Victory In Ohio: The Universities Concede · 18 September 2005

By David Horowitz - - 09/19/05

The Inter-University Council of Ohio has reached an agreement with Senate sponsors of the Ohio Academic Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 24) to implement key principles of academic freedom in all public and private colleges and universities in the state. This represents an important advance in the battle for academic freedom which will benefit all students in Ohio's system of higher education. Under the compromise reached with the legislature, the universities agreed to adopt a resolution based on the statement issued this summer by the American Council on Education, which was itself a measure inspired by the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Ohio resolution will affirm several crucial components of the academic freedom campaign. It affirms the idea that "Intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education." It asserts that students should not be discriminated against politically, and it commits the colleges and universities of Ohio to create grievance procedures for students facing discrimination for their political views. As part of the agreement, Ohio's public and private universities will disseminate their commitment to these principles including though orientation programs, mailings, student handbooks, course catalogs, and university websites and email communications.

The primary sponsor of Ohio Senate Bill 24, Sen. Larry Mumper, hailed the agreement as a victory for Ohio's students. "This action is a bold decision on the part of the Inter-University Council and I believe it will positively impact students who attend Ohio's colleges and universities. Since the introduction of SB 24, I have maintained that the vast majority of classrooms in Ohio are already held to these standards, but for the rare instances in which a student feels threatened or belittled, I am pleased that there will now be procedures in place to remedy the situation."

This is a very modest statement. The abuse of students and university classrooms for political purposes is widespread both in Ohio and nationally. The fact that Ohio's colleges and universities are now acknowledging the problem is a great gain for the proponents of academic freedom.

In reporting this impressive victory for the academic freedom campaign, the Ohio press predictably distorted its significance and misrepresented the facts. The Cincinnati Enquirer typically (and preposterously) headlined its story "Colleges Deflect 'Bill of Rights.'" Thus instead of informing readers that after a year of efforts on the part of the academic freedom campaign and resistance on the part of Ohio educators, Ohio colleges and universities had now agreed to embrace core principles of the Academic Bill or Rights, the Enquirer headline insinuated that the agreement was a measure to neutralize a threat posed by the Bill. (Note the deliberately planted scare quotes in the headline suggesting that the Academic Bill of Rights was not actually a bill of rights).

The headline in the Akron Beacon Journal - "Free Speech Resolution In Works For Ohio Colleges" was less objectionable if totally inaccurate (free speech is already guaranteed by the First Amendment). Both stories were identical having been written by the Associated Press (a fact that in itself reveals the lack of interest by the Ohio press in the state of academic freedom in its schools). Only the Columbus Dispatch assigned its own reporter to cover the story and he, like the Associated Press, followed the talking points of the national education unions and the American Association of University Professors - the chief opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights. The AP story began like this: "Legislation roundly criticized by college professors as an attack on free speech has been dropped by the sponsor, who now prefers a compromise that calls on schools to respect the opinions of students and faculty and not judge them on their political beliefs."

There are so many misleading statements in this lead sentence it is hard to know where to begin. The so-called compromise is literally taken from the Academic Bill of Rights. So the signficant concession made is not by its sponsor Senator Mumper, but by the colleges and universities who have until now opposed it. Senator Mumper agreed to withdraw the legislation, but only because the goal of the legislation's sponsors was always to induce the colleges and universities to implement these principles. This goal has been stated over and over by the academic freedom campaign and has a precedent in a similar agreement in Colorado. The entire point of the legislation, as the campaign has repeatedly emphasized, is to get universities to implement the principles of academic freedom that they already claim to embrace. That is why this agreement represents such an important step forward.

Finally, the claim that Academic Bill of Rights and Senator Mumper's legislation was "an attack on free speech" is transparently false. The basis of the claim is a sentence in the Mumper legislation which says: "Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose." Obviously this is a professional constraint on professors to educate and not indoctrinate their students, and has no bearing on their free speech as citizens. Opponents of the bill - including the American Association of University Professors --however, have unscrupulously claimed that this clause limits professors' "free speech." The Cleveland Plain Dealer duly reported the AAUP's talking point in the headline to its original story on the Academic Bill of Rights: "Legislator Wants Law To Restrict Professors." The rest of the Ohio press followed suit.

Unfortunately for these claims, the clause in the Mumper Bill that would bar professors from bringing their academically irrelevant political prejudices into the classroom is taken almost verbatim from the American Association of University Professors' own classic statement on academic freedom: "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject." (AAUP 1940 Statement on the Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure.)

This same clause is the model for the academic freedom guidelines posted (but not observed) by nine out of eleven of Ohio's public universities themselves (including Ohio State, the University of Ohio and Bowling Green): "Academic freedom carries with it correlative academic responsibilities. The principal elements include the responsibility of teachers to "…(5) Refrain from persistently introducing matters that have no bearing on the subject matter of the course;…(7) Differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly." (Faculty Handbook, Ohio State University)

Nor are any of these facts a secret withheld from the press. This was the heart of the testimony that I, as author of the Academic Bill of Rights, gave to the Ohio Senate Education Committee last year with a cohort of the Ohio press present, including the Columbus Dispatch. The testimony is posted on under the title "Why An Academic Bill of Rights Is Necessary." It is necessary because under pressure from leftwing faculty university administrations will not enforce their own academic freedom guidelines. The significance of the Ohio agreement is that universities are finally beginning to move on this issue.

In closing, allow me to praise the tremendous courage of legislators like Larry Mumper who have been vilified and demonized by an unprincipled opposition and an irresponsible press, which has fortunately failed to intimidate them from pursuing this just and important cause.