Like I said, I just assume that I won't be allotted any measure of ''academic freedom'' in my professional life, at least, not until I get tenure. And yet, tenure is being phased out in American academia in favor of contract positions, so I might never get tenure. What's the difference between a tenured professor and a contracted instructor? You can treat the latter like a temp because they have no job protection. Also, you can pay them a third of the salary. This is why they're so popular these days in corporate academia.
The result is that students are increasingly being taught by people who are afraid to challenge them in any way, which is of course what they and the administrators want. Case in point- Steve Bitterman has been teaching at Southwestern Community College since 2001 without any problems. This semester he is teaching Western Civ, which naturally involves teaching about religions. ''But when he got to the Bible on Tuesday, a student walked out of the Osceola section when, Bitterman said, when he wouldn’t agree with her that the story of the Garden of Eden was historically true. Several other students appeared disturbed by the incident, he said. From their questions and statements, he believes that they are evangelical Christians.''
The students and their parents complained, not to mention threatening lawsuits against the school. How did the admins respond? They fired Bitterman. Of course, the nice way of putting it is that they ''won't be renewing his contract''. But the end result is the same- the first time an issue of academic speech arose, they caved.
Universities are also hiring people who won't challenge the close-minded beliefs of their colleagues. Case two- the AAUP is speaking out on behalf of Phil Mitchell who has been teaching history in Colorado for 17 years under contract, and who is also being fired. The reason? He was too critical of his department and his conservative politics rub department members the wrong way. As someone who's more liberal than conservative, I love having conservatives in our department because they make discussions interesting. There's nothing more sleep-inducing than attending some seminar or conference in which everyone is a lefty and so they make the same tired ''Rumsfeld'' jokes to win over the crowd, regardless of whether or not those jokes have anything to do with what they're presenting. And then the ''discussions'' are about as thrilling as listening to Star Trek nerds discuss the finer points of Leonard Nimoy's eyebrows. Ideologically-exclusive departments produce lazy thinkers.
Of course, the end result of all of this is just blandness- a history department doesn't have to be exposed to a conservative and students don't have to be told that the Bible isn't a historical source. It's an ugly fact of academia that tenured professors aren't losing any sleep worrying about the rights of instructors. But instructors have no academic freedom whatsoever because they can be fired the second that they offend entitled students or close-minded colleagues.
Would anyone like to hear my speculation on why academic departments can be so politically one-sided, or why there's so much grade-inflation in the required courses at universities?
Postscript: Reading this again, it reminds me of why I don't post on this topic more often: it's damned dismal stuff. The one bright side of this is that I'm planning to apply for jobs in Canada.