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In a written statement released yesterday, Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence elaborated on his earlier comments that administrators have no right to infringe on the academic freedom of the classroom.
Spence's statement addresses student charges that Winthrop Professor of History Stephan A. Thernstrom displayed racial insensitivity in some of his course lectures last semester. Spence first made his remarks at Tuesday's Faculty meeting, but did not allow the text to be quoted directly until yesterday afternoon.
"The relevant aspects of academic freedom...is that within their area of professional expertise, instructors exercise full discretion over the content of lectures and the conduct of classroom discussion," the statement reads. "This implies that the deans and other members of a Faculty are not empowered to take actions that qualify or abridge the freedom of faculty members to teach their courses."
"If there are disagreements about the contents of a course, then there isn't any formal role for the deans or anyone else," Spence said in an interview yesterday. "Academic freedom is the relevant principle as it extends to the field of expertise of the instructor."
Two of the three students who complained about Thernstrom's comments wrote Spence a letter earlier this week detailing their specific charges against the history professor,Spence said. Thernstrom still has not beenapprised of the specific charges.
Spence's statement says that Thernstrom hasbeen placed in "a difficult position" by thepublic nature of the charges and the lack of astatement to which he can respond. "At the moment,I am hoping that the students will write directlyto the faculty member," he said.
The charges against Thernstrom were first madepublic last month when the students brought theircomplaints about Thernstrom's lectures inHistorical Studies A-25, "The Peopling ofAmerica," to the Committee on Race Relations--anon-disciplinary, advisory body on race issues.
At the February meeting, Dean of the College L.Fred Jewett '57 and Dean of Students Archie C.Epps III advised the students to prepare and sendto Thernstrom in written form details of theircharges.
In his statement, the dean said he had"encountered...a number of misunderstandings aboutthe role of the Advisory Committee [on RaceRelations], the Dean of the Faculty and others inmatters such as this."
Spence, who is responsible for setting inmotion any disciplinary action taken againstfaculty members, said in yesterday's interviewthat he could play only an informal role inadjudicating disputes like the Thernstrom case.
The students making the complaint have refusedto comment since the charges were made public.Other students in Thernstrom's course, which heco-taught with Adams University Professor BernardBailyn, said the controversy stemmed fromThernstrom's comments about slavery, recent Blackhistory, the removal of Native Americans toreservations and the immigration of Hispanics andAsians
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