Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What are St Thomas' attitudes on freedom of thought? 

After reading Mitch's excellent summation of what's going on at St. Thomas with its insistence that the Young Americans Foundation cannot bring Star Parker to its campus (and follow the links to Ed and Scott Johnson while there), I decided to peruse its website for comments on freedom of inquiry. Since that freedom accords first to the pursuit of the truth by its faculty, I thought to look at its statements on faculty. (In fact, as part of my assignment to a campus committed on academic freedom, I had already bookmarked this page.)
Freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are safeguarded by the university. The rights and obligations of academic freedom take diverse forms for the students, the faculty, and the administration; in general, however, they derive from the nature of the academic life, and they are consistent with the objectives of the university as a community which pursues the highest scholarly standards, promotes intellectual and spiritual growth, maintains respect for individuals as persons, and lives in the tradition of Christian belief.

Specific principles of academic freedom supported at the university include: freedom to teach and to learn according to one�s obligation, vision, and training; freedom to publish the results of one�s study or research; and freedom to speak and write on public issues as a citizen. Correlative obligations include: respectful allowance for the exercise of these freedoms by others; proper acknowledgment of contributions made by others to one�s work; preservation of the confidentiality necessary in personal, academic, and administrative deliberations; avoidance of using the university to advance personal opinion or commercial interest; and protection, in the course of one�s conduct, utterances, and work, of the basic aims of the university and of its good name.

Emphasis added. I don't see anything in that statement that addresses the administration's comfort level. It is interesting to me that the university's Women's Center sees itself as having a role for creating "unruliness", its speakers policy is said to require responsibility:
The first principle is that there are varying degrees of responsibility with the effect that the university is eminently responsible for speakers that it invites on campus to speak to students or other members of the community. But obviously when the university allows legitimate outside groups to use its facilities, the burden of responsibility is autonomous with the sponsoring group. It is a corollary that the university, in allowing such groups to use its facilities, is governed by fairness and equity toward various conflicting views and interests, being mindful of the needs for wider information on the part of students and the larger community.

The principle of freedom, holding high respect in academic life and in our spiritual heritage, is never divorced from responsibility on the part of sponsoring groups or sponsors.
Do these statements reflect to you a commitment to freedom of inquiry? Do they reflect a mission statement that says the school values "intellectual inquiry as a life-long habit, the unfettered and impartial pursuit of truth in all its forms, the integration of knowledge across disciplines, and the imaginative and creative exploration of new idea"? It is a very audacious use of the word "unfettered." Those who would send their children to UST should consider what will fetter their education.

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