Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Freedom of Speech

Posted by Pamela Urfer

I was an undergrad at Berkeley at the time of the Free Speech Movement (1964 - 65.) This Free Speech was not about shouting four-letter words from the steps of Sproul Hall, as most people think. This was about the freedom to say “I am, or was, a member of the Communist Party,” and not lose your job.

One result of the Joe McCarthy witch hunts during the 50s was a clause in the California constitution that required all state employees, which included all UC system employees - from students who worked in the cafeteria, as I did, to the more exalted faculty and staff - to sign a “loyalty oath” to the United States of America. Those who wouldn’t sign, couldn’t get hired, and those who did but lied about their political affiliations, were guilty of a felony if they were found out. And there were many people busily trying to find out which of the profs at Berkeley were secretly “pink.”

We don’t usually think of the right to proclaim “I am a Communist” as the true meaning of free speech, but that’s pretty much what it boils down to. Professors get tenure just so that they can’t be fired if it turns out they have a political affiliation not currently in favor with the administration.

Or a religious affiliation.

These days, being a communist is a plus on the resume of anyone applying for a teaching job at a UC campus. But what about being a Christian? At the UCSC campus, with a faculty of 1500, there are perhaps ten self-defined Christian faculty. Or, rather, ten who are willing to let their affiliation be known. If there are others, and it’s hard to believe there aren’t more than ten out of fifteen hundred, they are keeping a very low profile. Very low.

And why is that? Why are they reluctant to let their religious affiliation be known?

Because they might get fired.

And why would they get fired?

Perhaps because they hold views that other faculty and staff find problematic: that not everything can be explained by science; that the universe is not a closed system; hat transcendence is real.

Even if I were not a Christian myself, this kind of small-mindedness would bother me. There was a time when Jews were not allowed (often by Christians) into the Academy. I hope that if I had been in a position of authority then, I would not have tolerated that prejudice. If American-Indians were being denied jobs (by Christians) because of their beliefs, I would not look the other way. Just as I did during my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement (I was pretty busy in the 60s,) I would have protested such bigoted restrictions.

Perhaps this new prejudice is some kind of perverse pay-back, giving Christians a “taste of their own medicine.” That’s also very small-minded, but I suspect it’s not the Jews and American-Indians who are setting these standards. Those same someones who won’t hire Christians, also won’t allow those already in the faculty teach any subject that hinges on Christian belief, so that First Century history and philosophy courses can only be led by atheists - just as Spanish is always taught by musicians and geology by literature professors.

The mantra these days is that the university is supposed to be about diversity - we value those with ideas that are not ours, so that we can learn something new. But here’s the question: Do those with Christian viewpoints have nothing to teach us? Or are we afraid of what they might say? Can those Christians at UCSC who are still in the closet come out at last and say with pride, and with no fear of losing their lab funding, “I am a Christian?”

What sort of message does this situation send students? “We value diversity, as long as we approve of it. If you’re already a Christian, you had better change your mind if you want a job in academia. And if you aren’t, don’t even think about it! We have a quota at this campus, and it’s 1:150.”

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