“That’s Academic Freedom.”

When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school I was under a false assumption. I believed that I was in school to learn. I believed that in school I was to learn about math, English, history, public speaking, and the like. I believed that by learning these things, I would be a better person; that I would be a learned person. I also believed that my teachers were there to teach me. I was under the impression that I my teachers, being wiser and more learned that I, would impart to me their great wisdom and I would be better because of it. Now, obviously this is an idealistic exaggeration of what I really thought. I had bad teachers. I was in classes where just getting through the class without muttering, “I hate this,” to myself was a good day. But whatever my belief of what school was supposed to be about was, it was shattered this week when I learned about a new concept - Academic Freedom.

“Academic Freedom.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Maybe it conjures up images of education being available to all. Or perhaps you see yourself being able to choose whatever classes you want. Or maybe you know what “Academic Freedom” really is, and you don’t have such bogus ideas racing through your head. I was certainly disillusioned this week when I finally learned the definition to this term.

Academic Freedom refers not to a student’s freedom, but rather the instructor’s. This freedom gives the instructor the freedom to teach with whatever methods they choose, to structure the class the way they choose, etc. I also found out this week that it allows instructors to screw their students over however they choose.

This last semester I was enrolled in 3 classes. In one of my classes we received a packet that contained seven sheets of paper with 22 questions on each page, with the difficulty of the questions increasing in magnitude as they moved down the page. Each page covered one chapter out of the book. These questions were used to review for the chapter tests. If one understood the material on the sheet, he/she would likely do fine on the test.

All of this was fine until we took our final oral exam. In this exam we were asked questions orally, and we answered the questions orally. This was fine. I did not even fear the exam until I discovered how the material to be tested was to be chosen.

As each student approached the table in front of the instructor, he or she would choose a note card from a stack of 44 that were laid face down on the table. On this note card was a number from 1 to 20 (I believe. I did not see any other numbers, however I have no reason to doubt that they ranged from 1 to 20). This number on the note card was used to determine which questions the student was asked. And where did these questions come from? You guessed it, our seven-page packet. Each number corresponded to a question on the sheets. If a student chose the number 6 (through the random selection of a card), he or she would receive question 6 from chapters 1 through 7, as well as questions 8, 9, and 10 from chapter 7, to total 10 questions.

Thus each student was unfairly given a final whose difficulty varied greatly from other students. The students who received 1 scored better than those who chose 19 (such as myself) scored rather poorly (to say the least). Note: In my efforts to prove my point to the administration, they would not grant me my request of knowing how others scored, even anonymously.

Being rather disturbed by these events I went through the channels presenting my story, informing the suits of the college that I was treated unfairly. My instructor predictably defended himself and his actions. Then I went to a dean. After overcoming the initial intimidation that I felt in the presence of the dean, I shared with him my story. He tended to agree with me - he seemed to agree that I had a point. But then I heard words that previously I had not known.

“I can’t really do anything. I can see your point, but he has academic freedom. As long as the material you are tested on was taught during the course, you can be tested however the instructor chooses.” He went on to say, “Even material that you are not taught, but are told to know. For instance, if your history teacher said, ‘you have to know the last three chapters’ but did not go over them in the book. Those would still be fair game. The instructor can test his/her students however he/she chooses.”

At this point the blood drained from body. Then I soaked it back up by means of diffusion just in time for it to boil as my body temperature rose to well over 300 degrees.

I was (and still am) appalled! An instructor can screw over his or her students, causing them to have to retake a class (which is what I have to do because I can’t afford that C on my transcript for scholarship reasons) all because he/she has academic freedom! So here I am out $120 for the class and another $50 or so for the books. Not only this, but all future employers will have the ability to see that I received a C in this course.

These are all annoyances, but nothing bothers me more than the fact that inept teachers can waste a student’s entire semester and hide safely under the blanket of “Academic Freedom.”

I used to believe that academia was about learning, about students being taught. I was wrong. Academia is about making your salary while doing the least amount of work possible. Academia is not about students; it is about money, fame, and power.

As disheartening as this experience was, I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to all teachers who teach because they believe that students attend class to learn. Thank you all for teaching. Without you I would have no hope whatsoever. To all of you please keep teaching. Keep preparing those lessons and trying to cram that wisdom of yours into our heads. We may complain about our exams, but deep down, we really do want to learn.

Note: I retook the class from another instructor the following semester and received and ‘A.’