Readers Respond to Column on Academic Bill of Rights · 19 October 2005

By Steven Zaleski - New York Teacher

By Steven Zaleski--New York Teacher--10/20/05

One of Dick Iannuzzi's first New York Teacher columns after his election as president of New York State United Teachers reflected on the perils of the "Academic Bill of Rights" (May 26), an issue about which NYSUT's higher education members had expressed serious concern and had mobilized in an effort to defeat it.

Iannuzzi called the proposal -the brainchild of conservative David Horowitz - "an orchestrated and dangerous attack on academic freedom and a serious threat to the professional lives" of college faculty.

Supporters say the proposal is an attempt to address what they see as the dominance of liberal and progressive thought - in the form of faculty and curricula - on college campuses across the nation. They want states to adopt the policy, and portions of it have been included in the House version of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. The SUNY Board of Trustees recently announced plans to consider the proposal as well.

While NYSUT and its higher ed affiliates have taken public positions opposing the Academic Bill of Rights and its intent to stifle academic freedom, some New York Teacher readers disagreed. Letters to the newspaper were critical of Iannuzzi's column and the union's stance. Here are some excerpts:

"The Academic Bill of Rights is an anti-quota bill that would reward professors for their scholarly achievements, not their political views ... Far from attacking academic freedom, the (proposal) is based on the academic freedom philosophy of the American Association of University Professors which, in statements dating back nearly a century, has established that 'the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn' are inseparable components of this freedom."(Sara Dogan, Students for Academic Freedom)

"It may not represent the prevailing view of New York's current public education bureaucracy that taxpayers sending children and young adults to public schools should expect that the professional class paid to instruct their children would, at least conceptually, value equally the duties of citizenship and the 'rights of my client.' Painting this criticism as some sort of ultra-right ideological battle over the future of free speech in academia is ludicrous and absurd."(Ed Morrison, received via e-mail)

"In your editorial concerning the Academic Bill of Rights, you used the terms 'ultra-conservative' and 'right-wing' to condemn people who are tired of being censored on college campuses by speech codes written by leftist faculty and students ... You aren't the only ones who are entitled to free speech." (Wallington Simpson Jr., Montebello )

"I support the Academic Bill of Rights written by David Horowitz as a legislative proposal that can help students and teachers obtain a redress of grievances when their rights have been infringed upon by being penalized for their viewpoints."(Phil Orenstein, Queens Village )

"If Horowitz is a 'right-wing ideologue' - conservative would have been a fairer choice of words - then let's not dub his opponents moderates but left-wing radicals. Or, better yet, junk jargon altogether and simply describe positions." (Dick Murphy, Beacon)

Not all letter-writers disagreed with the NYSUT position, however. Patricia Bentley of Plattsburgh , a member of the union's Board of Directors and a chapter leader from United University Professions, NYSUT's largest higher education affiliate, wrote:

"As a longtime member of the AAUP and a librarian interested in intellectual and academic freedoms, I believe that Dick Iannuzzi and (UUP President) Bill Scheuerman are on the right course. As unpopular as it may be to resist the conservative movement to incorporate governmental oversight into the classroom and the academy, we need to stand up to it. This is our work. Academics and professionals are capable of discerning whether they are holding a particular bias. To inject governmental and political oversight into the classroom is little more than McCarthyism."

- Frank Maurizio, Opinion Page Editor