Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows Program Helps Students Understand Principles of Academic Freedom

Roger Bowen is no stranger to controversy on campus. In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “Why Academic Freedom Should Be Covered at Freshman Orientation,” the CIC senior advisor and director of the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program recounted a number of experiences as president of SUNY New Paltz in which he was pressured to take a more conservative approach to campus programming and faculty hiring. Applying the lessons he learned as a college president, his recommendation today is for college leaders to reintroduce and reinforce the principles of academic freedom across campus. Bowen wrote, “In brief, students who understand the principles of academic freedom and who put them into practice will help create a vibrant teaching and learning culture, one that welcomes outside speakers whose ideas may differ from their own and that encourages debate instead of censorship.”

The Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program, under Bowen’s leadership, is a simple, cost-effective way to put these principles into practice on college and university campuses. Through a week-long residential program of classes, seminars, workshops, lectures, and informal discussions, Fellows help students create better understanding and new connections between the academic and nonacademic worlds.

The University of Findlay (OH) used the expertise of two Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows to help students explore the controversial topic of teaching evolution in the sciences. The open forum was led by Fellow Jay B. Labov, an organismal biologist by training who serves as senior advisor for education and communication for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and Fellow Richard B. Katskee, the legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State who previously served as deputy director of the Program Legal Group in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where he led the development of policy initiatives to implement federal antidiscrimination laws in U.S. schools, colleges, and universities.

While on the Findlay campus, Labov became enamored of a collection of children’s book illustrations at the campus’s Mazza Museum. He noted that even in pop-up children’s books there is an interplay of art and science. Labov spearheaded an effort to bring the unique images back to the National Academies of Science (NAS). The exhibit, “Igniting the Imagination,” opened in March 2017 and featured 29 pieces of artwork that explore the worlds of science, engineering, and medicine. The exhibition, recently highlighted by the Smithsonian magazine, is on view at the NAS Building in Washington, DC, until August 7.

Participants discuss workhsop topic seated at a roundtable
(left to right) Jay B. Labov; Richard B. Katskee; Callie Crossley

The Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows’ diverse roster of more than 125 distinguished professionals allows campuses to develop activities that match their own programming. Fellow Callie Crossley is a journalist and radio show host who has received multiple journalism and film awards, most notably for her work on the acclaimed documentary series, Eyes on the Prize, which earned her an Oscar nomination, a National Emmy, a Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). In February 2018, in recognition of Black History Month, Crossley will visit Dominican University (IL) as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow in conjunction with The HistoryMakers, the largest existing archive of oral histories of influential Black Americans. She will host a “virtual residency week” during which multiple faculty members across disciples will be encouraged to incorporate elements of the archive in their course work.

The Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program is designed to make high-impact programming accessible. Institutions pay a set fee to CIC, and CIC covers the Fellow’s honorarium, primary travel, and other incidental expenses. Institutions are responsible for providing lodging and meals for Fellows while they are on campus. Once an institution decides to bring a Fellow to its campus, a primary contact should complete the online request form noting preferred Fellows and campus visit dates.

Interested institutions are encouraged to apply now to host a Fellow in the 2017–2018 academic year. For more information or to see the list of available Fellows or complete an application, visit the program website.