The University Record, April 24, 2000

Assembly Roundup

By Theresa Maddix

O’Keefe details Learning Technology Initiative

Media Union Director Barbara O’Keefe spoke on the Learning Technology Initiative April 17 at the Senate Assembly meeting. The Initiative seeks to improve teaching and learning by diffusing Web-based technology throughout the curriculum.

“It’s very valuable,” O’Keefe said, “for our students to encounter technology in practice in the course of their education.”

While many other universities have separate courses to introduce students to cutting-edge technology, “we’ve gone a different route,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve tried to figure out how to get faculty to use cutting-edge technology and continually apply and update technology in their discipline, so that students are constantly encountering exciting and creative new applications of technology.”

The initiative focuses on three areas: course Web sites, multimedia and learning interchanges.

UM.Coursetools, introduced widely last fall, provides faculty members with an easy and uniform means to publish course Web sites. Instructor’s Web sites can include announcements, resources, discussion spaces and a syllabus. They offer faculty the option of a paperless course. In some courses last fall all assignments were made through UM.Coursetools and students were required to submit all of their work electronically on the course Web site. Other courses have posted class lecture notes and provided links to readings, rather than requiring students to purchase a coursepack.

To begin using UM.Coursetools, instructors log on to their workspace (all faculty have space set aside whether they use it or not) and click on “Create a Course.” Following completion of an onscreen form, the user selects “Create Site.” Within 20 seconds the site is complete. The home page includes a course description and buttons to take faculty and students to UM.Coursetools services.

Clipboard is a multimedia application that will be available this fall allowing lecturers to easily record lecture audio in sync with PowerPoint slides. Clipboard will be as easy to use as a tape recorder.

Learning interchanges are still in a planning phase of the Learning Technology Initiative, O’Keefe said. Tailored, really good education technology written for one field of study is very expensive to create but cheap to reproduce. Learning interchanges will develop means to recover the cost of these programs, possibly by sharing the software with other universities.

Free speech focus of statements

Issues surrounding Michigamua were discussed at the April 17 Senate Assembly meeting. Reading prepared statements were Wilfred Kaplan, professor emeritus of mathematics; Robert E. Megginson, associate professor of mathematics; and J. David Velleman, professor of philosophy. For a full text of prepared statements, click here.

Below are excerpts of statements.

From Kaplan:

“After reading the reports in The University Record about the Michigamua episode, I have concluded that the main issue is one of free speech. (I am aware that some have found the main issue to be the assignment of a meeting place to the society; I find that to be a technical question in need of study, but am sure that the question would be of very little interest if the group using the room were, say, a mathematics club.)

“I was a member of Senate Assembly in the 1980s when the University was developing its speech code. The discussion was very difficult. Complaints had been made of harassment on account of race, and the faculty was strongly motivated to support efforts to counteract it. Eventually the code was adopted by the Regents. I quote from it:

‘After a thorough review of the issue, the University of Michigan has determined that it needs to intervene in speech when a student intentionally uses racial, ethnocentric or sexual invectives, epithets, slurs or utterances directly to attack or injure another individual rather than express or discuss an idea, ideology or philosophy. Such attacks go beyond the boundaries of protected free speech. In those instances, the University must protect the educational environment of the University.’

“If that code were in effect today, it would surely be cited by those who have been criticizing Michigamua and the University would be carefully investigating whether a violation had occurred.

“However, the speech code was found to be unconstitutional in 1989 because, despite the efforts to be within the law, it had violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“From what I know of the Michigamua story, essentially all involved recognize that the ancient customs of that society were offensive to some other groups and that a change in these customs was much to be desired. It is my impression that Michigamua accepts this and that their actions will eliminate the distress caused in the past. In other words, it appears that a form of education has occurred. However, I regret that disruption was used to achieve that education and hope very much that it can be avoided in the future. The best way to discourage it is for all of us to display strong and continual support for the attitudes: no harassment, no discrimination, only tolerance.”

From Megginson:

“The issue about the tension that arises between our desire to create and preserve a comfortable campus climate for all, while still honoring our dedication to academic freedom and Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression, is certainly a difficult one, but I do not believe that the principles are at all incompatible.”

Megginson provided three examples of blatant discrimination against Native Americans from campus student newspapers: two from the Michigan Daily and one from the Michigan Every Three Weekly. Most recently, from the Michigan Daily editorial page, the headline “There are worse things than Apaches.”

“My point is not just that such things happen. It is that when such things do happen, silence from the rest of the greater campus community is implicit affirmation of the value of the speech, and that, even more than the original speech, is what helps create an atmosphere that the students who are the targets of the speech will interpret as hostile.

“Members of our community did contact the editors about this, and about previous cartoons with Native American stereotypes. We received the usual response: a lecture about the freedom of the press.

“Of course, such a response misses the point since the right to print such things does not imply the obligation to do so. Even if an editorial staff is uncomfortable with what they might see as internal censorship, there is nothing preventing them from running a notice beside such an effort saying the opinions and attitudes expressed are not endorsed by the editorial staff.

“It would help the comfort level of many groups on this campus if we, the faculty and administrators of this great University, could do precisely the same thing. Because of the principle of academic freedom and Constitutionally guaranteed rights of expression, we cannot, and should not, prohibit people from saying and writing such things as I have mentioned. However, if we would also exercise our own freedom to respond, by saying individually and, where appropriate, as a faculty and institutionally, that the opinions and attitudes you are hearing from this individual or group are not generally shared by the rest of us, then the students or others targeted by those opinions and attitudes will be far more likely to be able to deal with them than if we implicitly endorse those opinions and attitudes by our silence.

“It will also force the speakers to think about whether their speech is based on deeply held beliefs or is merely thoughtless.”

From Vellemann:

“Obviously, there are particular instances of expression on the subject of race and ethnicity that do considerable harm and contribute nothing of value to the conversation. The academic community would be better off without these instances of expression. The problem comes when we try to rule them out, through measures of discipline, formal or informal. For we cannot rule out these egregious instances of expression without establishing formal or informal rules, which speakers can obey only by making sure that they understand what they’re about to say before they say it. We end up making it unsafe to engage in unguarded discourse about the topic—unsafe to brainstorm about it, to experiment with it, to let our artistic imaginations loose on it. We are consequently reduced to mouthing approved pieties and platitudes. We are already close to that point on this campus, but we should draw back from it, if we can.”