Commentary on the Academic Freedom Regulations at OSU and Senate Bill 24 · 06 March 2005


By Sara Dogan, National Campus Director, Students for Academic Freedom

The Code of Student Conduct at Ohio State University states that it "is established to foster and protect the core missions of the university….The core missions of the university are research, teaching and learning, and service. Preservation of academic freedom and free and open exchange of ideas and opinions for all members of the university are central to these missions."

Despite this promising start, the Student Code of Conduct is chiefly concerned with student disciplinary violations and procedures. In fact, this introduction is the only place the term "academic freedom" appears in this lengthy document. Nowhere does this document address a student's right to fair and non-partisan instruction, respect from faculty members, or right to file grievances due to partisan teaching or abuse in the classroom.

Nor is this information contained anywhere within the handy "Student Resource Guide" on OSU's website (the guide does contain a link to OSU's "Nondiscrimination, sexual harassment and other personnel policies" but these policies do not mention political beliefs or identify classroom indoctrination as a possible violation of this policy).

Ohio State University's existing Academic Freedom regulations in regard to professors, on the other hand, do resemble some of the points of Senate Bill 24, but they have no enforcement mechanisms and as a result have not been enforced.
These Academic Freedom regulations are hidden away in the "Rules of the University Faculty" where students are highly unlikely to come across them.

The section on "Academic Freedom and Responsibility" (section 3335-5-01) "endorses full academic freedom as essential to attain the goal of the free search for truth and its free exposition." It goes on to state: "Academic freedom and academic responsibility are the twin guardians of the integrity of institutions of higher learning." Unfortunately, it is the "academic responsibility" half of these regulations that are sorely neglected at Ohio State University and that make Senate Bill 24 necessary.

In principle, the Ohio State University policy follows closely the guidelines set forth by the American Association of University Professors in 1940 that are opposed by the present AAUP leadership. It states that teachers have the freedom to "discuss in classrooms, in their own manner, any material that is relevant to the subject matter as defined in the course syllabus" but cautions that they also have the responsibility to "refrain from persistently introducing matters that have no bearing on the subject matter of the course."
Other "correlative academic responsibilities" listed by the policy include the responsibility to "Work with appropriate individuals and bodies to provide optimal conditions conducive to the attainment of the free search for truth and its free exposition" and to "differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly."

In sum, Ohio State's academic freedom policies as contained within the faculty code echo many of the key principles of Ohio Senate Bill 24 and the Academic Bill of Rights on which it is based. They warn professors against letting politics or their "personal activities as citizens" influence their teaching and caution them not to bring introduce irrelevant and controversial topics into the classroom. While these policies do not explicitly mention instructors' obligation to provide students "access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study" they do mention the obligation to "meet their defined teaching, research and service obligations" and "encourage students and colleagues to engage in free discussion and inquiry." They also mention the duty to "evaluate student and colleague performance on a scholarly basis" the corollary to which is clearly a prohibition on grading students based on their political, religious or intellectual beliefs.

Ohio State's policies are generally commendable for their attention to the key areas of academic freedom, yet it is an egregious oversight that these policies are published only in the faculty handbook and are not made publicly available to students. Furthermore, despite the good intentions of these policies, it is not clear how the university enforces them, if at all. Neither the student nor faculty handbooks make any mention of how a student can file an official complaint against a faculty member for violation of Ohio State's academic freedom policy.

Senate Bill 24 addresses this lack directly, stating that "The board of trustees…shall adopt a grievance procedure by which a student, faculty member, or other instructor may seek redress for an alleged violation of any of the rights specified by that institution's policy" and "shall provide students, faculty, and instructors with notice of the rights and grievance procedure by publication in the institution's course catalog, student handbook, and web site."

If Ohio State's administrators are truly committed to protecting the academic freedoms of both students and faculty, they should gladly endorse Senate Bill 24 as an organic extension of their existing policies.


RULES OF THE UNIVERSITY FACULTY
FACULTY, GOVERNANCE, AND COMMITTEES


Chapter 3335-5
General Matters 3335-5-01 Academic freedom and responsibility.

(A) The Ohio state university endorses full academic freedom as essential to attain the goal of the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom and academic responsibility are twin guardians of the integrity of institutions of higher learning. This integrity is essential to the preservation of a free society and explains the willingness of society historically to accept the concept of academic freedom and, in addition, to protect it through the institution of academic tenure.

(B) The principal elements of academic freedom include the freedom of teachers to:

(1) Teach, conduct research, and publish research findings;

(2) Discuss in classrooms, in their own manner, any material that is relevant to the subject matter as defined in the course syllabus;

(3) Exercise their constitutional rights as citizens without institutional censorship or discipline;

(4) Seek changes in academic and institutional policies through lawful and peaceful means.


(C) Academic freedom carries with it correlative academic responsibilities. The principal elements include the responsibility of teachers to:

(1) Meet their defined teaching, research, and service obligations;

(2) Pursue excellence, intellectual honesty, and objectivity in teaching, in conducting research, and in publishing research findings;

(3) Encourage students and colleagues to engage in free discussion and inquiry;

(4) Evaluate student and colleague performance on a scholarly basis;

(5) Refrain from persistently introducing matters that have no bearing on the subject matter of the course;

(6) Work with appropriate individuals and bodies to provide optimal conditions conducive to the attainment of the free search for truth and its free exposition;

(7) Differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly. (B/T 9/14/65, B/T 5/2/75, B/T 3/1/85)