Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More on HR 177

In today's Inquirer is the oddest editorial I can imagine. The author, David Saxe, a professor of education at Penn State, argues that this resolution is a good thing, mainly because he takes the whole idea of academic freedom as it is expressed in the resolution at face value. He believes that the resolution promotes academic freedom in its most positive sense. I think his editorial makes clear that that isn't true and that the true intent is to increase conservative views in the classroom. Here's one of the more puzzling quotes, a conflation to some extent of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity with academic freedom:

For proponents of HR 177, nearly all Republicans, the notion of government oversight on such matters as academic intercourse presents an odd turn of events. Was it not so long ago that academia was devoid of minority voices? Have we forgotten that females and black males were virtually closed out of the highest ranks of higher education as professors and administrators?

And who shouted the loudest for diversity? For affirmative action in higher education to ensure a "level playing field"? To break down the so-called racist and sexist barriers that barred minorities from their rightful place within academia? Was this not the great contribution of Democrats?

And the barriers fell. And then they fell some more. With the great influx of minorities and women into higher education came all sorts of new ideas. The fight to break the barriers to attain faculty positions and promotions became synonymous with fighting for rights per se - for women to fight for women's studies departments, for blacks to fight for African American departments, for homosexuals to fight for same-sex partner benefits.

As these birds of a feather flocked together, they fought and fought. And from so much fighting, they eventually realized they did not have to fight so much anymore. There was less and less resistance to what would have astonished faculty of another generation.

I honestly don't see what this has to do with the idea of academic freedom as I understand it. From the AAUP's statement on academic freedom:
  1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

  2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.[2] Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.[3]

  3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.[4]
Seriously, the logic of the argument is lost on me, except as it relates to Horowitz's idea of academic freedom, meaning there need to be more conservative voices on campus. In an article in the Chronicle, Horowitz states that the purpose of the academic bill of rights is to "to emphasize the value of "intellectual diversity," already implicit in the concept of academic freedom; and, most important, to enumerate the rights of students to not be indoctrinated or otherwise assaulted by political propagandists in the classroom or any educational setting." I don't think "intellectual diversity" is implicit in the statements above. Faculty are warned not to introduce controversial topics not related to their topic. For example, as a literature teacher discussing an 18th century novel, I probably shouldn't discuss abortion rights unless there's something about that in a book. The AAUP statement says nothing about colleges' needing to check the views of professors in their hiring process or institute some kind of affirmative action for conservatives, which is the impression I get both from Horowitz and Saxe. And the author of the editorial is right that having more women and minorities on campus did bring in new ideas and new ways of looking at old things, but that has little to do with academic freedom insofar as these faculty have the same rights to speak freely as their white and male counterparts do.

Horowitz also states in that article that:
Although the AAUP has recognized student rights since its inception, however, most campuses have rarely given them the attention or support they deserve. In fact, it is safe to say that no college or university now adequately defends them.
This is so blatantly untrue as to be silly. Our campus, for example, has a host of deans whose entire jobs are to advocate for students. In addition, there is a student-run government who regulary meet with top administrative staff to have their voices heard. We also have an honor council and numerous other student organizations who may advocate for specific student issues. If anything, I'd say the rights of students have increased over the years and that they often feel entitled to those rights from day one. I think our situation is not atypical.

The AAUP did issue a statement about HR 177, which I found via the Social Science Research Council. They believe that the general concerns expressed by the resolution are important ones, but not ones that should be dealt with by legislators, who have political ties that may cloud their judgement. And let me point out the following, found in the Wikipedia:

A prominent feature of the English university concept is the freedom to appoint faculty, set standards and admit students. This ideal may be better described as institutional autonomy and is distinct from whatever freedom is granted to students and faculty by the institution. (Kemp, p. 7)

The Supreme Court of the United States said that academic freedom means a university can "determine for itself on academic grounds:

  1. who may teach
  2. what may be taught
  3. how it should be taught, and
  4. who may be admitted to study." (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 312. 1978.) (Standler)
Perhaps we are headed back to the Supreme Court again. I'm disappointed that the Inquirer, whose city is home to one of the biggest state-funded universities in the state, hasn't published an opposing viewpoint or even a report on this resolution.