Conservative Group Seeks College 'Bill of Rights' · 12 October 2005

By Cara Matthews - Gannett News Service
Filed under: New York, Press Coverage

By Cara Matthews--Gannett News Service--10/02/05

ALBANY - Is there a liberal orthodoxy on State University of New York campuses, and are those who buck the orthodoxy unfairly penalized?

A group pushing colleges and universities nationwide, including SUNY, to adopt an "Academic Bill of Rights" says there is a bias, and students and faculty who have unpopular views need to be protected.

However, those who oppose the measure say there is no problem of discrimination on the basis of political and religious beliefs on state campuses.

William Scheuerman, head of United University Professions, called the proposal "a solution in search of a problem." The union represents 30,000 academic and professional faculty at 29 state-operated campuses in New York.

"This whole thing is part of an extremist right-wing movement to promote a right-wing agenda," he said.

Protections of students' political and religious beliefs are a natural extension of zero tolerance for discrimination based on race and gender, said Brad Shipp of Students for Academic Freedom, a group founded by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator who formerly espoused leftist views.

"It is imperative that the university system implement standards so the students don't feel they are being discriminated against," Shipp said.

At Purchase College, students interviewed said the college definitely had a left-wing bias, but they didn't think students or professors were being penalized for expressing right-wing views. They said it was good for professors to express their political views - as long as they were relevant to the subject matter - because it could encourage students to open up and defend their own ideals. They added that they value the free exchange of ideas above all, and thought the bill of rights could interfere with that.

"I just don't want this to become P.C.U. - Politically Correct University," said Jessy Levy, a dramatic-writing major from Fair Lawn, N.J. "I would just hate to see all this bickering start because these new laws were put into place."

Levy said students he knew were "intrigued" by the occasional Republicans they encountered on campus. "I think we're kind of glad to have some Republicans around to give us another viewpoint," he said.

Darryl Fabia, a 20-year-old literature major from Monticello, said he thought students with less popular viewpoints were sometimes reluctant to speak up for fear of "a verbal backlash" from other students. But he said more rules could encourage people to make "a big deal out of little things" and could be even used inappropriately by students who didn't like the grade they received. He said such rules could also interfere with valuable discourse.

"You're trying to control what people can and can't say," he said. "I don't think this is what our campus is about. People should be able to say what they want."

There have been several high-profile incidents in the state and around the country that backers of the bill of rights cite as reasons for change.

SUNY Trustee Candace de Russy of Bronxville mentioned a situation at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College. A professor, Robert K.C. Johnson, angered fellow faculty members and the administration in part because he criticized the college for sponsoring a Sept. 11, 2001, forum with no panelists who had pro-American or pro-Israel views.

At Columbia University, professors have been accused of acting inappropriately toward students who had views or opinions on Israel that were different from their own. Hamilton College in Clinton canceled a speech this year by American Indian scholar Ward Churchill because he had compared Sept. 11 victims to Nazis.

At SUNY, de Russy in January asked for a review of the Academic Bill of Rights issue. Passing a resolution that included the tenets of the bill of rights would ensure that students were evaluated according to their knowledge and skills, not on whether their views differ with a professor's, she said.

Trustee Pam Jacobs Vogt, who headed the Board of Trustees' Student Life Committee before resigning from the board over the summer, reported that the panel had reviewed the matter and believed SUNY had appropriate policies in place to deal with student life issues raised by the bill of rights, the board's May 24 minutes state.

The Academic Standards Committee of the Board of Trustees, the other panel charged with reviewing the matter, is scheduled to discuss the bill of rights at its Oct. 24 meeting.

Academic Bill of Rights

• Faculty members will be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise. They will not be hired, fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of political or religious beliefs.

• Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of subjects they study, not on the basis of political or religious beliefs.

• Curriculum and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences shall reflect the uncertainty of human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting viewpoints and sources where appropriate. Teachers are and should be free to pursue their own perspectives in presenting their views, but they should consider and make students aware of other viewpoints.

• Faculty members will not use courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

• Selection of speakers, allocation of money for speaker programs and other students activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

• Obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other efforts to obstruct the civil exchange of ideas will not be tolerated.

• Academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within or outside their fields of inquiry.

Source: Students for Academic Freedom

Read SAF response.