the series of events went down. If anything, I would consider the student to be a potential
      provocateur. It took place in 2013, a time when the School of Communication was already under scrutiny by FAU’s trustees because of the
      press attention to this author and his blog.

  5. “Are faculty at FAU and universities across America pristine embodiments of integrity and truth?” That’s a laughable question, and not just “across America.” How many structural engineering professors are capable of formulating an intelligent thought about the video record of Building 7’s destruction?

    Love,

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