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academic freedom

What is academic freedom?

there is too little understanding of what academic freedom means. It is not absolute and it is not the simple equivalent of “freedom of speech.” All citizens have, or should have, the latter, but only individuals who have specified educational and professional qualifications are entitled to academic freedom within universities. In the words of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), they are granted the “freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; freedom to engage in service to the institution and the community; freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works.”

Internet freedom


social media and freedom of speech

the use of social media, personal versus institutional, or personal in the context of an institutional repercussions, is a complex and thorny issue. How much can one criticize the institution in their personal social media? And if the institution responds, when does it become silencing the social media as expression of free speech?

Is the article below touching only a specific [political] issue, or academia, as an institution, goes beyond this issue in imposing on freedom of speech?

Why I Was Fired

My tweets might appear uncivil, but such a judgment can’t be made in an ideological or rhetorical vacuum. Insofar as “civil” is profoundly racialized and has a long history of demanding conformity, I frequently choose incivility as a form of communication. This choice is both moral and rhetorical.

Academics are usually eager to contest censorship and deconstruct vague charges of vulgarity. When it comes to defending Israel, though, anything goes.

Students are capable of serious discussion, of formulating responses, of thinking through discomfort. They like my teaching because I refuse to infantilize them; I treat them as thinking adults. My philosophy is simple: Teach them the modes and practices of critical thought and let them figure out things on their own.

Professors are often punished for disrupting convention in informal ways, however. My case is interesting because administrators ignored the de facto standards that regulate our behavior and exercised their power directly. This should be worrisome to any scholar who isn’t a sycophant.

The coming of “academic capitalism” has been anticipated and praised for years; today it is here.
Benjamin Ginsberg points out that in the past 30 years, the administrator-to-student ratio has increased while the instructor-to-student ratio has stagnated. The rise of untenured, or non-tenure-track, faculty exacerbates the problem; a significant demographic in academe lacks job security or the working conditions that allow them to maximize their pedagogical talent. Over a recent 10-year period, spending on administration outpaced spending on instruction. At American universities, there are now more administrators and their staffers than full-time faculty. In the past 10 years, administrative salaries have steadily risen while custodians and groundskeepers suffer the inevitable budget cuts — as do the students whose tuition and fees supplement this largess.

When so much money is at stake, those who raid the budget have a deep interest in maintaining the reputation of the institution. Their privilege and the condition of the brand are causally related. The brand thus predominates. Its predominance often arrives at the expense of student well-being.

critical thinking is a terribly undesirable quality in the corporate world, much more damning than selfishness or sycophancy. Let us then be honest about critical thinking: On the tongues of cunning bureaucrats, it is little more than an additive to brand equity, the vainglorious pomp of smug, uptight automatons who like to use buzzwords in their PowerPoint presentations.

Critical thinking by faculty is even more undesirable. In research institutions, we are paid to generate prestige and to amass grant money; in teaching-centered colleges, we enjoy excess enrollments according to fine-tuned equations that maximize the student-teacher ratio. (In elite liberal-arts colleges, we pamper the kids with simulations of parental affection.) Critical thinking is especially harmful to adjuncts, reliant as they are for income on the munificence of well-paid bosses who cultivate a distended assemblage of expendable employees.

more on social media in this IMS blog:

Hong Kong and technology

more on facial recognition in this IMS blog

more on surveillance in this IMS blog

Oculus Quest

VR Review: Here’s How Oculus Quest Compares With Go — Apps and All

By Jaime Donally (Columnist)     May 23, 2019

When the Oculus Go was first released, the educational apps were limited.

many more educational apps flooding the Oculus Experiences market

The Oculus Quest is mainly being marketed as an all-in-one VR gaming system, but I see much potential for classroom lessons.

The Oculus Go delivered a VR view, but the Oculus Quest provides us with interactions.

One major difference between the Quest and the Go is the lack of motion sickness with the new device.

The 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) provides mobility for the student to walk forward, backward, left, right, jump up and squat down. In other words, they can move around just like they would in real life.

The affordable starting price of $399 for 64 GB is comparable to other classroom devices, such as Chromebooks, laptops and iPads.

between the Quest and the Go is the high cost of the apps. By contrast, the majority of my Oculus Go apps were free.

more on Oculus in this IMS blog

Policy for Artificial Intelligence

Law is Code: Making Policy for Artificial Intelligence

Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene January 16, 2019

Twenty years have passed since renowned Harvard Professor Larry Lessig coined the phrase “Code is Law”, suggesting that in the digital age, computer code regulates behavior much like legislative code traditionally did.  These days, the computer code that powers artificial intelligence (AI) is a salient example of Lessig’s statement.

  • Good AI requires sound data.  One of the principles,  some would say the organizing principle, of privacy and data protection frameworks is data minimization.  Data protection laws require organizations to limit data collection to the extent strictly necessary and retain data only so long as it is needed for its stated goal. 
  • Preventing discrimination – intentional or not.
    When is a distinction between groups permissible or even merited and when is it untoward?  How should organizations address historically entrenched inequalities that are embedded in data?  New mathematical theories such as “fairness through awareness” enable sophisticated modeling to guarantee statistical parity between groups.
  • Assuring explainability – technological due process.  In privacy and freedom of information frameworks alike, transparency has traditionally been a bulwark against unfairness and discrimination.  As Justice Brandeis once wrote, “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.”
  • Deep learning means that iterative computer programs derive conclusions for reasons that may not be evident even after forensic inquiry. 

Yet even with code as law and a rising need for law in code, policymakers do not need to become mathematicians, engineers and coders.  Instead, institutions must develop and enhance their technical toolbox by hiring experts and consulting with top academics, industry researchers and civil society voices.  Responsible AI requires access to not only lawyers, ethicists and philosophers but also to technical leaders and subject matter experts to ensure an appropriate balance between economic and scientific benefits to society on the one hand and individual rights and freedoms on the other hand.

more on AI in this IMS blog

History of Syria

Syria: proxy theatre of war

Never in the interests of the ordinary citizen

The Syrian people’s uprising began as a struggle over social and economic conditions, a fight for democracy in place of repression. Now it has been hijacked by regional and global conflicts

Karim Emile Bitar 21 January 2019

If there is a constant in the history of the countries of the Levant, it is the conflict between the aspirations of their inhabitants for freedom, and the realpolitik that has led to the sacrifice of those aspirations to the geostrategic interests of foreign powers.

Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”

The Polish-born sociologist is skeptical about the possibilities for political change


Leeds University where he is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology.

his theory of liquid modernity in the late 1990s – which describes our age as one in which “all agreements are temporary, fleeting, and valid only until further notice” – he has become a leading figure in the field of sociology.

People no longer believe in the democratic system because it doesn’t keep its promises. We see this, for example, with the migration crisis: it’s a global phenomenon, but we still act parochially. Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence. The current crisis of democracy is a crisis of democratic institutions.

If you want more security, you’re going to have to give up a certain amount of freedom; if you want more freedom, you’re going to have to give up security. This dilemma is going to continue forever. Forty years ago we believed that freedom had triumphed and we began an orgy of consumerism.

The situation in Catalonia, as in Scotland or Lombardy, is a contradiction between tribal identity and citizenship. They are Europeans, but they don’t want to talk to Brussels via Madrid, but via Barcelona. The same logic is emerging in almost every country. We are still following the same principles established at the end of World War I, but there have been many changes in the world.

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control.

Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice

more on sociology in this IMS blog

Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa: “Political correctness is the enemy of freedom”

Besides writing prize-winning fiction, the Nobel Laureate has fought tirelessly for civil liberties. With his new book, ‘The Call of the Tribe,’ he promotes liberal thought and pays tribute to seven authors who embrace it. We talk to him about liberalism, intellectual blindness and the dangers facing democracy today

liberalism defends some basic ideas: freedom, individualism, the rejection of collectivism and nationalism – in other words, all the ideologies or doctrines that limit or annihilate freedom within society.

Nationalism is present, but my impression is that, as with Catalonia, it’s a minority and the strength of democratic institutions is going to gradually undermine it until it’s derailed.

I wanted to be a communist. I thought communism represented the antithesis of a military dictatorship, corruption and, above all, inequality.
But the communism in Latin America was pure Stalinism, with parties subject to the Comintern in Moscow.
Fidel invited myself and a dozen other intellectuals to speak to him. We spent the whole night, 12 hours, from eight in the afternoon to eight the next morning, basically listening to him speak. It was impressive, but not very convincing.

Blindly, intellectuals have always seen democracy as a mediocre system that lacked the beauty, perfection and coherence of the big ideologies. And this blindness is not incompatible with great intelligence. How could Heidegger, perhaps the greatest philosopher in recent times, for example, be a Nazi? The same happened with communism. It attracted writers and poets of great stature who applauded the Gulag. Sartre, the most intelligent French philosopher of the 20th century supported the Cultural Revolution in China.

In Latin America, if you weren’t a left-wing intellectual in the 1970s, you simply weren’t an intellectual. You were shut out. Culture was controlled by a left that was very clannish and dogmatic and that had a profound warping effect on cultural life

intelligence is not a guarantee of intellectual honesty.

In the case of misinformation and manipulation, communism was incredibly clever at distorting things, undermining honest people and masking lies with false truths that came to substitute reality.


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