What are the limits of academic freedom?

Freedom of speech should not include unprofessional comments in class.

by Rania Abuisnaineh

One of the most pivotal moments of a college experience is realizing there are other opinions out there than oneâÄôs own. This realization is often the product of classroom discussions and casual dialogue with peers. But sometimes, at the end of a thought-provoking lecture, it comes as the cherry on top as professors eloquently unveil their opinions to a mesmerized audience. These methods serve intellectual diversity and invite unpopular opinions to join in the university dialogue.
Then there is the not-so-beneficial method: the soapbox rant. These rants occasionally spring from emotionally driven professors who seek to indoctrinate their students rather than express their beliefs professionally. This abuse of academic freedom should be restricted, as it chisels away at the intellectual experience of both students and faculty.
I have experienced many soapbox rants during college âÄî from the âÄúWar on TerrorâÄù to the place of religion in the evolution debate. A professor will stop the lecture for a moment (one peer of mine complained of a 20-minute âÄúanti-religionâÄù rant in her biology class) and fulminate against his or her ideological opponents. Unless professors maintain their professionalism, students will be deaf to these rants and will learn nothing.
The American Association of University Professors, an organization committed to advancing free expression in academia, published a report this year stating that âÄúthe protection of [professorsâÄô] unfettered expression, including the ability to espouse highly controversial and unpopular views, is an essential social responsibility of universities and colleges.âÄù
For their years of study and ongoing research, it is only fair that professors are granted the right to âÄúunfettered expression.âÄù However, there is a fine line between intelligent advocacy and emotionally driven rants, and our shared goal to advance knowledge should not prevent us from clarifying that distinction.