New language expresses value for academic freedom
The UNLV Faculty Senate has adopted for the first time a written declaration of the university’s intent to foster civil discourse.
The “UNLV Statement of Civility,” which was accepted by a majority vote of faculty representatives at a meeting Tuesday, is a supplement to existing policy against hate crimes.
The text will appear on the provost’s website with the purpose of standing as a broad expression of principle.
“I was asked to look at what statement UNLV has around civility, and there is none,” Chair Cecilia Maldonado told the Senate in introduction to the request for approval.
Senate Executive Committee member John Filler said that university policy was amended to exclude “bias” from the statement disavowing hate crimes, leaving no language describing a policy of civility in UNLV policy documents.
“By its nature, it does not discuss any kind of speech issues,” said UNLV Vice President and General Counsel Richard Linstrom when explaining that the hate crimes policy only deals with criminal activity.
Unlike that document, the new statement of civility will not be actionable in the case of violation.
“There’s no way you could be disciplined for being uncivil because I don’t even know what civility is,” Linstrom said, explaining that the statement does not attempt to define “civil” but rather expresses a sense of value for whatever “civility” is.
“It’s really not policy,” Linstrom said. “It’s a statement.”
An ad-hoc subcommittee of the Senate Academic Freedom and Ethics Committee formed in 2009. On fostering a culture of civility, they drafted the statement in response to a charge issued by then-Senate Chair Filler on behalf of the Senate Executive Committee.
Filler asked the subcommittee in a statement to “investigate how other universities have defined and then acted to encourage tolerance, civility, understanding of differences and appreciation for the value of diversity in … teaching and research activities.”
The subcommittee was to avoid suggestion on how to punish incivility, in favor of focusing on strategies to build a civil academic environment.
Although the statement describes “the essential commitment to academic freedom and personal expression in their fullest manifestations” as “integral” to UNLV’s dedication to intellectual inquiry, the chief concern among senators who expressed skepticism about the statement dealt with what effect it could have on academic freedom.
Health sciences senator Gregory Ginn raised a concern based on comparing the American Association of University Professors’ conception of “collegiality” found in its “Redbook Policy Documents and Reports” to the proposed UNLV Statement of Civility.
“I couldn’t find anything about civility being part of the Redbook,” he said. “In fact, if anything, it says the opposite.”
Ginn pointed out that the AAUP policy does express value of civility toward students, but it also says “academic freedom often requires heated discussion.”
“And that doesn’t sound like they’re referring to civility,” Ginn said.
He further asserted that, as per the AAUP, a focus on the outcome of academic discussion, given a basic level of civility, will produce desirable results.
“So I am at a loss as to how this pertains to academic freedom,” Ginn said, “and frankly that’s all I care about.”
Linstrom explained that because an individual could not be punished based on the statement alone, it is unlikely to inhibit academic freedom.
But he implied that if the idea could be enforced, there might be a concern when it comes to academic freedom.
“I myself have not been able to find a way [to enforce the statement] that doesn’t ultimately impinge on academic freedom-type issues,” Linstrom said.
Filler explained that his intent in calling for the drafting of a statement was not to set up sanctions but to express a general will toward civility.
“It’s meant to make a statement that moves us somewhere,” he said, “even if it’s heightened sensitivity.”
Haley Etchison reports on the Faculty Senate for The Rebel Yell. Contact her at [email protected]
UNLV Statement of Civility
UNLV is dedicated to intellectual inquiry in its full depth, breadth, abundance, and diversity. Integral to this overarching duty is the essential commitment to academic freedom and personal expression in their fullest manifestations. We embrace the articulation of unpopular and unsettling ideas as an integral part of intellectual inquiry. To the extent it is consistent with the full pursuit of intellectual inquiry, UNLV fosters a civil, respectful, and inclusive academic community defined by a concern for the common good, by developing relationships and a culture that promotes the rights, safety, dignity, and value of every individual. A civil university community, consisting of faculty, staff, students, and external constituents, is vital to the pursuit of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative activity — appreciating what distinguishes us from one another while celebrating that which binds us together.