Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

Academic Freedom and the Future of Schools

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on April 6, 2009

While I have made the point that the KMT government in Taiwan has a special relationship with academic censorship, in fact, the firing of professors is a growing issue worldwide. Dr. Denis Rancourt, a tenured full professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Ottawa, was dismissed on Tuesday. You can find a profile of Dr. Rancourt here, but this is a Google cached file and the original has been removed.

It seems that Dr. Rancourt and the U of O have been involved in a dispute for some time. The university argues that Dr. Rancourt arbitrarily awards high grades to students without regard to any pedagogical standard. The source of all true facts, Wikipedia, has an entry describing the history of the problem.  In this interview Dr. Rancourt defends his position.

I have been aware of this situation for some time. In an editorial which I can no longer find, I read that the dispute was raised as an example of the insanely distorted perceptions held about academic work. The writer stated that there is no other occupation where workers can interpret their own working conditions without reference to employer’s needs. The point of this is that even if one believes in academic freedom, Dr. Rancourt is being justly dismissed.

I interpret the issue somewhat differently. The problem appears to be misrepresented. The issue is not whether Dr. Rancourt’s grades were insanely high. I have never attended the U of O, and am not familiar with grading there. My guess is they have their share of professors who hand out As as encouragement to students to take small classes they want to continue teaching. High grades are not the issue. The issue is distribution of grades. The whole point of grading is to choose winners and losers. If grades are uniform, judgment can’t be made.

Dr. Rancourt is not advocating an arbitrary standard or even a lower standard. He is advocating an entirely different understanding of schooling in the education process. For most of us, no matter how liberal we are, the idea that the role of schools is to sort out winners and losers is deeply ingrained. Even among students this concept is deeply ingrained. It is in fact what most students hope to achieve from their schooling. Certainly there really is little doubt what educators are supposed to be doing in this system, and the idea that we are not key elements in the sorting process is quite shocking.

All of us liberal educators are still delighted that Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America. The euphoria is that neoliberalism has come to an end. The implication really is that all those non-liberal education things that we don’t like are neoliberal ideas connected to Bush Administration officials and their policies. And my implication about Taiwan is that the non-liberal things I don’t like are connected to the KMT.

But what if there are other forces at work here? Social thinkers, such as Karl Marx and Max Weber theorized forces that are beyond the discretion of governments policy makers. ‘Globalization’ is supposed to be one of these, but in fact, it is generally considered as a part of a larger force such as ‘modernization‘ or capitalism.

The Obama Adminstration is no friend of professional educators. Despite his relatively liberal stance on national security and health care, huge education reforms are still headed in a different direction than liberal thinkers of the past would have been comfortable with. The regulatory world established during neoliberalism is pretty much still the one that controls the world. The real issue is not how this global the future will be, but how Obama will be able to fit his liberal visions in to the reality of continued ‘modernization’.

I hope to write more about this in the future.


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Miss85 said, on October 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    That last was just stupid and wrong. ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: