Open Views · 03 April 2006

Open Views

Editorial from the Patriot News--03/25/06

Rep. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, isn't exactly engaged in a witch hunt as he explores the realm of college lectures, looking for those who speak evil of the status quo.

Indeed, it's hard to conduct a witch hunt when Pennsylvania's college professors appear to be incredibly, boringly mainstream in their political beliefs and statements. The best Armstrong's legislative inquisition could come up with is a Bloomsburg University professor criticized by a student for posting an American flag on her door and another who posted a cartoon suggesting dropping a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan.

That's not much to go on if you're looking to burn professors at the stake for expressing incendiary views of the left-wing variety.

Actually, what Armstrong has in mind arguably amounts to crueler punishment than the usual means of torture. We're talking about being sued, the modern version of being hanged, drawn and quartered. While he's not quite convinced there's a problem, he does have a solu tion, one offered by conserva tive activist David Horowitz. He's urging states to pass an "academic bill of rights" to pro tect students from getting only one side of the story in the classroom. And if they don't deliver, they could be sued by students.

That's just what America needs: more litigation. It surely needs more conflict and controversy, certainly more people monitoring other people to make sure nothing is said that offends anyone's preconceptions or sensibilities.

Indeed, why students who are so close-minded and convinced -- at their tender age -- of the correctness of their views as to be offended by alternative ideas makes one wonder why they would bother going to college in the first place. They already know it all.

Of course, it works both ways, so that neither a student nor a professor should be penalized or rebuked for holding contrary views. Our sense is that Pennsylvania's colleges and universities are well equipped to address issues of "academic bias" without the long-arm of the government dictating what is appropriate classroom dialogue and what isn't.

The fact that we actually have people in a position to make laws contemplating compromising academic freedom is scary and should send a chill down the back of everyone who believes in freedom of speech, freedom of thought and vibrant and free-flowing intellectual discussion.

This issue -- to the extent one can accurately describe academic bias as a legitimate issue -- makes a good case for devolving the Pennsylvania General Assembly into a part-time legislature. "Big Brother" Armstrong should stop wasting the public's time and taxpayer dollars and get on with addressing real issues that affect real people in their daily lives.

And there are far too many of those issues to enumerate, mostly because our lawmakers are busy doing other things, like minding everyone else's business.

Response to Patriot News

The Patriot News' recent editorial on the Academic Bill of Rights shows that its editors aren't interested in facts-only innuendo.

The editorial describes the academic freedom hearings currently underway in the Pennsylvania legislature as a "witch hunt" and claims that Rep. Gib Armstrong, the sponsor of the bill which initiated the hearings, is "looking to burn professors at the stake for expressing incendiary views of the left-wing variety." These statements are malicious distortions.

The Penn State Faculty Manual states that "The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study." Yet a Penn State student (whose experience was recounted by David Horowitz in his testimony before the committee) was made to chant "abortion, abortion, abortion" in her women's studies class by a professor who exhorted the students that abortion is a good thing and women should be proud of having one.

Such abuses of academic freedom and violations of existing policy are rampant in Pennsylvania's universities, yet university administrators refuse to acknowledge a problem much less take action to correct it. The select committee is performing an admirable and necessary function by examining the existing state of academic freedom on the state's public campuses to determine if additional steps need to be taken. It is the opponents of the hearings who are conducting a witch-hunt, attempting to censor free inquiry and discussion about academic freedom before a recommendation can even be reached.


Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom