Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Weakening of Academic Freedom in the University

Dr. Romulo Bautista
DEVSTRAT Consultant

The questions I raise are how to liberate the individuals from the pressures of an organizational university and how to provide some measure of participatory democracy within such organization. These questions are basic for humanistic ethics that claim to be responsive to human needs.

This essay seeks the ground of the ‘rejection of the value of academic freedom’ in those universities. It proceeds from the premise that the university is an organization, and as such, it has “organization personality”, in other word, an “organiza-lity” (a synergy of “organization” and “personality”).

The university has become an independent entity with “personality” of its own. Organization has no real entity; it is a mental fiction. But, the university is regarded as having its own entity by those who come in contact with it and as being endowed with special characteristics over and beyond the individuals who compose it. In the eyes of those who deal with institution, this is a distinct body with a history and identity, prerogatives and rights. “Organization” is another name for institution, social group, or corporations; and the suffix “ality” is appended to designate the emergence of “organizality” in the eyes of those who deal with is as distinct body with a history and identity, prerogatives and rights. There are now a great number of such organizations. The trend toward growth and concentration of power is very real in the university organization.

In a sense organization is one of the basic keys to human progress. It is founded on the discovery that specialization and division of labor is the key to productivity and efficiency. The point is that organizational revolution seems to be an essential part of the technological revolution in contemporary time.

There appears to be a prevailing organizality syndrome in the universities referred to by the above-mentioned email sender, where there is a growing disregard of the value of academic and the weakening its exercise.

Organizations have a primary purpose or set of purposes which they attempt to fulfill (profit, education, salvation), though these goals may change through time. Also, organizations develop administrative structures. There are hierarchical systems of powers by which decisions are made and resources are allocated. Concomitant with the different roles and functions within the structure, different duties and responsibilities develop.

But oligarchic rule tends to prevail in most of our organizations. The principle of succession is frequently by co=option; that is, leaders are designated by an organizational elite and leadership generally is reward to those who appeal to the inner circle. Increasingly, there is a rise of the administrators and managers and a decline of the professionals. “Legitimacy” of rule is based upon acceptance, which is very often defined by loyalty to the organization, rather than by skill or knowledge.

Now, organizations develop subtle sets of latent functions over and beyond their primary manifest functions. They become concerned of the employees’ outside “moral conduct”. The organization requires the individual employees’ conformity to the organizality.

There develops within the organizality a psychological climate, a set of values, and a normative code. There is a displacement of values away from the intrinsic qualities of work to its by-products of income, security, prestige, and leisure. The “logic” of the organization is essentially conservative. Thus, there is standardization and consistency of behavior. Increasingly there is a tendency for the individual responsibility to give way to corporate responsibility, and the individual denies he is responsible for what the corporation does.

It is the dilemma of those who want to exercise academic freedom within the organizality of the universities that interests this essay. Nevertheless, many believers in academic freedom are reactionary in regard to their role within the organization. All too few have the courage or honesty to stand up against their own organizality when they think that it is wrong.

How can we pursue participatory democracy in the university which guarantees the free exercise of academic freedom?

But, first, what is academic freedom all about? Fr. Michael Moga, S.J. shares his thoughts on the subject as it relates to an academic professor. He says that “academic freedom is the right of an academic professor (1) to choose what he or she will study and examine, (2) to develop his or her own interpretation of this topic, and (3) to proclaim and publish that study and that interpretation”. This essayist fully agrees with him. His view, however, touches only one estate of the university organization.

Let us consider his thoughts within the organizational structure of the university. The most crucial problem that we face is the need to democratize the organization of private university by widespread participation in its workings at various levels.

There are various types of governments within university organizations. There is (1) rule by a hereditary family monarch, (2) tyranny of an autocrat or czar. (3) rule by closed oligarchic elite (the dominant mode in corporate organization), or (4) rule by democracy. This essay is about democratic process at all levels in the decision-making within the organization of the university. What is needed is decentralization of the university organizational structure so that decisions are also made at the lower rungs of the scale. Above all, what is needed is the principle of dissent and the right of opposition within the organization itself. The point is, a professor has a right to continue to be part of the university organization to which he devotes portion of his time and energy even if he dissents from or disobeys its policy directives.

It must be noted, however, that participatory democracy, though a general principle which guides or directs policy and action of the university, must be applied in concrete contexts if it is to take on meaning and force. There are numerous complexities which emerge when one attempts to do so. In other words, the levels of participation of individuals and the roles that they play in the organization of the university must be viewed in differential and prudential terms, always related to the functions and purposes of the university. For instance, participation of faculty and students has its limitations. Limitations are necessary to avoid confusion.