Freedom panel spurs discussion

Camille Galles

Driven to Discover,” the University of Minnesota’s ubiquitous slogan, is really about seeking the truth.

An academic institution must support the discovery of truth, whether through science, social justice or even just the personal truths that gets us out of bed every morning.

On Tuesday, a panel of faculty members and University officials gathered to discuss the ways academic freedom can support this mission. Academic freedom is the ability to speak the truth without fear of repercussions or punishment, and it’s critical for a safe and inclusive campus environment. But as panelists revealed, telling the truth in the classroom isn’t as simple as it appears.

For example, picture a sleepy, crowded lecture hall. All of a sudden, the professor mentions a controversial point, and it seems like everyone’s hand shoots in the air.

Most students have been in a situation like this, and that’s because it’s how we’ve been taught since kindergarten how to disagree. We’re taught to calm down, raise our hands and discuss disagreements civilly.

This system works for me. As a white, heterosexual upper-middle-class female, I’m used to people listening when I raise my hand. But this isn’t the case for all students, especially for racial, ethnic and religious minorities. They won’t always be heard if they speak in a civil manner, so they have to shout, both literally and figuratively.

However, those who don’t follow the rules of disagreement are often dismissed or rejected. A truth that challenges social norms is always disruptive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valid. To truly promote academic freedom, the University has to consider where, when and how we’re allowed to disagree.

Maintaining academic freedom is an ongoing issue that we’ll solve through honest and challenging conversation. Hopefully, we’ll soon see more campus discussions about this topic — and hopefully there’ll be plenty of room for disagreement.