A correspondent of mine who is a professor at a prominent public research university emailed me about this article in a mandatory online training he had to go through:
When he replied “Sometimes” he got the answer “Not quite” https://reason.com/ “You might be surprised to learn that false reports are not common and frivolous claims almost do not exist. Study it is far more likely that disruptive behavior is not reported as someone creating the wrong report. Please try again. “
He could not continue until he gave the requested answer, which is “rare”.
Now universities, like other employers, have the right to require their employees to be trained on a variety of procedures, whether it be safety, financial transactions, legal compliance, or managerial responsibilities. And they are allowed to test the employees to make sure they know the rules.
But especially at a university that rightly protects – and indeed demands – the intellectual independence and honesty of its faculty, such questions should not require faculty members to provide answers that they believe to be wrong. You should also avoid using vague terms such as “sometimes” or “seldom”. (In fact, the question would be a bad multiple choice question in virtually any context, precisely because “sometimes” and “seldom” are undefined, even in an approximate sense.)
If the university wants to ask, “What percentage of the allegations are false according to the studies cited in this module?” And then need an answer that reflects the study, I consider that to be acceptable. But I think it is wrong to require a faculty member to believe a fact in a situation where the facts are highly controversial (as they are for something difficult to measure, such as false accusation percentage). And it is doubly wrong to ask a faculty member that there is one vague answer (“rarely”) instead of another (“sometimes”).
I think the same way about student exams, of course: I think you can rightly ask a student to report what the material taught in class indicates, but I shouldn’t test students on what they really believe about controversial subjects. This can sometimes be a vague line (although this can be made clearer by clearly worded questions or statements about exam material), and sometimes it can be a hard line for courts to enforce, even in public universities that are bound by First Change Restrictions on forced language. But there is an important line that universities, whether public or private, that advocate academic freedom must respect.
In this case, the faculty member wrote to the President, Provost, Dean, Chair of the Faculty’s Senate, Chair of the Academic Freedom Committee of the Faculty, and Director of the Equal Opportunities and Positive Action Office:
Today I tried to complete the educational module “Preventing Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination and Retaliation”. The last email I received about this training stated, “This module is a priority for the university and is a required work expectation for all employees. More importantly, this module is the right thing to complete.”
I disagree on this last sentence. In fact, I cannot in good conscience complete it, nor should any faculty member at this university do it as it violates academic freedom.
In order to continue training in particular, I have to give the only “correct” answer to a question in several places. If such questions were only whether the trainee had understood university policy, a legitimate goal of the university, I would have no problem. However, you are not limited to this goal. Instead, the aim of the training is to get the user to agree to statements about the world in general that the university cannot require of the faculty.
At the moment I’m stuck in Module 8, Measures against Retaliation, Skills Workshop. Here I am presented with a section called “How common are false allegations?” Presented. First, the section contains some information
[Here the e-mail includes the image I copied above. -EV]
Then it asks a question:
[Likewise, see the image above. -EV]
If I press “all the time” or “sometimes” I get the answer
[Again, see above. -EV]
More importantly, however, I can’t go on. Training can only be continued if you press the answer “Rarely”.
Here is my sincere answer, “Sometimes” or “I don’t know”. I understand that the Office for Equal Opportunities and Positive Action claims the answer is “rare” but I am not being tested here for my understanding of what that Office is claiming. As a condition for continuing education, I have to agree to an assertion that I do not agree with.
I am a full faculty member at a public university in the United States, not the Soviet Union. I refuse.
It looks like the university is actually asking the provider (EverFi) who created the module to revise the structure of their questions. I will report more when I learn more.