The AAUP Contradicts Itself · 02 October 2005

By Sara

The AAUP has its knickers in a twist over the academic freedom language included in the Senate Higher Education Reauthorization Act. In a letter to the Senate leaders on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Mark Smith, the AAUP's Director of Government Relations states his opposition to the Higher Education Re-Authorization Act because it includes a statement on academic freedom that is based on the Academic Bill of Rights. According to Smith, "substituting governmental oversight in the areas of curriculum, day-to-day coursework, and classroom discussions on college campuses across the country would threaten the well deserved reputation for excellence in higher education this country enjoys." In other words, according to the AAUP, the promotion of intellectual diversity and fairness in the bill would somehow subvert university authority and academic excellence.

But the AAUP already took a stance in favor of these same academic freedom principles, based on the Academic Bill of Rights. In June, the AAUP was among a coalition of 27 higher education organizations that signed onto a statement issued by the American Council on Education which proclaimed that "Intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education" and that "Neither students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions." The statement also called for the creation of grievance procedures so that students and faculty members will have the means to redress violations of their academic freedom.

The language in the Senate bill which the AAUP now opposes is a result of a compromise reached by the higher education lobby with legislators and is explicitly based on the ACE statement which the AAUP has already signed. If anything, the academic freedom language in the Senate bill is vaguer even than that of the ACE statement. The bill states that it is the sense of the Congress that "within the context of institutional mission, a college should facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas" and "students should not be intimated, harassed, discouraged from speaking out, or discriminated against."

The AAUP can't handle the fact the government has found it necessary to remind university administrators to do the right thing, because academic organizations like the AAUP have failed to live up to principles they once stood for. The AAUP should be embarrassed by the incoherence of its own position(s) and recognize that it has made a mistake in opposing the Academic Bill of Rights. As the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, David Horowitz, commented on the AAUP's opposition to the bill in the Senate:
" There is only one reason for this legislation and for all other legislation regarding an Academic Bill of Rights: the failure of universities to implement the academic freedom guidelines that have been laid down in numerous statements on academic freedom by the American Association of University Professors and by the universities themselves. If the AAUP supports these principles but is opposed to legislating them, it should join us in persuading universities to implement academic freedom policies that all parties claim to support.

"It is interesting that to date the only state whose universities -- public and private -- have agreed to implement the recent statement on academic freedom by the American Council on Education is Ohio. The reason? Legislation on an Academic Bill of Rights was being shepherded through the Ohio Senate. The Senators sponsoring the legislation agreed to withdraw it in exchange for a pledge from the universities to implement these principles. In other words, the legislation is necessary to get universities to implement the principles that the AAUP, the sponsors of the Academic Bill of Rights and the universities themselves all agree on.

"The AAUP's opposition to the academic freedom provisions of the reauthorization bill is an obstruction of the process of getting universities to implement the academic freedom policies the AAUP claims to support. I urge the AAUP to reconsider its position and to begin supporting what is increasingly clear is a historic movement in the annals of academic freedom in this country."

Will the organization live up to its claims of defending the academic freedom of both students and professors? Or will the group's hypocrisy be what shines through?