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'Teach-In on the Quad' to tackle issues of intellectual responsibility

By April Hunt | Emory Report | March 22, 2017

Learning the responsibilities of dialogue and reason that come with the right of free speech is the focus of an all-day "Teach-In on the Quad” on Friday.

Organized by the Emory chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the "Teach-In on Intellectual Responsibility: Truth and Politics" features panels and talks from scholars across disciplines, both professors and students.

All members of the Emory community are invited to drop by at any time for the teach-in, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The event will be held in front of the Administration Building in a bid to show a university-wide commitment to truth and evidence in politics and news, says Noelle McAfee, a philosophy professor and president of the Emory AAUP chapter.

"There is an intellectual responsibility to distinguish between a claim that can be supported and a claim that cannot, especially in this phenomenon of fake news and alternative facts," says McAfee, who is also a senior fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry.

The focus on discerning truth and weighing evidence puts into action the Emory College Quality Enhancement Plan, which helps first-year students engage with evidence both in and outside of the classroom.

“Emory students are very much primed to be engaged in this,” says Thomas Rogers, an associate professor of history who is helping to organize the event. “This is the kind of conversation universities should be having, to affirm the value of evidence and research."

Several professors devised the teach-in based on similar events held years ago on the Quadrangle.

The impetus to revive teach-ins came following loose claims lobbed during the 2016 election and the debate over fake news that followed. The event also comes on the heels of what many scholars saw as a threat to academic inquiry, when a violent protest injured a professor and shut down an appearance by conservative social scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College.

“We should aim for building knowledge, and woven into that are interactions and disagreements in our disciplines,” Rogers says. “The concern is that even the expression of some ideas is seen as a threat.”

The discussion kicks off with a panel by Jessica Thompson, an assistant professor of anthropology. Entitled “Why Scientists Should Argue,” the session is devised to explain how such debate allows for progress of knowledge and a truer understanding of information.

Other sessions focus on issues such as media literacy, academic freedom, using evidence in writing and the university as a space for difficult debate.

“We want a really robust dialogue, to show that when you have a meeting of different views, logic and evidence are designed to move people to find agreement,” McAfee says.