Nothing looms larger

A student’s perspective on academic freedom and the potential UMFA strike

Kristy Hourd

In every course syllabus, there is a paragraph stating that students are required to adhere to the University’s policy on academic integrity. Almost every student I know, including myself, basically sums up this policy as “don’t plagiarize, and no stunt doubles at exams.” We then skip over academic integrity and jump right to “how much is the final exam worth?”

I think taking this policy so lightly, even though we are reminded of it regularly, is a dangerous oversight. Academic integrity, though it does include avoiding plagiarism, means much more than just forgetting that your keyboard has a copy and paste shortcut when you’re reading Wikipedia. It becomes most important when academic freedom is called into question.

There is never any paragraph in the syllabus, or discussion in class, when it comes to academic freedom. I think this is a mistake. I believe that academic integrity and academic freedom should drive every regulation, policy, and decision that students, professors, and the university make.

How many students think about academic freedom? When it comes to the discussions we have, the papers we write, and the research we do, we are more likely to ask “What does the professor want here?” rather than “where do my interests lie, and what new idea can I hash out?” When it comes to controversial topics, as university study often does, we too often ask ourselves, “Can I say this?” To me, this is a sign that we do not place enough emphasis on academic freedom.

Sincere questions and criticisms need to be explored. As a university, as professors, as students, we are scholars. The entire point of an educational institution is to broaden minds, encourage critical thinking, and discover new knowledge, which sometimes involves debunking old or outdated knowledge.

There have been a lot of emails from the U of M administration keeping students at least partially informed of the goings-on concerning the potential UMFA strike. Some academic staff have also been making their opinion known, which has been explained away repeatedly by further university correspondence. The problem that I see with every update is the emphasis the university is placing on dollar amounts and rejected raises. “UMFA is being greedy and unreasonable,” they seem to say. The fact that the same academic freedom policies have been used for 40 years is one of the university’s rebuttals to the UMFA’s demands for a new contract. The wording has served for decades, so why change it?

But, as an academic at an educational institution, the moment I see information and policy not being continually updated to reflect the ever-changing society we live in, I see a problem. I see a loss of academic integrity. The entire purpose of being a scholar (which is what we are, despite the feeling of being exploited as a source of revenue), is to push forward; to think, rethink, and think again. To do that, we need the freedom to ask questions, offer criticism, and demand change, independent of financially-focused university dogma.

At its core, the University is an institution, and requires income and financial relationships to continue to function. As a world trend, this has (somewhat necessarily) caused the corporatization of universities. But the day that University policy favours revenue-generating doctrine over academic integrity and freedom; that is the day we cease to be an educational institution.

As students, we need to understand that we can’t allow academic freedom to fall by the wayside to potentially support research being driven to maintain or create corporate relationships. We need to defend our and our professors’ right to think freely and share that information with others.

When you read a course syllabus, remember that academic integrity is about more than generating the necessary information to get an ‘A.’ It’s about upholding academic freedom – our right to think without conceivable censorship.

3 Comments on "Nothing looms larger"

  1. Kevin Scott | October 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |

    Thank you for this!

  2. Thanks for writing this article. I was just thinking the other day how the emails we’re receiving from UM admin are bordering on propaganda. Too much weight is put on student and tuition fees rather than considering the actual quality of education we’re receiving.

  3. You don’t make a single critique of a university policy that is in question during these bargaining sessions. Do you know what the issues are? How does the academic freedom given to U of M profs differ from that accorded to othe major Canadian universities?

    All you’re saying is that you like the general idea of academic freedom.

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