"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing," the bard wrote in Subterranean Homesick Blues when some of us were stretching our minds and pushing boundaries of custom and law while getting an education on campus.
Nothing was off-limits. War, peace, love, hate, race, speech, art, sex all spilled into classrooms and campuses, the media and even the church. The discussion was fully engaged and frequently rancorous.
People expressed their views, protested and even went to jail for equal rights, and free speech.
I wonder if Bob Dylan of the early 60's would be allowed to sing or think aloud his thoughts on campuses today.
Would Deans, Provosts or college Presidents permit a professor to teach of a few words spoken about civil disobedience;
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus---and you've got to stop it! And you're got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it---that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
Mario Savio said that to 4000 people on the UC Berkeley campus, sparked a sit in and the arrest of 800 students. It was the high atmospheric turbulence of the Free Speech Movement in 1964.
Other winds blow today. Free speech, even humor, is "canceled." Freedom of expression and to incite thought is increasingly stifled, it might upset or disturb.
It is a weird mirror opposite of the way it was. Now professors and teachers are fired because those young minds they seek to teach take offense. Today the student has become the heavy.
In decoding the intellectual tyranny haunting academia and popular culture we are forced to face, to quote David Byrne, it is " the same as it ever was." There is a circular nature to this that is troubling.
Savio was among a group of students who had been busy in the south trying to register black voters, facing all the hate and violence that came with that effort back then.
When they returned to their northern campuses, including Savio's Berkeley, efforts to raise money for the voters registration and civil right organizations had been banned. The fuse was lit.
Despite all that ensued in the intervening half century, schools buckle to pressure from right and left and every garden variety special interests that is either loud or financially empowering to assert a censorship on speech and thought. It is a wave that teachers, adjunct professors, contract lecturers especially and those who are on the tenure track find difficult navigate.
Tom Nichols nails it. He's a respected security and weapons analyst who spent 35 years as a professor. He recently used an Atlantic column to dissect the dismissal of an adjunct professor who, with warning, showed students in a global art history class an image from the 14th century of the Prophet Muhammad. She offered any student who did not want to view it an an opportunity to leave class.
In the resulting furor the school's president, Faynese Miller, questioned that academic freedom was at issue and questioned if academic freedom was sacrosanct or should be put above students own views and traditions.
This makes no sense. The “rights” of students were not jeopardized, and no curriculum owes a “debt” to any student’s “traditions, beliefs, and views.” (Indeed, if you don’t want your traditions, beliefs, or views challenged, then don’t come to a university, at least not to study anything in the humanities or the social sciences.) Miller’s view, it seems, is that academic freedom really only means as much freedom as your most sensitive students can stand, an irresponsible position that puts the university, the classroom, and the careers of scholars in the hands of students who are inexperienced in the subject matter, new to academic life, and, often, still in the throes of adolescence.
This, as I have written
elsewhere, is contrary to the very notion of teaching itself. (It is also not anything close to the bedrock 1940 statement
on the matter from the American Association of University Professors.) The goal of the university is to create educated and reasoning adults, not to shelter children against the pain of learning that the world is a complicated place. Classes are not a restaurant meal that must be served to students’ specifications; they are not a stand-up act that must make students laugh but never offend them. Miller is leaving the door open for future curricular challenges.
Yes, we know the way the wind is blowing. Poet Dylan was particularly precocious with another line from Subterranean Homesick Blues.....
"The pump don't work cause vandals stole the handles..."
Free thought and speech are the pump handles of intellectual
progress. That chill that blows comes in on winds of repression and it bears a thief who seeks to steal your right to exercise and speak your mind.
See you down the trail.