Fight for Rights in Classes · 24 October 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Will Haun--The AU Eagle--10/17/05

Last Thursday while seeking the College Republican endorsement for an at-large seat in the undergraduate senate, I spoke about the importance of communicating both sides of an issue on our campus, something not as commonplace as it should be. We as the minority party on campus know why it's important for us to be organized and equipped with more activities to stay visible and have a fair voice on campus. However, this does not prevent the possibility of political and ideological bias that can occur in the classroom. I have only been here half a semester, and already it has happened to me.

It is not a question of a professor being a liberal and you being conservative. It's a question of fairness in the classroom and the free expression of ideas. AU's Dr. Peter Kuznick violated the free expression of ideas in his "Oliver Stone's America" class when he invited Cindy Sheehan to help teach a unit on how the United States government lies to the American people, particularly the Bush administration about Iraq. In his address to the class, he referred to the president and his administration as cowards, and made personal attacks at prominent conservatives with different points of view than his own. He has no interest in stopping either, as he personally assured me he wants to bring more anti-war activists to be a part of his class. He left no room for any viewpoint but his own, never taking questions nor asking for them.

Academic freedom has become a national issue as well. At Georgia Tech, Ruth Malhotra, a senior majoring in international relations, needed to miss a class to attend the CPAC conference. Her professor told her she would fail the course if she did. When she got her first test back in the class, she got an F, a little uncommon for someone who made dean's list every semester. It's important to note the class she missed for the conference didn't have a test scheduled, and that Ruth brought up her absence in advance. She took her case all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, and now an "Academic Bill of Rights" is in the Georgia Legislature and has become required reading in her classes on campus.

The Board of Trustees at AU is looking to put a student on its board. Motivated by the bias that we see on our campus the need for a fair student voice, now is the best time to create an academic bill of rights for American University. There are bills of rights in over a dozen states, and College Republican groups in Colorado and Ohio have been chief in organizing the support. To get the message out to the greater student population, Ruth Malhotra will be visiting AU on Oct. 19 to speak on the importance of academic freedom

An academic bill of rights at American University would ensure that faculty at AU are hired, fired or promoted on the basis of merit, not on political or religious beliefs. Students will be graded fairly in accordance to how well they develop their ideas, not how well their ideas jive with a professor's classroom. And most importantly, the classroom will be made to be a place for free expression of all viewpoints, rather than having a curriculum based on a narrow viewpoint on an unsettled subject. We have a right as students to feel comfortable to voice our views and not feel afraid that we will be shot down in a class. Professors will be made to teach facts, not opinions. And while the opinions of our professors can be incorporated into a discussion, they will not and can not be the center of the course, as they are in Dr. Kuznick's class.

The left of this country and this campus do not have a lock on all things intellectual; we conservatives have just as much of a right to freely and unashamedly express our views as they do. We have a responsibility, an opportunity, and the obligation to expand our voice as students of American University and to keep the political views of our professors from infringing upon the very open dialogue and exchange of ideas that institutions of higher education proudly claim to profess.

With a student government on the verge of transition at AU and the board of trustees placing more value on the student voice, it's time to expand our voices as both students and citizens of this great nation. It's time for us to take a stand for academic freedom and for the very freedoms of speech and expression that make the United States the greatest nation in the history of the world. The time is now to stand firm. The time is now to be resolute. And the time is now to speak out and make our voices heard. An academic bill of rights and a classroom that is friendly to the free exchange of ideas will enhance our experience and our voices.

Will Haun is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, and is one of the Eagle's conservative columnists.