Professors Worried; Bill May Limit Speech · 03 November 2005

By Vincent Congello - Binghampton U. Pipe Dream

By Vincent Congello--Binghampton U. Pipe Dream--11/01/05

Who decides what we learn? Do students have certain rights in academia that should be guaranteed to them? What is the role the intelligent design theory should play in the classrooms?

These were the questions addressed by speakers in an open forum on academic freedom held last Wednesday in the Science Library.

The central topic of the discussion was the Acedemic Bill of Rights, a document created by conservative activist David Horowitz last year to address the open exchange of ideas in the college setting. The bill is aimed at preventing professors from imposing their own ideologies on students in the classroom.

Horowitz is the founder of a group called Students for Academic Freedom that argues that liberal views dominate the college scene and aims to promote "free inquiry and free speech within the acedemic community," according to the bill.

The discussion featured three speakers, including two professors and a student from the School of Education and Human Development.

The first speaker, Peter Knuepfer, an associate professor of geology and BU's representative for the SUNY legislature, introduced and detailed the emergence of the Academic Bill of Rights.

Knuepfer countered Horowitz's argument, saying that the free exchange of ideas which characterizes college campuses would be threatened by the Bill of Rights.

He found particular problems with an article which proposes that course curriculums be regulated by a higher authority and not be left to the discretion of professors, essentially setting a standard for what should be taught in the classroom.

Using intelligent design as an example, Kneufner explained the benefits of teaching different and contradictory ideas.

"If I present you with a position you are not familiar with, then I am challenging you to consider it," he said.

He vocally backed the right of a professor to introduce all kinds of ideas and theories in the classroom, despite opposition.

"Our society and our University ought to be ready to take positions, not remain neutral as to not offend anyone," Knuepfer said.

Imran Battla, a senior in SEHD, said he doesn't support the Academic Bill of Rights, but said he understood where Horowitz and his supporters are coming from.

He asked whether students should be inundated with the opinions of their professors, asking: "are all political viewpoints equal?"

The Acedemic Bill of Rights states that all viewpoints should be presented to students in an unbiased way, and that faculty should not "use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination."

But Battla went on to assert that students already operate under a system of rights, essentially making the movement toward the Bill of Rights moot.

According to USA Today, the American Association of University Professors, which represents 45,000 faculty on 500 campuses, rejects the document, saying that there are existing protections for students that are, "already in place and work well."

Fa Ti Fan, a history professor in Harpur College, addressed whether the intelligent design theory, a hot issue that presents a conservative/liberal split, had a place in academia.

"We are taxpayers; therefore we have the right to decide what is taught in public school," he said.

Knuepfer retorted that scientific matters ought to be decided by scientists, not by the general populus.

During the open question segment of the forum, a student questioned why the intelligent design theory shouldn't get as much recognition in a science class as evolutionist theory.

Knuepfer responded that theories had proven facts to back them up, so intelligent design isn't a theory at all.

Bills proposing the implimentation of the Acedemic Bill of Rights are moving forward in Colorado, Missouri and Georgia. The Association for Student Judicial Affairs, a group of administrators from more than 900 campuses, is tallying votes on the issue and considering creating a task force to advise schools on free speech and diversity of ideas in the classroom.

Response from David Horowitz:

Your story on the Binghamton forum is a perfect example of why an Academic Bill of Rights is necessary. Who in his right mind would think that an academic forum on a controversial issue in which only one side is represented would be appropriate expression of academic freedom?

David Horowitz
Author, the Academic Bill of Rights

Response from Prof. Mitchell Langbert:

November 3, 2005

Dear Editor:

As a former Harpur College student (1971 to 1973) and a current associate professor of business at Brooklyn College who presented a draft of the Academic Bill of Rights to the New York State Senate's higher education committee, I was interested to see Vincent Congello's "Professor's Worried; Bill May Limit Speech" (November 1).

Neither the Academic Bill of Rights nor the bill Phil Orenstein and I presented to the higher education committee last summer would do anything to limit speech or require a curriculum. Suchs claims are outright lies. Sadly, the opponents of ABOR and ABOR-like bills have had to resort to misrepresentation in their arguments, as has Professor Kneufer, because the bill does little more than assert that the state legislature acknowledges that the protections of academic freedom enunciated in the statements and declarations of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1915, 1940, and 1966 are valid. In fact, I personally offered to the New York State Senate, with David Horowitz's knowledge, to draft a version of ABOR that exclusively relied on verbatim statements derived from the AAUP's own statements. In any case, the ABOR bills that have been proposed already largely rely on the words of the AAUP.

The forum that the article describes illustrates the reason for ABOR. The forum did not include anyone who agreed with ABOR. Instead, the one-sided discussion featured bad knowledge and deliberate exaggeration without any counterbalance. This is symptomatic of the post-modern pathology of academic political correctness. In the social sciences and humanities, universities have forsaken their commitment to the advancement of knowledge and the open discussion of ideas that characterized Harpur College when I was a student here more than thirty years ago. Instead, some academics have substituted the advocacy of failed left-wing ideas coupled with rigid intolerance of disagreement.

This is true not only of individual academics, but of entire fields. For example, several major accreditation agencies such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education have included the Orwellian principle of "dispositional assessment" of imaginary "social justice dispositions" in the requirements that education schools can establish for students to graduate. Such assessments have been used to attempt to expel students who disagree with left-wing views of their professors. Nor are the cases of students' being expelled by college administrations or faculty members for their views rare, as a visit to the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.theFIRE.org) will demonstrate.

Hence, the Academic Bill of Rights asks the legislature to acknowledge that students have rights. That the ACLU, the AAUP, the faculty unions and Professor Kneufer oppose the bill suggest that they do not believe that you, as students, have the competence to intelligently disagree with them and with your professors, and that you ought not to have the right to do so.

Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Business and Economics
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue