Five Steps to Establishing Academic Freedom · 17 April 2006

By Lamar

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, keynoted the First National Academic Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The following speech was given on April 7. -- The Editors.

David Horowitz: Good morning. This is to my knowledge the first national academic freedom conference that's been held. We have a mighty task in front of us. Our universities, our high schools, and our K-12 schools are being rapidly converted into a political base and diverted from their educational mission. In a democracy, the purpose of education is to create citizens who can think for themselves, and therefore, teachers must teach how to think, not what to think. They should teach and not preach. Unfortunately, that is being changed rapidly in our society, and this conference and the movement that it represents is the beginning of an effort to restore educational values to our institutions.

And I'm going to turn over the platform in a second for the introduction for Senator Alexander, but I want to thank him personally for coming out early this morning and showing that we have support for this movement from people like the Senator, who was once Secretary of Education, who has spent his life working on educational issues. This is -- he is one of the leaders in our country on these issues.

I'm going to turn over the platform now to Fred Franson, who is a Director of the Higher Education Division of the Philanthropy Roundtable, to introduce Senator Alexander.

Fred Franson: Thank you very much, David.

Lamar Alexander is the only Tennesseean ever to be popularly elected both governor and United States senator. He chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and is a member of the Foreign Relations and Budget Committee, but I doubt very much that's the reason why he's here this morning.

But, rather, perhaps more than any other politician or person in Washington, he has dedicated his life to improving education, and that dedication goes back to a very, very early time. He is the son of a kindergarten and elementary school principal. His mother operated a nursery school and a kindergarten program in the converted garage of their back yard 27 years before kindergarten became public in Tennessee.

As governor of Tennessee, he helped the Volunteer State to become the first to pay teachers more for teaching well, something revolutionary: imagine, results-based performance for teachers.

He served as the president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 to 1991, when George H. W. Bush asked him to serve as Secretary of Education. He was involved in many initiatives as the Secretary of Education, including pushing for higher academic standards and developing the GI Bill for kids, which created federal scholarships, giving children more choices in schools.

He then became the Goodman professor at Harvard School of Government from January 2001 to May 2002, where he taught a course on the American character.

After joining the Senate in November of 2002, he's now on the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development, where he continues to be involved in numerous initiatives to improve education, both at the higher education level and at K-12.

I give to you Senator Alexander.

Sen. Lamar Alexander: Good morning. Thank you very much, and, David, thank you for your kind words. I'm sorry I missed the debate last night. I'll bet that was good. I would've enjoyed it, and I salute all of you for being part of this movement. With David Horowitz, you've got a genuine, dedicated, experienced, and usually successful movement leader. So thank you for letting me come here for the purpose of saluting you.

Today in Nashville, Tennessee, there's an article about Belmont University, a very good university with a Baptist tradition. And the headline says, "Belmont's Board Should Reflect Campus Diversity." Currently, all of the Belmont trustees must be Baptists. But in November, the Board approved a resolution saying that 60 percent could be Baptists, and 40 percent could be other kinds of Christians. So they're having a big debate about that, and the local newspaper says the Baptists don't want more diversity. The local newspaper does, and local newspaper says, "Belmont's first priority should be to create a dynamic, welcoming educational environment. That mission would be best accomplished with a board that is multi-dimensional and multi-denominational and with a partnership with the Tennessee Baptist Convention that respects the past but prepares the future." In other words, a university is best if it's a place with a lot of diversity.

When I was the United States Education Secretary in the early '90s, the Middle States Accreditation Association refused to accredit Westminster College, which only ordains men to be ministers, because there were no women on the board. I thought that was going a little too far for an accreditation organization and told them so, but their point was that there's a great tradition of diversity in the American university, and any time that doesn't exist, a lot of red flags start to wave.

Free speech, real diversity of thought, and especially the absence of political one-sidedness, have always been at the core of the American university. And defenders of academic freedom have always been quick to oppose - and let me quote an example - to oppose "systematic, persistent, and continuous attempts by a politically dominant group to impose its social and educational views on the university." That's a bad thing - "systematic, persistent and continuous attempts by a politically dominant group to impose its social and educational views on the university." That is what the American Association of University Presidents, the AAUP, called it in its censure of Texas Governor "Pappy" O'Daniel's Board of Regents when the Board of Regents of the University of Texas fired the University of Texas president in the 1940s. There really was a Pappy O'Daniel. It's all reported in Willie Morris's book North Toward Home. The AAUP was incensed about the political one-sidedness imposed by the Right.

Today, there's a growing political one-sidedness from the Left and an absence of true diversity on too many university campuses, and I am glad that Students for Academic Freedom is putting the spotlight on this, because I believe this is the greatest threat to broad public support for, and funding for, higher education in the United States. I was invited not long ago to go to Vanderbilt University and speak to President Bush's Commission on Higher Education. I made four or five points, and this was one of them.

Political one-sidedness from the Left is as obnoxious as political one-sidedness from the Right. Political one-sidedness is political one-sidedness no matter from what direction it comes. So, as my grandmother used to say, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and the Students for Academic Freedom have a really important mission on their hands.

The idea of intellectual or academic freedom was first enshrined in the United States by Professor John Dewey, who co-founded the American Association of University Presidents. Here's what he wrote in that association's statement on academic freedom, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, not a bad one for the Students for Academic Freedom today:

The purpose of this statement is to promote public understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure, an agreement upon procedures to assure them in colleges and universities, institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good. The common good depends upon the free speech for truth, and it's free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes.

Yet, today, we find that such freedom, that Dewey said was essential to the common good, is sorely lacking on many university campuses.

Some just dismiss this charge, say this is just anecdotal. But there's a lot more to this charge of political one-sidedness than the academic community would like to admit.

How many conservative speakers are invited to deliver commencement addresses? You could count them on one hand. How many colleges even require courses in United States history today? How many even teach Western Civilization? How many bright young faculty members at colleges of education are encouraged to earn dissertations in the failure of bilingual education, or on the virtue of vouchers for poor kids, or of charter schools to improve teaching, or the importance of paying teachers more for teaching well to improve the quality of education?

So let me outline very quickly today what I believe are five examples of political one-sidedness and five things you can do about them.

One example, leftist professors outnumber conservative ones. Now, I'm going to assume that I'm not the main speaker at this conference. We'll need to prove the case for political one-sidedness. You're going to have a lot of other people here today who can do that. So I'm going to go pretty quickly over these. But leftists far outnumber conservative professors.

Now, the Washington Post reported on a study for the Political Journal Forum, which had surveyed university faculty and political beliefs, and they found 72 percent of professors self-identify as "liberal," 15 percent as conservative; 50 percent as Democrats, and 11 as Republicans.

In elite institutions in the Ivy League, it is more lopsided: 80 percent left-wing, 13 percent conservative. I'm glad to say at the University of Tennessee it was more Republican than Democrat, but that was a rare exception.

Two, textbooks and reading lists are often biased. You can come up with your own examples of that, but a good place to start is Diane Ravitch's book, The Language Police. She points out that K-12 textbook companies hire sensitivity committees to sanitize their textbooks so nobody will be offended. And the result is that a word like "American" is removed for fear of offending those who might think that South Americans are American, too. Now, imagine a school that couldn't use the word American in its teachings and textbooks. Words like "fireman" are considered to be gender-biased, so firefighter is the accepted alternative.

Number three, speech codes are stifling legitimate debate. This is according to the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. More than 300 colleges and universities, it says, impose speech codes on students. The sentiment is laudable, but the effect is dangerous, and the courts have fairly consistently ruled against such codes.

Now, one recent example: sitting in this dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania, a college student looked out the window and saw two students engaged in what he described as…provocative extracurricular activities. So he took a picture of the students and put it on his website. Were the students disciplined? No, the photographer was charged by the Office of Student Conduct with sexual harassment. One wonders who was harassing whom.

A fourth problem today, an example of one-sidedness, is that conservative campuses do not welcome Republican or conservative speakers, and when they do show up, they're not very well treated, whether it's custard crème pies for Ann Coulter at the University of Arizona, or salad dressing thrown on Pat Buchanan at Western Michigan University, or Bill Kristol's crème pie in his face at Earlham College, or David Horowitz at Butler University. This is also an indication of intellectual laziness. Rather than ask a difficult question, write an article in opposition, host an opposing speaker, liberal students are simply relying on stunts. But the point is the speakers aren't invited.

Bill Bennett is a friend of mine. He was one of my predecessors as Education Secretary. He's a respectable academic, head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, professor at the University of Texas, taught their most outstanding students when he was there. He almost never has been invited to speak at a commencement ceremony.

And, finally, another example: some degree programs won't even pass you if you do not hold leftist views. For example, Lemoyne College was ordered to readmit a student in the college of education because in a paper, he advocated corporal punishment in the classroom, and they wouldn't graduate him because of those views.

Now, those and other examples are enough to form a sound basis for a movement to get your dander up and to cause you to want to change that immediately. But before I suggest a few things I think the Students for Academic Freedom could do, let me state what I suggest you should not do.

Don't try to get the Congress to pass a law about academic freedom. Now, some advocate that. It's tempting to do it. People are mad enough for it to happen. But what do you want writing the law? Ted Kennedy? Or someone from the far-Right? Or Barney Frank? I mean there are a lot of us up here, and we all have our ideas.

And you have to be careful what you ask for when you ask the United States Congress to govern your conduct.

My view of our great university system in America is that 6,000 autonomous institutions have free marketplace of ideas, a place where free expression of diversity ought not to be over-regulated from Washington. So then what do you do about that? Well, here are some -- five things to do.

One, engage in real debate. Bring in speakers with differing points of view. If you can't get the faculty committee to invite a conservative speaker to your commencement, sponsor your own forum, and sponsor it on topics that usually aren't well presented. A typical trick is to invite a so-called conservative who's not very good to be against a leftist speaker who is pretty good. So you have the forum. You invite the speakers. And have good speakers from both sides. And have it on subjects that might not be the subject. If, for example, you're the College of Education, sponsor a forum on bilingual education. Let both sides be heard. Sponsor a forum on charter schools or on vouchers or on paying teachers more for teaching well. That would be a real service to the school.

Number two, use the student newspaper. When I was at Vanderbilt University, I was editor of the student newspaper. The problem then wasn't intellectual diversity; it was racial diversity. Vanderbilt was segregated. So I said making the admissions decisions based on race was wrong. That was an unpopular point of view. They had a referendum in the student body, and they voted, "We'll continue to do that." Well, today, making decisions based on race is still wrong, and it's still unpopular. In other words, try having a discussion about whether race-based scholarships are a good idea. But campuses ought to hear that from that point of view, and you could sponsor that forum, and many of you - or many of the people in your movement - should be deeply involved with the campus newspaper or starting your own newspaper.

Number three, encourage conservatives and Republicans to become teachers and professors. Now, you may say, how can we do that? Not as hard as you might think. I was at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard for a year, just before I went into the senate. Now, that's not a bastion of conservatism or Republicanism. However, I did find that the dean of the school was pretty receptive to the argument, how are you going to be a leading or the leading school of government in a country where the government is Republican if you only produce Democrats? And Dean Nye, who was there when I was there, got busy recruiting Republican students and conservative students to apply for admission to the school.

Just a few months ago, the Kennedy School held a recruitment night at the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican-affiliated club here in Washington, and invited conservative young Hill staffers who might want to pursue graduate studies. That's the way big schools recruit athletes. That's the way schools could recruit conservatives and Republicans to institutions where they are not. I don't believe the George Bush School at the Texas A&M ought to be only for conservatives. I don't think the Kennedy School ought to be just a place for refugees from the Clinton administration. And if you're on that campus, you can approach the administration and ask them to do that.

Here's an idea that I think has some real promise: evaluate professors and schools based on academic freedom. More and more schools today have students fill out a form at the end of the semester evaluating a course of the professor. That was my case when I was teaching my class at Harvard, and I tell you, I paid a lot of attention to that. I didn't want to be poorly rated, and I wasn't. But professors will pay attention to that, and I would suggest that part of any evaluation ought to be the balance or bias of the classroom when it comes to academic freedom. Was the professor open to different points of view? Were the readings balanced? What is the student's opinion?

And if the school's evaluation form doesn't allow for this, I would suggest writing it in the margin and going to the academic dean and saying, "Why isn't this part of the regular evaluation?" Maybe no one's asked them about that. Maybe they'll do it if you suggest it.

And for those in this audience, you might consider a U.S. News and World Report type of evaluation of different schools on the issue of academic freedom. You might call it a political balanced index. Make it balanced, make it respected, but rate the schools based on the real diversity of thought that exists in the classroom in those institutions. You might be surprised how many institutions would pay attention to that.

Finally, find the conservatives on your campus and learn from them. I saw a report that said that at Cambridge, where Harvard is, that 6 percent of the people who live in Cambridge call themselves Republicans. There's probably not a place in the United States where there are so few Republicans and conservatives than Cambridge, Massachusetts. And most of the professors would call themselves left-wing, and most of them would vote Democratic and give money to Democratic candidates. However, if you are a student at that institution, you can find plenty of strong conservative professors if you'll just look for them.

There is, for example, Harvey Mansfield, one of the most important constitutional law professors anywhere in the world today. He has just produced a new book on manliness. You will find once a week at Harvard, in Mansfield's class, Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard.

You will find Samuel Huntington, who was president of the American Political Science Association, now sort of reviled by some of his fellows in academe because of two books he wrote about the clash of civilizations and a new book called Who Are We?

You can find the leading advocate of school choice, Paul Pederson. Now, they're in the minority, but they're there. And they can be found, and they can be invited to classes, and they can be featured in forums, and their printings and their work can be spread among students who might not know about them.

And here's a bonus idea: Designate your contributions. Invite people with money who are conservative and who are concerned about this to give to the alternative student newspaper, to designate their contribution to a balanced series of forums, to create chairs for United States history in Western civilization.

Lots of money is given to higher education by lots of people who would like to see a diverse academic freedom on campus, and that's one way to do it.

So let me conclude on a little more of an upbeat note. For conservatives who might be students, I wouldn't fret too much because you're getting a better education at most campuses than your leftist friends. Why would that be? Because if you're a conservative on most American campuses, your views are constantly challenged, and you have to be sharp to succeed. The moderates get the next-best education, and the leftists get the worst, because they're constantly having said back to them what they already think. That's not much of an education.

I'm not surprised that most university campuses and faculties express left-wing views, vote Democratic, and give to Democratic campaigns. Campuses all around the world have historically been left-wing. That's the nature of the communities. In fact, it is said that one reason why Japanese doesn't have more distinguished universities is the government, after Japan opened to the world, considered universities to be inherently subversive and that it's best to keep them down.

So I'm not surprised that there is a left-wing bent on most campuses, but I am surprised and I'm very disappointed that true diversity of thought is discouraged in the name of a preferred brand of diversity. This one-sidedness is not good for students. It's not good for the pursuit of truth. It undermines broad public support for higher education.

I don't think you'll find anyone in the Congress who's a bigger supporter of the American university than I am - at least I try to be. Right now, I'm leading an effort to try to help make sure we keep our advantage in science and technology in the United States by properly funding our colleges and universities and research institutes and graduates. I've been president of a major university. I respect and value our higher education institutions. I think they're the best in the world, and they're an important source of our high standard of living.

But I do believe, as I said to the President's Commission on Higher Education, that the greatest threat to the American university today, to broad public support for the American university today, is political one-sidedness from the Left. That's a serious threat, because if you look at the funding trends for higher education, federal funding is up, but state funding is flat, and tuition is up as a result of that. And constantly inferior funding by the states of higher education will produce substandard universities, and that will produce substandard incomes for the rest of us. So for the strength of the university, for the expression of free thought, your movement needs to succeed.

So I would say to the Students for Academic Freedom: evaluate your professors; sponsor your own forums; designate your contributions; search out conservative teachers and professors; edit your own newspapers, or start one if it's necessary; create a respected political balance index and distribute it around the country; have some fun; do some good; restore real diversity of opinion; and remind the liberals that political one-sidedness is bad for truth and undermines support for American universities. Then when it comes to academic freedom, what my grandmother would say at this conference if she'd put it all together would be this: what is good for the left-wing goose is good for the right-wing gander. Thank you very much.

Lamar Alexander, the Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, is the only man in Tennessee history ever to be elected both governor and U.S. senator. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.