Legitimate Limits on Free Expression

I was thinking about freedom of speech, the thinks we want to say, the things we are allowed to say, and things we finally say! I found a chapter by Deni Elliot  which was about freedom of expression in higher education and its limitations.

He argues that freedom in speech is not absolute and we are legally, ethically and conventionally constrained from saying/writing the words which have the potential to harm individuals or society, to create horror in public spaces, to incite riots and to advocate the violent overthrow of the government. Since colleges and universities are communities with the specific goal of transmitting and advancing knowledge among a more diverse group of people, these restrictions change into a new form. In my opinion universities, as places for encouraging democracy and citizenship, must be more tolerable and more flexible toward critics and questioning of university policies and administration.

A diversity of expression should be encouraged by higher education even if they seem to be false or in opposition with majority, since if the opinion is considered right, after expression there is a chance for exchanging error for enhanced reality; if wrong, a clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error will emerge. By diversity of expression, we still emphasize on the golden rule of not causing pain to individuals within community, except for especial occasions such as sexual harassment. What I personally believe is that freedom of expression should be limited solely in case it directly subverts or abridges the rights of others.

Resource

  • May, W. W., & American Council on Education (Eds.). (1990). Ethics and higher education. New York: Toronto : New York: American Council on Education : Macmillan Pub. Co. ; Collier Macmillan Canada ; Maxwell Macmillan International.

Humanities and Real-World Needs!

I was reading Dan Edelstein’s piece about how humanities can contribute to knowlege economy. He argues that increased innovation and entrepreneurship skills are two main practical results of studying humanities. While he tries to justify how humanities can be beneficial to the real-world economy and development, I believe without humanistic training most of our solutions to problems will be technical and very likely “unsustainable”.

To support my argument, I provide an example from development world. Consider a situation in Afghanistan, where experts (from medical and engineering fields) find out that in a certain village, access to tap water is limited and women have to come out of their houses for washing dishes, clothes and etc. SO the experts say: They do not have access to water, we will give them tap water! With the help of international funds and thanks to their expertise, the NGOs provide every house in the village with clean tap water.

After a week or two, the NGO members observe that women are again frequenting to the wells instead of using the water at home! After investigating and interviewing with the “final users” the experts understand “finally” that going to wells, is the only way for these women to communicate with their outside world. These women do not want to use the tap water by paying the heavy price of missing the opportunity to go out of their houses and to mingle with other women! In this example, if the NGO leaders and experts had integrated people with humanities background, the process would have probably taken another form. One would have probably asked in the first place, what is the “problem” and from whose perspective? Based on the real consumers’ culture, history, religion and even language how we should address such problem.

In conclusion, I believe more than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation as Edelstein mentions, humanities practical value in real-world projects is in their close and deep understanding of “humans” as the final goal of many projects seeking to bring “positive change”/ increasing quality of “life”!

The Only Thing I would I have change in Higher Education

When I was asked what is the “one” thing you would like to change about higher education, tens of issues and questions came to my mind. To make everything easier I narrow down this question to a certain context and from a certain perspective. I consider to answer this question in the context of United States. To think about one thing to change in higher education it is important to know from whose point of view; students, professors or other stakeholders? Here I look at the issue at hand as a student.

In thinking about this question I acknowledge that I try to be aware of my privileges and limitations as an able-bodied non-white, middle-class female from a Muslim country in Middle-east, with English not being my first language. One of the thing that I really like to be changed in higher education, is its perspective towards humans as robots who have to be trained for doing their small jobs perfectly.

According to Henry Giroux the “historical legacy” of the university conceived “as a crucial public sphere” has given way to a university “that now narrates itself in terms that are more instrumental, commercial and practical.”   We are specializing our higher educations so much that everyone are experts of their small silos! I think the reason behind that is that in our neo-liberal world, the more we narrow the concentrations in the fields the easier we can get rid of “inefficient” workers in the system. While inter-disciplinary projects are getting more and more prominent in higher education discourse, aside from how really they integrate the knowledge of different academic disciplines, still it does not respond to lack of holistic view at individual level.

Even in my field, urban planning, which is considered to be interdisciplinary, yet we are so focused on our own concentration (transportation, urban economy, environment,and etc.) that we really cannot think about the projects/decisions in a multifaceted way, while in reality, cities are multifaceted entities. My point is, although we need experts to solve “technical” issues, however, more importantly we need people who knows how to think more broadly about problems and their deeper roots. Universities, specially in higher education must move towards more interdisciplinarity instead of training unidimensional automatons.

 

Source

Giroux H.A. (2010) Academic Unfreedom in America. In: Carvalho E.J., Downing D.B. (eds) Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era. Education, Politics, and Public Life. Palgrave Macmillan, New York