Academic Freedom and Education vs. Learning

The link below is to an interview with Denis Rancourt on the Agenda. A bit of background is perhaps in order before proceeding.

Essentially, Denis Rancourt was dismissed from the University of Ottawa and is fighting the dismissal on grounds that it is politically motivated and baseless.

Denis Rancourt on the Agenda with Steve Paikin

Denis Rancourt’s situation is very, very interesting. I had heard about it but I didn’t get really tweaked onto it until today when it came up in discussion. also has an interview with Rancourt that reads pretty similarly.

I absolutely agree with Rancourt’s assertion that much of what is done in education does not foster learning. However, I think he takes it way, way too far and that he could find a happy medium between the extremes of his position and the current status quo.

See what Stanley Fish, a respected professor in the United States has to say about the situation:

It seems to me that Rancourt is a very intelligent individual and probably a very interesting professor but that he is far too radicalized and that he fails to see that he could adopt unconventional grading systems that support his pedagogy and foster learning at the same time. That may turn out to be oral examinations, specialized testing, whatever . . .

Fish links to an article on activism and academic squatting that Rancourt published that is quite incendiary. It is almost hard to believe that a university professor in Canada wrote it. It strains credulity to think that Rancourt thought that the university would not only condone but finance not only radical activism posing as teaching but also academic squatting and the advocacy of academic hijacking by students.

I think there is a place for activism but I am not sure that taxpayers should be footing the bill for indoctrination.

Stanley Fish is absolutely opposed to the indoctrination of students by academics and not very fond of sharing his opinion or hearing the students’ opinions on matters (if I recall his position correctly). Denis Rancourt is obviously passionately in favour of not only presenting his point of view but also of indoctrinating others into his way of thinking. I think that once again the bringing the best of both worlds together is probably going to get the best results for students.

Students should not be indoctrinated by their teachers and professors. They should be taught how to think originally and creatively. Teachers and professors should share their point of view and opinion as long as it is presented as such,  alternate points of view are given, thoughtfulness and discussion is stimulated and claims to final answers are avoided.

Rancourt’s colleagues were less than enthused about his approach:

“Mr. Rancourt and his supporters portray the dispute as an infringement of his academic freedom, suggesting the university attempted to muzzle him because he took an openly political stand in the classroom and pushed the limits of his teaching methods and course content.

His colleagues dismiss the argument, saying Mr. Rancourt broke the rules by straying so far from the curriculum the course no longer resembled what was approved. They argue the university is simply trying to ensure what gets taught in the classroom meets academic standards.

“We’re not complaining about the subject matter,” Mr. St-Amant said. “We’re very sympathetic to many of the causes that were brought up in the course. But it’s entirely inappropriate for a professor to just say, ‘Well, you know what? I was assigned this course, I don’t want to teach it. I think this other subject is more important.’ We just can’t have professors giving whatever course they want. There’s a procedure.”

Read the rest here:

U of O colleagues join critics of professor’s ‘activism course’

Education and learning are two very different things. This is a truly unfortunate reality and something needs to be done about it but I am not sure I can agree with Denis Rancourt’s methods and actions.

I am sure he would be a very interesting man to have a discussion with and if he restrained his wild activism I am sure he would be a superb teacher as well.

~ by notrous on April 17, 2009.

One Response to “Academic Freedom and Education vs. Learning”

  1. This is only part of the story. Denis Rancourt has not been honest about his true relationship with university president Allan Rock. Google ‘rockourt’ if you want the facts about this case.

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