After a video of Columbia Physics Professor Emlyn Hughes’ unusual introduction to his Frontiers of Science lecture began circulating the web yesterday, The Spectator has reported that Columbia administrators will review the video to determine … something. According to Columbia’s statement, the university will judge “excerpts” from Hughes’ lecture — in which he stripped to his boxers, showed video of 9/11, and brought ninjas onstage, among other still unexplained actions — to see if he potentially crossed “academic freedom” and entered “things that have nothing to do with quantum mechanics.”
Frontiers of Science, or FroSci, is a mandatory part of Columbia’s Core Curriculum (freshmen are preregistered for the class). According to its website, the course’s goal is to “change the way students think about questions of science and about the world around them.” Columbia’s administrators should keep this in mind when watching Hughes take his clothes off to Lil Wayne’s remix of “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” because after Monday we doubt any FroSci student will be thinking of their professor the same way.
“Universities are committed to maintaining a climate of academic freedom, in which the faculty members are given the widest possible latitude in their teaching and scholarship. However, the freedoms traditionally accorded the faculty carry corresponding responsibilities. Columbia’s Faculty Handbook states that “In conducting their classes, faculty should promote an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, respect, and civility [and] should confine their classes to the subject matter covered by their courses.” While one must exercise caution in judging excerpts from a lecture or short presentations from an entire course outside of their full context, the appropriate academic administrators are currently reviewing the facts of this particular presentation in quantum mechanics.