Teaching about climate change can be injurious to your academic freedom

By Gaythia Weis.

An uproar fanned by the right-wing media has left a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor and two instructors with quite a tightrope walk. The uproar involves an online humanities and environmental health class at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, entitled “Medical Humanities in the Digital Age.” The three faculty members (and others) may have to walk softly when teaching courses that may be a subject of public controversy. In my opinion, statements calling for “balance” (below) by a UC Board of Regents member and UC President Bruce Benson have potentially negative ramifications for academic freedom and the teaching of politically controversial material in a science-appropriate manner.

The controversy here originated with an e-mail sent by the professors indicating that the course would be based on science and would not be a forum for discussing other ideas, as reported by a Colorado Springs TV station:

The point of departure for this course is based on the scientific premise that human-induced climate change is valid and occurring. We will not, at any time, debate the science of climate change, nor will the “other side” of the climate change debate be taught or discussed in this course. This includes discussion among students in the discussion forums. Opening up a debate that 98 percent of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course. [Excerpt from email.]

It seems from this link that the professors’ response was a specific response to students worried about their grades in the class. (Note that the College Fix advertises itself as offering “right-minded news and commentary from across the nation.”)

This source is not one I’d usually quote, but it does indicate the involvement of one of the conservative UC Board of Regents members in the controversy:

John Carson, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, said he plans to make inquires Thursday about an email from three University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professors who advised students to drop the class if they dispute climate change.

“I have a lot of questions after reading this reported email sent to students,” Mr. Carson told The Washington Times. “We should be encouraging debate and dialogue at the university, not discouraging or forbidding it. Students deserve more respect than this. They come to the university to be educated, not indoctrinated.”

After Googling the professors involved, I see that they are now apparently under attack:

Thus, I offer you their emails along with a request that you politely send them links to information disputing the obvious hoax of man-made climate change:

Then again, you’re probably just pissing into the wind, as these three professors have already declared themselves to be cognitive idiots who are incapable of neuroplasticity (i.e.[,] learning anything new or expanding their knowledge in any way whatsoever). One of them also has a PhD! (I didn’t realize they were handing out PhDs for f–ktardery studies… hmmm…)

Moving forward in time, here is an article dated 9/8 that gives some data on an e-mail apparently sent by UC President Bruce Benson to UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. It would be interesting to read the entirety of this e-mail to see more about the context of “a little more balance”:

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson also wanted more “balance” from the professors. In an email The Colorado Independent obtained last week, Benson wrote to the regents about the email controversy. “I talked with Pam [Shockley-Zalabak, Chancellor of UCCS] about a variety of issues on her campus, including the faculty syllabus that has caused a stir recently,” he said. “I am not happy about it[,] and I shared that with Pam. While the issue falls squarely in the realm of academic freedom, it also seems that a little more balance would have helped.”

The Chancellor’s apology seems to me to have been carefully phrased and limited:

I am issuing an apology for the public concern that this has generated.

I can understand why Benson’s apparent e-mail to the Chancellor may have led her to feel the need to apologize. And, moving down the chain of command, she has now apparently told the professors teaching the course that their e-mail was “ill advised.” I frankly do not agree that it was ill advised. Progress in science education coursework cannot be made if time must be continually taken out to rehash basic underlying principles at the instigation of active denialists. Thus, it also seems to me that future directions have at least the potential to stray from remaining “squarely in the realm of academic freedom” and wandering off into denialism and politics. The Chancellor should have stood up for her faculty.