John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Some Educators Risk Losing Their Lives

June 26, 2013huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

Recently I had the privilege of attending my favorite conference of my annual academic meeting cycle: the annual International Conference on the First-Year Experience. I have attended 26 of these now since 1986.  And I think what I like the best of these are the perspectives I get on the first year of higher education that I could never receive alone from my own fellow US higher educators.

At this year’s annual International Conference I learned that several first-year educators, in countries that will remain nameless to protect these educators, were risking their lives to be honest and authentic with their students.

For you see, these educators were citizens of countries that are dictatorships with secret police.  One is sure he/she is on a watch list already for statements made publicly to students. This person loves his/her country and envisions a future for the students that would permit a greater degree of personal and intellectual freedom than currently possible. And this educator has had the courage to speak openly to students. The other is married with children. This person has been active in protest demonstrations against the regime and realizes it could cost his/her life.

I have always been candid with my students in all matters and have pulled no punches with them when they inquired of my views on certain hot button topics. But my life was never in danger for my practice of academic freedom. I did lose my first academic job for speaking out, but that was in my early days in South Carolina in a faculty job at an institution where I did not have tenure. I could perhaps look at the tenure I eventually earned as a life saver, but not in the sense that these two educators would mean that. I so admired the strength of their convictions. Such interactions as these are only a few of many, many interactions at this meeting series that I have found very profound.

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