The core function of education is to prepare students to engage critically with the world around them. Often, that means addressing difficult and contentious topics, even when doing so may be uncomfortable.
The Maricopa County Community Colleges District strives to create an environment of respectful engagement where students and faculty can express their own views and learn from others, where all members of the community are welcome and the utmost freedom of inquiry is encouraged.
Last week, posts surfaced on social media raising concerns about three questions on a quiz given in a World Politics course at Scottsdale Community College.
The questions were taken out of context from a unit examining violent political and social movements, and the subject they addressed — the reliance of certain violent groups on religious texts as a justification for their actions — was within the scope of the course.
Because the questions were taken out of context, individuals not involved in the class, who viewed the quiz questions posted on social media, drew conclusions about the content of the course.
Based on those conclusions, concerns were raised about whether the questions are consistent with the District’s values of tolerance and inclusion of all persons, regardless of their faith or background. Some individuals went further and made threats against the faculty member involved.
To the extent any concerns have been raised by students involved in the course, those concerns have been addressed by direct communication between the faculty member and the student.
However, in light of the public discussion of this situation, it is important that the District clarify in this sphere what its values are.
Education at our institution is open to all individuals regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds, and we will not tolerate the exclusion of any person based on what they do or do not believe.
However, we also expect our students and faculty to engage fully with the ideas and perspectives of others, even when they disagree with each other.
That said, I am troubled by what appears to be a rush to judgment in how the college responded to the controversy and the apparent failure to follow policy and procedure in addressing both the student’s concerns and the faculty member’s rights.
I apologize, personally, and on behalf of the Maricopa Community Colleges, for the uneven manner in which this was handled and for our lack of full consideration for our professor’s right of academic freedom.
To avoid rushing to judgment a second time, I am announcing the immediate independent investigation of the facts related to this situation. I expect this to be completed with all deliberate speed. Upon conclusion of the investigation, I will ensure appropriate accountability wherever any failures occur.
Also, to clear up misinformation, the MCCCD Governing Board is not currently involved in an investigation of the professor, nor does it plan to initiate one. Furthermore, it is important to note that the faculty member involved is not in jeopardy of losing his position.
Today, I am announcing the formation of the Committee on Academic Freedom, to be led by Provost Karla Fisher with members identified by the end of the week, to champion academic freedom education and training and to resolve academic freedom disputes in the hope of ensuring this fundamental academic value is better understood and realized alongside our longstanding commitment to the value of inclusion.
Steven R. Gonzales, Ed.D., interim chancellor for the Maricopa County Community College District, issued this statement May 10. Learn more at maricopa.edu.