A Struggle for Academic Freedom When There Is Total Noise

By Susan S. Reilly.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: October 8, 2015 $US5.00

After a spring semester plagued by political and religious controversy, the president of Florida Atlantic University resigned in May 2013. In an interview titled, “Florida Atlantic U. Chief Cites Crushing Media Scrutiny in Resignation”, in www.chronicle.com, the former president described being “caught off guard” by escalating social media attention and a blogosphere that can “construct a narrative that may be faulty.” She continued “people have to think about what it’s going to mean for big public universities in an era of social media – what can and cannot be controlled.” The controversies that plagued the former president “went viral” in the social media and ended up on FOX News, CNN, and Comedy Central. The attention resulted in a deluge of cyber-criticism from people who perceived the controversies as threats to their moral, political, and religious points of view. The former president was not the only casualty; the faculty members whose actions were negatively critiqued suffered serious damage to their professional reputations. Florida Atlantic University is not the only public university struggling with controversies that quickly spread across the new social media landscape followed by the mainstream media. This paper compares recent experiences at three public universities (Florida Atlantic University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and University of Colorado at Boulder) where academic freedom was put to the test by what novelist David Foster Wallace called "total noise" – a tsunami of available fact, opinion, context, and perspective.

Keywords: Academic Freedom, Cyber-Criticism, Academic Leadership

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 8, Issue 4, December 2015, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: October 8, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 422.449KB)).

Dr. Susan S. Reilly

Professor, School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, USA


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