Letter to the St. Petersburg Times · 15 March 2005

To the Editor:

As the National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom, the organization responsible for the Academic Bill of Rights which inspired Florida House Bill 837, I wish to respond to the many mischaracterizations of the Bill in your recent editorial ("Bill a Sign of Lessons Unlearned," 03/11).

Your editorial alleges that our bill would lead to numerous lawsuits "as aggrieved students end up suing their professors for impolitic remarks" and quotes the AAUP as claiming that the bill invites "diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession."

These charges bear little or no relation to the facts. The Times' concern about lawsuits is puzzling. Florida's public universities already have elaborate grievance procedures available for students who feel they have been discriminated against due to their sex, race, sexual orientation, or numerous other characteristics. Does the existence of these grievance procedures continually spark frivolous lawsuits? Has the St. Petersburg Times editorialized against these diversity policies on similar grounds?

The AAUP's claim that the bill invites diversity to measured by "political standards," on the other hand, is simply false. This is a fact that can be checked by reading the bill, which clearly states: "Faculty and instructors have a right to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own" (emphasis added). Far from requiring diversity to be measured by political standards, the only standards referenced in the bill are those of the "scholarly" community.

The Rules of the Department of Education for the University of Florida even refer to this obligation noting that "Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, a teacher must have freedom in the classroom in discussing academic subjects, selecting instructional materials and determining grades. The University student must likewise have the opportunity to study a full spectrum of ideas, opinions, and beliefs, so that the student may acquire maturity for analysis and judgment. Objective and skillful exposition of such matters is the duty of every instructor."

Florida's academic community should welcome the passage of HB 837 as an organic extension of the existing philosophy and university policies on academic freedom.

Sincerely,

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom