Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Johns Hopkins Administration Attempts to Outlaw Rudeness

We have posted before about institutional threats to free expression at Johns Hopkins University, home to one of the most renowned medical schools and teaching hospitals in the US. The story continues, as per the Johns Hopkins Newsletter,
Members of the Student Council (StuCo) expressed frustration with some of the University's newest policies concerning equality and respect in the workplace -- including those endorsed by President William Brody himself -- in a meeting with members of the administration Tuesday night.

The council met with administrators to discuss alleged ambiguities of the Principles for Ensuring Equity, Civility and Respect policy endorsed by Brody and the Johns Hopkins Committee on the Status of Women.

In a letter sent in Dec. to Susan Boswell, dean of Student Life, the Student Council expressed their confusion with the policy.

'How ought a student act in order to abide by this code? A student feels pressured to avoid communicating any idea that could be considered offensive in any way to anyone at any time ... this is counterintuitive to the nature of a research university, which should be a source of free, independent thought,' Student Council said in its letter.

The new principles are the basis for future policies and plans in hopes of promoting equity, equality, civility, and respect at Hopkins and throughout Baltimore. A commission chaired by Vice President of Human Resources Charlene Hayes and Chairman of the Department of Medicine Myron Weisfeldt has been organized to implement these principles.

'It's difficult to develop specific guidelines on rudeness, but there is common sense. We have to choose what's rude, disrespectful, and civil. That's our starting place,' Hayes said.

'One main question is rudeness versus racism,' another council member said. 'Where's the line that you draw that equals harassment?'

Student Council's frustrations centered on five of the principles established by the policy [including, in particular]:

- rude, disrespectful behavior is unwelcome and will not be tolerated

- every member of the community will be held accountable for creating a welcoming workplace for all
FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), a watch-dog with increasingly big teeth on behalf of civil liberties in academia, has kept on top of this case. Giving a university administration the power to punish students for "rude, disrespectful behavior," and enforce the creation of a "welcoming" workplace is antithetical to an academic mission that requires free enquiry. After all, disagreeing with someone else's facts, theories or ideology could be considered "rude" or "disrespectful." Honest disagreement may be interpreted as not being "welcoming."

Thus, for an academic administration to propose such a code of conduct is yet another example of mission hostile management.

Parenthetically, one wonders whether academic administrators who may be affected by conflicts of interest are particularly prone to favor speech codes that might discourage anyone from questioning their financial ties. We previously posted about the Dr Brody, the President of Johns Hopkins University, who also as a director has fiduciary responsibility for Medtronic Inc, a large manufacturer of medical devices. We wonder whether any Hopkins student or faculty member would dare publicly question the President's apparent dual allegiance, for fear of being branded "rude," "disrespectful," and failing to create a "welcoming" environment.

1 comment:

Joshua Daly said...

Definetly a conflict of interest. Once money becomes involved, stances and opinions begin to change.