What is the definition for “criticism or critical thinking” in an academic environment?

The answer to this question may depend on what your role is at the institution. Recently, it has been said that “criticism” is NOT negative or critical comments. This is a definition recently given to a group of UT academic staff in the UT library system by a consultant assisting with strategic planning. Critical or negative comments of an idea or plan, of course, can be viewed as objecting to the status quo, whether an idea, concept or philosophy.

It is difficult to ask academic librarians to continually assess, critique and become engaged in new trends, change, and modifications within our teaching and research needs and not criticise (?)….isn’t it? In other words, play ball nicely and don’t rock the boat….but isn’t there a conflict here? Is there not a fundamental dichotomy between the two?

The recent comments by CAUT on the AUUC statement on academic freedom, voiced by predominantly those who administer rather than teach or do leading research, points to a growing trend in our academic environment. When thinking about individual responsibilities to our profession and those we serve (today and tomorrow) – is it not vital that we voice our criticisms? Who do we have a responsibility to? I think this question needs to be asked, again and again.

Criticism leads to questioning, skeptical reviews and assessments – these, in turn, lead to new ideas, approaches and a transparent collegiality that promotes trust and a positive movement forward. We should never be afraid to criticize, our academic environments thrive on autonomous thinking, free from outside influences (political, religious, economic and social)…it is called intellectual and academic freedom. Academic librarians are not alone in this dilemma, faculty too feel the pressures of ‘not rocking the boat’. If we cannot speak up because of fear, it means intimidation practices have succeeded. Is this what we support?

This entry was posted in Academic freedom, Academic governance, Academic Librarianship, CAUT, Uncategorized, UTFA. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What is the definition for “criticism or critical thinking” in an academic environment?

  1. Rochelle Mazar says:

    I’m a bit surprised to see this here. Is there really any question about the definition of critical thinking? Critical thinking and criticizing is something we teach undergraduates to carefully differentiate as part of their studies, so I hope that academic librarians, with an interest in information literacy, have a firm handle on it. Criticism in the classical sense doesn’t mean negative comments about the status quo; it means thoughtful and deliberate analysis. That sort of analysis often uncovers holes, problems, and new directions…and that’s what strategic planning is for.

    “Play ball nicely”: does that mean, “be collegial”, “don’t be a bully”, “listen to other people”? Because, if so, I’m personally quite in favour it. It’s important for everyone to retain compassion, work towards a co-operative environment, and to engage with our colleagues with respect and with an open mind. Strong negative voices who lead with criticism as you define it tend to shut down others in an organization, thereby silencing large swaths of new librarians and library staff in particular. Rather than open with “the status quo sucks,” how about “here’s how we can make things better”?

    It’s very easy to get caught in a wheel of negativity, but it’s rarely productive. The most powerful agents of social change in our time have not been bundles of negative energy; they have been beams of light full of new ideas, peace-making, bridge-building, and productive discussion of new ideas and approaches. I’m not sure what strategic planning you are engaged in, anonymous-writer-of-this-post, but isn’t it great that you’re part of a process? Isn’t that how it should be?

  2. Pingback: You can still “Play Nice” as a Critical Thinker. Honest.

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