Mischaracterizing the Academic Bill of Rights · 03 February 2005

In a January 26 article in the Ball State Daily News , BSU Provost Beverley Pitts claimed that the bill recently introduced into the Indiana State Legislature would not mean "a change for Ball State" because "we already have a system where students have ample opportunity to express concerns they're having in the classroom and a due process for that."

This is the same Provost Pitts who wrote me a letter claiming to have fully investigated Brett Mock's complaint about indoctrination in his Introduction to Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution class without ever having attempted to speak with Brett directly about his concerns (and now, many months later, still has failed to do so). Provost Pitts also faulted Brett for not submitting his case to the university as a grading dispute, although Brett has made it quite clear that he is protesting not the grade he received in the course but the partisan, one-sided content of the course and the unequal treatment of students based on their political beliefs.

Pitts' comments that the Academic Bill of Rights would have no effect on Ball State were echoed by Ball State's Dean of Students Randy Hyman who commented, "I don't think the issue is worthy of addressing or necessary" because he believes the majority of faculty are already in agreement with the principles of the Academic Bill of Rights.

In making these comments, Pitts and Hyman completely disregard the thorough evaluation of Ball State's policies which SAF released over a month ago. This report revealed that the University's academic freedom policies "lack crucial and specific protections for intellectual diversity, particularly as they affect relations between faculty and students in the classroom."

Ball State's policies do recognize the importance of institutional neutrality in partisan matters and the ability to study independent or controversial topics is considered necessary to "the spirit of free inquiry." Despite this promising start, BSU's student code is disturbingly vague when it comes to explaining how students' academic freedoms are to be protected in practice. It also fails to consider the unequal balance of power that exists between students and faculty and makes no mention of the faculty's and administration's responsibility for promoting intellectual diversity in campus programs and in the classroom.

We have responded to these fallacious comments in a letter to the BSU Daily News which was published yesterday and can be read here . Our full report on BSU's academic freedom policies is available here, and both documents have been sent to Ball State's administrators and trustees as well as to legislators across the state.

At odds with Ball State's administrators who insist that the Academic Bill of Rights would have no effect on their campus policies, Stanford University Professor Graham Larkin believes that the Academic Bill of Rights would force universities to adopt a strict left-right "balance" in the hiring of professors, selection of campus speakers, and treatment of ideas in the classroom. In an article titled "What's Not to Like About the Academic Bill of Rights," published this fall, Larkin claims that "Another Horowitz-approved corrective would be to ensure that for every art historian inclined to assign 'leftist' material, the department hire a person who tends toward right-wing thinking." Such demands, if they were accurate, would amount to a quota system.

Of course, Larkin is 100% wrong in his characterization of the Academic Bill of Rights and the goals of Students for Academic Freedom. As David Horowitz has stated repeatedly in his several replies to Larkin, the word "balance" does not appear once in this document. Far from seeking "balance" or a quota system, the Academic Bill of Rights focuses on the importance of intellectual diversity.

David Horowitz explains this distinction in one of his replies to Larkin: "Balance can only be established by strict adherence to a one-for-one standard: a liberal on this side, a conservative on that, for example. Diversity carries no such connotation. Nor does equity. Equity (like diversity) can refer to opportunity rather than result, which is its clear meaning in the Academic Bill of Rights. We want students to have access to more than one side of the political spectrum, which is pretty much the current state of affairs. We want students to be aware that controversial questions do not have only one answer, that other perspectives exist. We want them to have an opportunity to express themselves in an atmosphere where they are not punished, verbally or otherwise, for doing so."

The complete correspondence between Prof. Larkin and David Horowitz can be found in our Replies to Critics section and I encourage you all to read it to familiarize yourself with the many straw men that opponents of the Bill will use in attempts to deny its value, meaning, or importance.

We also encourage our SAF members across the country to take a look at their college's academic freedom policies to see if they include all the protections of the Academic Bill of Rights. Do they mention the importance of intellectual diversity? Do they mandate that the selection of campus speakers and the distribution of student fees should promote intellectual pluralism? Are there specific grievance procedures in place for students to file complaints about partisanship or indoctrination in the classroom? If your college or university is lacking these specific protections (and virtually every college is deficient in one of these areas), then you have clear grounds for scheduling a meeting with a top campus administrator to ask them to consider adopting the Academic Bill of Rights.

For more advice on surveying your campus' academic freedom guidelines or to bring the academic freedom movement to your campus, please contact me at 202-393-0123 or at Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org and I will be happy to get you started.

Yours in Freedom,

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom