Freedom of speech is very important to me, both as a tool and as right.
On a somewhat more occupation-specific level, academic freedom is another concept that is of utmost importance to me.
Unfortunately, in recent years, both of these concepts seem to be under attack, whether in an explicit manner or via more devious undermining.
With increasing chaos and uncertainty becoming the norm throughout much of the Western world, the attacks on freedom of speech are disheartening, although the logic makes a bit of sense.
If we can stop mean people from saying mean things, bad things won’t happen and people won’t feel sad.
While I’m in complete disagreement with this logic and think that it actually emboldens those who would like to silence any opinion (or fact!) that they disagree with or are threatened by, I can accept this brand of (twisted) logic.
However, I hold academia to a higher standard.
Of course, there are the classic tropes about universities being ivory towers, far removed or even “above” many of the realities of the world.
People snicker about the naivety that is associated with this vision and I can certainly see why.
Being the butt of the joke does not excuse institutions of higher education from being the bastions of thought and debate that they have been for thousands of years, though.
I don’t care if it’s politically or culturally unpopular in current times.
I don’t care if colleges and universities are reassessing their missions and putting less emphasis on scholarship.
I don’t care if there are students, staff, or, Heaven-forbid, faculty members that don’t want to hear or read things that would challenge their world view or be “triggering”.
Academic scholars should have the right to research what they want to research and publish what they want to publish (within reason…I don’t think we need any genocidal manifestos!) without fear of censorship or repercussion.
Instead of censoring this type of literature (or this type of thought, if we really want to get Orwellian with things) I have always suggested that ideas be allowed to duke it out in the “marketplace of ideas”.
Just like in a retail store or on Amazon, you generally assess the merits of a number of different products before selecting one to purchase.
Each product makes an “argument” for why you should give its seller your hard-earned money. From there you decide which stuff is actually good and which stuff…isn’t.
Why can’t academia, literature, and even general conversation be the same?
The terrible arguments and the ideas that are deemed reprehensible will increasingly lose favor. Also, people will simply tune out to the silliest arguments once they have an idea of what they amount to.
Meanwhile, “good” ideas, thoughts, or arguments will appear to be even better by comparison than they would if there was no counter-balancing argument to relate it to.
It’s worth it to be offended in the short term in order to nearly eradicate uncouth ideas in the long run, isn’t it?
I believe this.
Many, many others believe this.
However, many, many, many, others do not believe this.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see an even greater takedown of academic freedom and free speech on college and universities campuses in the near future.
So what exactly does this have to do with teaching online?
To many of you, it means very little other than there being on less thing to worry about.
As an online adjunct instructor (and even as a full-time online adjunct, in many cases), there generally isn’t much of an expectation, yet alone genuine pressure, to publish.
The job of the online adjunct is to teach and facilitate while inserting real-world experience and insights into courses.
It’s pretty difficult to get caught up in the attacks on academic freedom from behind your computer screen (as opposed to on a faculty hall or even inside a physical classroom).
Also, if there is no expectation for you to have to publish, you won’t feel compelled to research topics that you aren’t particularly interested in or to carefully craft your language in order to avoid disrupting the ever-present Overton Bubble.
So, am I saying that one of the perks of teaching online is you don’t have to publish and you get to keep your head down?
I can see how it could come off that way.
However, the online environment allows for much more time and personal thought before responding to that student comment or faculty e-mail.
Sometimes that extra time can be job-saving.
Also, the lack of pressure to publish (a major perk of online teaching jobs) allows for you to make decisions on when you want to publish and what you want to publish.
You can assess your own situation and comfort levels and decide to put together a research project when you feel ready to do so.
Your tenure clock isn’t ticking. You’re not going to miss out on (many) online teaching gigs because you waited until you were ready.
I definitely don’t think that we should concede the fight for academic freedom and encourage everyone to teach and publish the truth, no matter the repercussions.
However, there is a genuine need to be strategic about taking back what has seemingly become a marginalized Constitutional guarantee.
Teaching online can buy you some time to pick your spots and to snipe when needed.
When you’re ready, come join me in the trenches!