In an Inside Higher Ed article entitled “The Right Not to Be Recorded,” the student group supporting the student who was suspended for recording an instructor’s class comments without the instructor’s consent claims that the college in question “is making a clear statement that it doesn't give a damn about its students and is completely in the pocket of the teachers' union.”

Which made me wonder:  is this a chicken vs. egg problem?  Which came first:  teachers’ unions or academic freedom?

I was a little discouraged to read this remark – to me it suggests that “academic freedom” means only the rights of instructors to say whatever they want, whether it pertains to the class at hand or not.  And those who choose to oppose those comments, be they students or the college, do so at their own peril, risking the wrath of the faculty union.  (Reminds me of a certain executive authority of a certain pre-eminent democracy, but that’s a post for another time.)

I remember when there was no such thing as higher education faculty unions.  Faculty were professionals, spending years gaining their to interact with expertise on a given subject in both the classroom as well as in research.  “Academic freedom” meant the freedom enjoyed by both students and instructors in the classroom, that both parties could challenge one another and still respect one another, without some third party (a college, a state, a political or economic point of view) trying to impose its agenda upon them.

From this adjunct faculty union member’s point of view, the very reason faculty unions came into being was, among other reasons, the best means available to keep third parties out of the classroom; student – teacher relationships demand nothing less.  When students or teachers unilaterally decide to make their classroom public without considering how that action will affect them, guess who wins?  Not students.  Not teachers.  Only the outsiders, imposing an agenda outside the scope of the class.

So I’m curious to know what you think.  What’s the independent variable here?  Does academic freedom make teachers’ unions possible?  Or do the unions make academic freedom possible?  Or is this a genuine chicken/egg dilemma?

I look forward to hearing from you.