Indiana Commission For Higher Education In Academic Freedom Controversy

The Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education has approved a new policy related to research that has drawn a wave of criticism from regional campuses that say it would limit their academic freedom.

The commission’s policy, approved in October, states “regional campuses should limit research to scholarly activity related to faculty teaching responsibilities and research related to local and regional needs,” writes Carmen McCollum of The Times of Northwest Indiana.

According to Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, the policy was not designed to limit academic freedom at regional campuses. Lubbers says the commission has “no interest or legal authority to dictate policy to regional campuses.”

Regional campuses across the state raised concerns over the new policy saying that such a policy could hurt the quality and stature of teaching and research done at local campuses.

The Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne Senate leaders said the new policy limits free and open discourse.

They submitted a resolution November 11th that, in part, says: “BE IT RESOLVED, that the Indiana Commission for Higher Education be encouraged to amend the research focus to read, ‘Scholarly activities related to faculty teaching responsibilities and local and regional needs may be of special significance. However, the faculty at the Regional Campuses are protected by academic freedom and may pursue any variety of scholarly activities and research.’ ”

Lubbers said the new policy will be clarified. The language in the new policy was confusing and likely will be changed. According to her, she wrote an editorial and sent it to the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne revisiting the issue.

Lubbers, in her editorial, writes that the “Policy on Regional Campus Roles and Missions included several important changes designed to strengthen the state’s regional campuses, including opening the door for regional campuses to offer professional doctoral programs for the first time and to create new online and blended-learning courses that will provide more opportunities for innovative teaching and learning.”

According to Lubbers, the commission stands behind “our institutions’ right” to academic freedom. She wrote that “the state has no role or authority in determining the type of research activities taking place at Indiana colleges.”

“The commission’s policy was in no way intended to suggest otherwise, and we have publicly offered to clarify the language to prevent any further confusion about scholarly activity.”

Local university officials said they understand the policy language will be clarified. The commission’s policy statement contained some language that does not fully reflected the commission’s longstanding position on faculty research activities, according to John Applegate, Indiana University executive vice president for university academic affairs.

Karen Schmid, Purdue University North Central vice chancellor for academic affairs, said: “We understand that the Commission for Higher Education may be open to considering an amendment to the research section of the revised regional campus policy, and we welcome that.

Schmid said they are looking forward to working with Lubbers, her staff and the rest of the commissioners on language that would address concerns and clarify the importance of research at regional campuses.