May 26, 2005

AUT boycott of Israeli universities overturned

Here are reports from the BBC, Jerusalem Post, the Guardian, the Observer, Haaretz, and the official AUT page. (Thanks to Sharon Howard for the first blog entry I read on this.)

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 3:15 PM (Permalink) |

My hat is off to those who work at home...

One of the joys of academic life is the freedom to schedule one's life, such as the time I spent this morning at my children's schools, shuttling between the party in my son's fourth-grade class and the end-of-year celebration at my daughter's middle school. So they're home this afternoon, releasing some energy by playing together in the room next to this one. They're chattering and playing together. That's wonderful!

And I can't concentrate worth a dime. It's part of the parents' curse, to pay attention to every sound around you.

So I officially and permanently extend my great admiration to those who are able to concentrate with children in the home. I can't do it. If you can, enjoy the skill, and would you be willing to write my next piece?

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Posted in Random comments at 1:50 PM (Permalink) |

May 23, 2005

Dis-positioning the institution

Today, Brooklyn College historian KC Johnson dissed colleges of education for collecting evidence of student dispositions, claiming that the response to NCATE's push for evidence about dispositions is part of the leftward tilt of campuses. Hmmm... While there certainly are examples of silly institutions trying to cram ideologies down the necks of students, such as LeMoyne College, as Robert Sibley of FIRE points out, blaming NCATE is taking responsibility away from faculty. I'm used to seeing NCATE blamed for plenty of things, and while I'm no great fan of the accrediting body, it cannot simultaneously be the font of group-think, as Johnson implies, and also the carrier of corporate reform rhetoric as I have heard from some colleagues in colleges of education around the country.

There is nothing that says that a disposition has to be about a specific political position. My institution's conceptual framework for educator preparation is pretty tame in that regard, mentioning the disposition to advocate for students in addition to things like collaboration, reflection, commitment to learning, etc. I was on one group drafting it, and there was some language floating around about social justice. We eliminated that language, precisely because the majority (or a vocal, convincing minority) thought that it was inappropriate to put in a set of institutional commitments. Teachers should advocate for students' intellectual careers. But that advocacy doesn't necessarily mean following a specific political party platform.

In addition, there is nothing in the analysis of dispositions that requires thought police. A few years ago, we invited John Johnson as a speaker (no, I don't have additional identifying information!), who suggested looking at behavior as evidence of dispositions.

I am not claiming that my college is perfect—far from it. But it is a counterexample ot KC Johnson's broad-brush approach to colleges of education.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:17 PM (Permalink) |

May 21, 2005

Al-Arian and symbolism

Now that Judge James Moody has identified a jury for the trial of Sami Al-Arian and three codefendants, it's time for a little reflection on the choices made by USF administrators over the past decade and a little perspective on the meaning of the trial for academic freedom, if there is any. The book I'm writing, Scholar-Citizen, will discuss the case at USF (what do you think started the idea of writing a book in the first place?), but that's one of many incidents in the book. I'll put some broader thoughts together about the case here and over the course of the trial.

A few disclaimers first: I will not take a position on Al-Arian's guilt or innocence. In the next week, I'll explain the relevance of any verdict for the university, but this is about the case on the campus. In addition, my colleague Greg McColm has a much stronger grasp than I on the details of Al-Arian's time at USF (or maybe I should say the details of and allegations about his employment), and is still keeping up a huge repository of information at the on-campus faculty union web site. He'll be the primary author of an article on Al-Arian, USF, due process, and faculty governance that will be appearing in a journal sometime in the next year.

So, to the issue today: Why did some faculty and many Tampa residents want USF to fire Al-Arian long before his indictment on charges that he helped finance the Palestinian Islamic Jihad? In 1994 and 1995, a PBS video and newspaper articles in the Tampa Tribune alleged that Al-Arian had helped finance terrorism, and that USF's formal relationship with the World Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) (that Al-Arian had co-founded a few years before) legitimized a slew of activities that were mixed up with the direct and indirect financing of terrorism. USF cut off that relationship in June 1995 and suspended Al-Arian for pay in 1996 during a formal investigation, and then reinstated him to teaching in 1998 after the investigation stated that there was insufficient cause to fire Al-Arian (as part of a broader report into the relationship with WISE). While the controversy over Al-Arian heated up again in 2001 when Al-Arian appeared on the FoxNews "O'Reilly Factor," in reality the local controversy had begun several years before. (See Greg's chronology for a summary timeline of related events.)

I do not think that my neighbors and the minority of my colleagues who wanted Al-Arian fired before 2001 really thought that doing so would end his activities. They're smart enough to know that he would have become a cause celebré, with plenty of time on his hands to raise more money if that's what he did with his free time. Nor do I think that anyone really thought that USF was better equipped to investigate criminal activity than the FBI. Nor, for that matter, was anyone willing to say that anything goes in trying to stop Al-Arian's non-work activities, or at least no one behaved as if they believed it. As far as I'm aware, no one tried to assassinate him (which would be the logical step to take if you really thought Al-Arian financed terrorism and if you really believed that someone other than the justice system should take direct responsibility for action). And, in the end, after all the pretexts put forward in 2001 and 2002, USF fired Al-Arian after he was imprisoned.

So no one could have thoughtfully proposed that USF fire Sami Al-Arian as one step to fight terrorism. Instead, the pressure to fire Al-Arian was largely symbolic: To many who live in Tampa, the presence of Al-Arian shamed USF in some way, and paying him a salary was a violation of USF's moral obligations. There are two pieces of this claim, both the argument that a publicly-funded institution has additional obligations not to hire shady characters as faculty, simply because they are publicly funded, and also the argument about a university's moral obligations.

The first argument is about public funding and has been used repeatedly as a justification to fire unpopular faculty at state universities, from William Schaper at the University of Minnesota in 1917 to Al-Arian to Ward Churchill in 2005. (See Carol Gruber's Mars and Minerva for Schaper's case.) But there are both legal and ethical reasons why this purse-strings argument is untrue. Legally, governments are under First Amendment restrictions in its hiring and firing practices. A private university has far more legal leeway to fire a faculty member for the faculty member's public statements and off-campus activities than a public university (even where doing so would violate principles of academic freedom).

More fundamentally, however, he who pays the piper does not call the tune in professional relationships. When we bought our home, we had a buyer's agent. The buyer's agent was paid 2.5 or 3 percent of the purchase price, and that money came from the seller. Even though the seller was paying our agent, our agent had no obligation to maximize the purchase price. In fact, her fiduciary obligation was ethically and legally to us—to give us the best advice on buying a good house at the lowest cost. In many areas of business, fiduciary obligations are guided by a professional-client relationship, not by who pays the professional.

Even if we were to accept that professors should pay heed to whoever pays the bills, it is unclear how we should decide matters where there might be a conflict. The legislature gives operating money to the university, but my students also pay fees. What should I do when a student performs poorly in a course? The student might say, "I paid tuition. I should get the course credit." But most of my fellow taxpayers would probably say the opposite. Both are paying for my salary. If I followed the money, I would have no clear guidance.

So the identity of whoever pays my check is generally irrelevant to my professional obligations as a faculty member and irrelevant to the central institutional obligations of a college or university. (I am not arguing that there are not accountability issues with public funding in terms of tracking the funding, following state laws, following the state and federal constitutions, etc. Nor am I saying that administrators should ignore state legislators. This matter is about the core principles of any college or university.)

After disposing of the claims that USF could have fought terrorism by firing Al-Arian or that it was obliged by its publicly-funded status to fire Al-Arian, we are left with the argument that a university has a moral obligation to maintain clean hands in its hiring practices and to be willing to fire faculty against whom there are serious allegations of immoral actions off campus. The difference between me and my colleagues and neighbors who believe this argument is that we have different ideas about a university's basic obligations. It is not about fighting terrorism, and it is not about public funding. At its core, a university's core principles is what the argument about Al-Arian and USF is all about.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 4:55 PM (Permalink) |

Changing grades

Miriam Burstein shows once again that she is one of the queens of academic blogging in her short, pithy advice to students on the fine art of requesting a higher grade. I don't agree with everything she says (for I do respond to e-mails asking for clarification, even if I generally stuff the response inside the more secure confines of Blackboard), but the sense of the entry is great.

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Posted in Teaching at 4:29 PM (Permalink) |

May 18, 2005

AUT boycott rollback

From one Crooked Timber entry, it looks like the rollback of the AUT Israeli university boycott is possible to likely. The latest ENGAGE blog entry is even more positive. Procedural issues with delegate registration may pose the greatest problem to the rollback.

And if you haven't yet donated to ENGAGE, please do so now!

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:12 PM (Permalink) |

Foolish private universities

In the fall, DePaul University suspended professor Thomas Klocek without a hearing or a chance to confront accusers for having an argument with students outside class—not his students, either. And Yale University refused to renew assistant professor David Graeber's contract, and it appears like a possibility that he was fired either for being an anarchist and for siding with a graduate student active in the graduate-student union at Yale.

The salient differences between the possible outcome of these two cases are not the political viewpoints of the faculty. Nor is it the fact that Klocek has been reported to be an adjunct (though that's not consistent in what I've read), while Graeber is tenure-track, because normally that would lead one to believe that Klocek's position is much weaker. And generally, adjuncts are in weaker positions except where there are specific protections. But in this case, despite Klocek's probably adjunct status and what may have been a failure to file a timely grievance, Klocek has a chance of winning back his position because DePaul's administrators provided pretty clear evidence that they were taking action for impermissible reasons. Even though adjuncts at most places don't legally have to be given due process before being given a notice of non-reappointment, you don't fire someone and then give their public speech as the reason. And the post hoc claims about tossing papers seems a pretty flimsy pretext to me. I may change my mind if DePaul provides evidence of much more serious behavior by Klocek, but I suspect that won't be forthcoming. FIRE is an effective advocate, and they're going to kick DePaul repeatedly in the Chicago press.

Other comments on Klocek by Steven Plaut, Laura Putrie, and Nicole Zieglier Dizon. Crooked Timber weighs in on Graeber. Thanks to Erin O'Connor for the initial tipoff.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:27 PM (Permalink) |

May 16, 2005

Baxley/Horowitz bill post-mortem

A last few items for the record. :

  • The Florida House now has a video archive of the April 19, 2005, meeting of the House Education Council, where several students as well as United Faculty of Florida President Tom Auxter testified against the bill. (There are other issues covered in that meeting as well, but the Baxley/Horowitz bill occupied the first part.)
  • I suspect Rep. Baxley will be back with the bill next year. We'll see if the Florida Board of Governors also tries to take steps. Hmmn...

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:57 AM (Permalink) |

May 13, 2005


How can there be miscellanea in a single topic? Well, if it's academic freedom and you have the AUT boycott, a book proposal on academic freedom, campus network user agreements, SIU-Carbondale's situation, and Alan Kors's slamming of Stanley Fish, ...

  1. You can now support ENGAGE's effort to overturn the AUT boycott of two Israeli universities through PayPal, so you don't have to be in the UK to help out. (The organizers need help with paying for the blog's web site as well as printing and mailing costs associated with the effort in the UK to get local associations of AUT to meet and direct their representatives.)
  2. I've finished the book proposal and the draft of the last chapter for Citizen-Scholar: Defending Academic Freedom and Principles in Today's America. E-mail me if you want to see a copy of the outline and are interested in helping me improve the MS as I work on this over the summer and fall. We'll see if any publishers are interested in it!
  3. While signing up for my campus's WordPress blog site, I noticed that the "user agreement" said that we couldn't publish anything that was sexist, racist or otherwise "offensive." Sheesh, I thought speech codes went out with several court opinions about 15 years ago. I've had a bit of correspondence with the head of academic computing and the general counsel's office, but if there's no movement quickly I can easily file a grievance under the faculty union contract. Since I sent a letter before filing a grievance, I want to give the university a chance to respond positively before a grievance.
  4. The Illinois Southern is reporting that the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale faculty senate will be "monitoring" the situation in the history department after the majority of the department criticized Jonathan Bean's teaching in a letter to the student newspaper last month.
  5. Alan Kors called Stanley Fish the academic hypocrite of the millennium on Wednesday. I have my own disagreements with Fish's reasoning in free speech, but I'm wondering if Kors went too far in ad hominem remarks.
Off to revise syllabi for the summer and fall and then get ready for the nutty May madness in our life (two birthdays, an anniversary, and end-of-school-year rituals).
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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:44 AM (Permalink) |

May 10, 2005

Petition opposing AUT boycott of Israeli universities

Jeff Weintraub at the University of Pennsylvania has set up an online petition to oppose the Association of University Teachers boycott of Israeli universities, established to support the ENGAGE effort to overturn the boycott at a special conference later this month. Thanks to Ralph Luker for pointing this out.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:14 AM (Permalink) |

May 8, 2005


From no great matter, this bon mot:

Those who do not know the history of Americans' ignorance of history seem doomed to point it out repeatedly, acting each time as if it were something new.

This morning, I've retreated to Chain Cafe, reading student work frantically before heading up to Ocala for an un-Mother's Day, at least for me, for I then go to that town's Chain Cafe to continue reading student work frantically before driving back here to Tampa where I'll ... hopefully be finished. We'll see. In any case, the teaching anguish of the term now appears to be students who were so engaged in the material (or in creating Cool Tech) that they did not pay attention to the assignment. I did tell them all, "write the words first," but I'm afraid that was not enough. Students who were highly engaged will be penalized for not paying attention—not enough to ruin the semester grade—and I'll have to figure out what happened and what I can do in the future.

But this sure beats students who were disengaged and thus failed to pay attention to the assignment. The disengaged-student's work is easier to judge (okay, if he/she didn't spend much time on this assignment, I guess I don't have to spend much time grading it), but I'd rather have this anguish.

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Posted in Teaching at 6:49 AM (Permalink) |

May 7, 2005

Chugging along in chapter 8

After the end of the day's meetings for the Florida Education Association, I went back to my room and intended to grade student papers. Really I did! But then I started to work on the last chapter of Citizen-Scholar, and I'll just have some serious grading pain later today and tomorrow (when I'll drive up to Ocala with my family, drop them off at my mother-in-law's, and head somewhere to grade—I'd still have to do it even if I had been a good boy last night). But I'm making good headway, as I thought I would, and here's the last paragraph of the section intended for faculty:

Finally, faculty must recognize that the classroom and the journal are not private spaces, in the end. Many students talk with their friends and family about what you and I say in class. Anyone can go into a library or search the internet for what you and I write. Teaching and writing are profoundly public activities, even if we are used to having little attention paid to our professional lives. That should not be a chilling perspective; it is realistic. At any point, our work can become public, so we must act outside the class and office as if our work always is on display, making sure that we protect the essential conditions of the intellectual fiduciary. Working in a fishbowl is only dangerous if the bowl is fragile.

I suspect this is the paragraph that will irk my colleagues the most. What do you think?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:13 AM (Permalink) |

May 5, 2005

What the .... ?

In class we disused women in school is one of the stranger statements I've read thus far in this batch of student exams. From the repetition of the misspelling elsewhere in the exam, I gather the student meant to write discussed but, um, er, forgot to check the spelling.

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Posted in Teaching at 8:28 AM (Permalink) |

The Morning's Back (and I'm Gonna Be in Trouble)

I'm behind the eight ball this morning on teaching for two reasons: I couldn't get to sleep before about 3 am and my university's Blackboard server has bollixed up the upload of my masters class's major assignment. I'm not sure why I didn't get to sleep until far too late—probably residual discomfort from the dental work yesterday morning—but I'm going to be groggy this morning. That's life, and since I've done prep work on grading the undergraduate exams (reading over some early responses to get a sense of the answers before I wade in completely), I'm not too worried. I had intended to do as much exam grading as I could today before I head to Orlando for the Florida Education Association delegate assembly over the next few days, and then grade the major papers for the masters class there in between all the things I need to do there.

But if I don't have the bulk of the papers downloaded to my computer (and most of them were uploaded as opposed to being written as online papers—innovative of the students who did), I can't do much grading in Orlando, and that would be very bad, as grades are due Monday. I've sent in a problem notice to the Academic Computing gurus, but I strongly suspect it's a nonrecoverable error. This means I'd have to contact all of the students who turned in papers over the past two days to e-mail them to me, causing problems for my in-box and delays. Poor students. Poor me. Likely to be late grades...

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Posted in Teaching at 5:48 AM (Permalink) |

May 4, 2005


I just got word today that my college's mini-grant program awarded me a small amount of money for most people but enough for me to spend a few weeks in Atlanta this summer collecting age-grade tables and other data from the Georgia State Archives for the historical educational attainment and attrition study that's in my head. So it won't be in my head any more. Hurrah!

Okay, now I have to figure out my summer schedule for real... and the schedule for the rest of my family, since it makes no difference to a hotel if there are one or four people staying in a room (if two are children).

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Posted in Research at 4:32 PM (Permalink) |

Glad my plate is full

I thought I'd come to Chain Bookstore to redeem my free drink as a reward after my fillings and then get some early grading done, but I'm useless on grading thanks to the epinephrine that went with the anesthesia. (For those who are curious, he said that it's a vasoconstrictor to delay the anesthesia's dissipation.) If this distractibility is what ADD/ADHD is like, I'm glad I don't have it. So I'll turn to something else: write more in the last chapter of Citizen-Scholar, try to ignore the gorgeous peahen looking in the window at all the food she'd like to snitch here in the bookstore cafe, and then go to my son's school advisory council meeting in 90 minutes to explain to the other parents that there is no research supporting the use of school uniforms.

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Posted in Random comments at 11:44 AM (Permalink) |

AAUP condemns attempted Israeli academic boycott

Yesterday, the American Association of University Professors released a statement condemning the British Association of University Teachers' boycott of two Israeli universities. See ENGAGE's blog for the latest news about the AUT and the boycott.

Go, AAUP! My prediction: the AUT council vote will be reversed at the end of the month, but it'll be a few years before AUT repairs the damage to its reputation.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:02 AM (Permalink) |

May 3, 2005

Conservative theologian chilled by Horowitz

Anne Marie B. Bahr's The Right To Tell the Truth is recommended reading in this upcoming Friday's Chronicle (requires a subscription). My thanks to staff at the United Faculty of Florida for the heads-up on this.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:19 PM (Permalink) |

More at SIU

There's more verbage about Jonathan Bean and Southern Illinois University at Big Muddy IMC, The Southern, the Daily Illini, and Cliopatria (a Ralph Luker entry). As non-tenure-line instructor Michael Davidson points out, we do not have the entire story. I would not be surprised to find out that faculty on both sides of this at SIU have been behaving badly. That does not wipe away the larger issue of how one addresses concerns about a colleague and substantive, serious, even hurtful conflicts. Letters to the student newspaper do not seem the adult approach; stripping a faculty member of TA support does not seem to be the adult approach. As a union activist, I'm well aware of the tactical possibilities of public posturing. But at first glance, these events appear to go far beyond such tactics (and one engages in tactical posturing deliberately, after considering alternatives and planning an end game—something that I doubt happened at SIU).

Addition: Hiram Hover has the best lesson of all, here, with regard to this type of controversy: what if David Horowitz's bill had become law in Illinois?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 9:19 AM (Permalink) |

May 2, 2005

Dissing Fish

It's time to come out of the closet, I suppose: I've just finished redrafting a book proposal on academic freedom after 9/11, which was going to focus a few years ago on the Sami Al-Arian case here at USF. But publishers made clear they were not going to be interested in a book just on Florida universities (no matter how interesting, and I received a very nice compliment from one publishing director during that process), and in the meantime we've had Ward Churchill, MEALAC, the subpoenas hanging over Drake University for a few weeks, David Horowitz, and Jonathan Bean at Southern Illinois University, as well as others. So the book project is now Citizen-Scholar: Defending Academic Freedom and Principles in Today's America, and, yes, I know this is coming on top of a bunch of good books on the corporatization of universities, works focusing on the internal dynamics on campuses (such as speech codes), and Cary Nelson and Stephen Watt's Office Hours as well as Michael Bérubé's forthcoming Liberal Arts, but I have my own perspective on this.

Today, I've been working on the last chapter to include in my pitch, a chapter where I firmly disagree with Stanley Fish on the definition of what I call the intellectual fiduciary of colleges and universities. A snippet in the full entry...

Here is an excerpt from the chapter's current form:

Milton scholar Stanley Fish has long argued that "there's no such thing as free speech, and it's a good thing, too," as the title of his most famous essay on the subject claims. Fish's argument has three parts. First, he points out that speech is not without context; it does not exist absent some disagreement or attempt to use the speech to promote to end. Second, he argues that no one really believes in completely free speech; everyone has their limits of toleration for unpopular content. Third, he claims that the First Amendment has historically only been concerned with political speech, to provide safety for political dissent. According to Fish (and Robert Bork), only in the last four or five decades have courts expanded the First Amendment to privilege non-political expression; to him, the older test balancing interests is preferred. Thus, he argues, it is legitimate for colleges and universities to ban some definition of hate speech on campus, if a university defines the content as both untruthful and harmful. The logical consequence of these arguments is that the purpose of a university is divorced from the democratic assumptions of our society. In a 2005 column attacking the idea of intellectual diversity, Fish argued that the job of a university is unrelated to democratic citizenship:
Citizen building is a legitimate democratic activity, but it is not an academic activity. To be sure, some of what happens in the classroom may play a part in the fashioning of a citizen, but that is neither something you can count on—there is no accounting for what a student will make of something you say or assign—nor something you should aim for. As admirable a goal as it may be, fashioning citizens for a pluralistic society has nothing to do with the pursuit of truth.

While Fish and I share similar concerns about the ideological attacks on colleges, universities, and their faculties, we disagree on campus free speech and the foundations of the intellectual fiduciary. To Stanley Fish, the sole goal of a university is to seek out truth.

But Fish is wrong on several counts.... [three reasons and then]

Finally, Fish's reasoning removes colleges and universities from their political context. In the United States, we have a far greater notion of free speech than anywhere else in the world, and it is part of a deep-rooted political culture. In the middle of World War II, the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring schoolchildren to say the pledge of allegiance and explained, "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." Decades before the creation of modern tests for restraint of speech, the Supreme Court recognized the broader principle. To remove academic freedom in the U.S. from this context cuts faculty off from the greatest possible political support for their work.

This is the first chapter that will be finished, because it doesn't require nearly as much resesarch as the others. With some luck, it will be finished along with grades next Monday. And then wish me luck with publishers! In any case, I think I'll be driven to finish much of it during the summer.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 12:52 PM (Permalink) |