Why is the university not necessarily a place of freedom?

When I first got into this business (academia), it appealed to me because it seemed to be a place where freedom of expression, learning, and innovation would naturally take place. However, I’ve recently been placed in the middle of some interesting politics within the world of academia. I am being exposed to the dark side of over-regulation and filtering, and it makes me ask the question, “Why?”

Fair warning – this post has a lot of questions with not too many answers. Please feel free to jump in with answers.

Why would we want to filter all content of our students? Why would it be so important to make sure that their blogs, websites, and other internet content is never seen by anyone outside the safe hub of their classroom? Aren’t we missing the point? Isn’t the point of the internet to make connections with people you otherwise would not make connections with? Yes. But I think the university gets too caught up in regulation and “safety” to see that point clearly.

And seriously? Have we no trust for our fellow humankind? Do I really believe that my fellow student will post porn and other adult content on his or her blog? Or could I take a risk and place my bet on students that they would rise to the occasion of a public domain  to express themselves intelligently? I believe most students will provide intelligent, well-thought out points to contribute to on-going class discussions. And as most social psychology research demonstrates, people act differently when being watched or monitored. So that porn you’re worried about – they’ll probably save that for when they’re by themselves anyway. But not everyone thinks this will be the case.

So what does it mean that higher education, the UNIVERSITY!, is not always a place of freedom and innovation. Perhaps it is the misunderstood bureaucracy I am dealing with, that I simply do not comprehend. But when returning to the question of why, I am always left with this answer: “fear.” Fear is quite a strong motivator. However, it rarely results in good outcomes. So I stand here, perhaps too fearless, hoping for the academic freedoms and trust in humankind to expect good things from blogging, connecting, and being a part of the online community.


About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

One response to “Why is the university not necessarily a place of freedom?

  • Hillary

    Hey Megan! I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. I think there will always be some friction in this situation between making the best possible situation for the students and keeping the parents of said students (in other words, the check-writers) happy. That leads to an interesting conundrum at a school with a religious affiliation. While of course I want to champion the rights of students (and also that “free speech” thing, in general), I can also, to a point, understand that Baylor doesn’t want a running news feed of blog posts about students questioning their sexuality and such. Where that leaves us? I don’t know.

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