Saturday, March 25, 2017

Public Engagement and The Realities of Universities

The Potter mess (I refuse to call it -gate) has got folks thinking about public engagement and universities.  There are some basic facts that folks need to consider, with my basic recommendation is  that people need to grow up.
  1. Public engagement is not new even if it is easier and faster via social media.  Profs have been on TV since ... well, sometime after TVs were invented and news programs sought out experts.
  2. There is greater pressure for professors to engage in public engagement.  To justify the expenditure of tax dollar and/or grant dollars.  To make their universities more visible.  To insure better access to the knowledge that is created.
  3. Colleges and universities consist of many professors, tenured and not tenured, and with the exceptions perhaps of the Liberty Universities of the world, these professors are not on the same page on everything and probably not on the same page about most things.  So, it is impossible for professors to match a university viewpoint--the math just does not work.  With so many profs with so many views, it would be impossible for any university to be expected to endorse all of the views of their faculty.  Again, basic math.  
  4. So, the default assumption should be that whatever a prof utters or writes is owned by the prof and only that prof.  Because universities do not vet everything their professors say or write, it is impossible and unrealistic and actually profoundly dumb to expect universities to agree with/support/endorse whatever their profs say.  
  5. While the heart of this matter is academic freedom, there is just a basic math dynamic that should serve as a challenge to anyone who thinks that professor y's statements represent the views of a university.
  6. When professor y says something and it upsets people, well, then those people should be upset with the professor.  If they want to blame the university and call up the Dean or whoever, they can do so.  But the right response of the university is that the views of the professors are the views of the professors. 
While the twitter age is still young, these basic realities have long existed.  Universities owe no apologies or explanations for what their profs say with, of course, a proviso that universities have a role when their profs incite violence and or abuse people (the guys who keep calling and harassing the Sandy Hook families come to mind).  And folks--the media, the government, boards of governors, whoever--should just grow up and accept that universities are not responsible for what individual profs say. 

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