More Criticism of 'Academic Bill of Rights' · 09 January 2006

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Scott

Members of the American Historical Association voted Saturday to condemn the Academic Bill of Rights as an attack on academic freedom. The unanimous vote reflected widespread anger in the association, and among academics generally, about the Academic Bill of Rights, which has become a conservative cause in many state legislatures and on many campuses.

But the vote followed another one in which the association rejected a proposal to replace the resolution condemning the Academic Bill of Rights with one that also criticized campus speech codes.

Proponents of the broader resolution said that the historians would have more credibility attacking the Academic Bill of Rights (which many professors across ideological lines feel could limit their freedom of expression, but which has especially angered liberals) if they also came out against campus speech codes, which many professors also feel infringe on academic freedom, but which have especially angered conservatives and libertarians.

All of the historians who participated in the discussion - which took place at the AHA's annual meeting, in Philadelphia - said that they opposed speech codes. But the majority voted with those who said that speech codes and the Academic Bill of Rights were two separate issues, and that the focus right now should be opposing the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Academic Bill of Rights is a short statement - much of it unobjectionable to just about any academic - with calls for higher education to seek "new knowledge through scholarship" and to help students become "creative individuals and productive citizens." It also calls for students to be graded and for professors to be hired on the basis of academic skills, not politics.

While almost all academics support those views as well, many say that David Horowitz, the conservative activist who created the document, wants to force colleges to hire more conservatives. Particularly controversial is the document's call for professors to share "other viewpoints" with their classes, which many scholars see as an invitation to Holocaust deniers or creationists to demand equal time in classes that cover the Holocaust or evolution.

The resolution passed by the AHA says that the Academic Bill of Rights would "violate academic freedom and undermine professional standards by imposing political criteria in areas of educational policy that faculty members normally and rightly control."

On Friday, the board of the Association of American Colleges and Universities released a statement that it had passed, criticizing the Academic Bill of Rights for similar reasons cited by the historians and other groups, but also outlining ways to think about intellectual diversity.

At the history meeting, debate over the Academic Bill of Rights itself was fairly simple. Ellen Schrecker, a professor of history at Yeshiva University, called the Academic Bill of Rights a "cleverly written document" that was designed to pressure faculty members to hire more conservatives and to avoid topics and views that offend conservatives. "We should not seek to protect students from hearing uncomfortable views," she said.

The only debate was whether to expand the resolution to also condemn campus speech codes. David Beito, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and one of three sponsors of the alternate approach, said that condemning the Academic Bill of Rights without also questioning speech codes would be "handing David Horowitz a victory on a silver platter" because he would be able to call historians hypocrites.

Jonathan Rose, a professor of history at Drew University, in New Jersey, said that voting to condemn only the Academic Bill of Rights would send a message that "we only care about academic freedom for ourselves and our friends." Following such a vote, he predicted, "we will be held up to ridicule and we will deserve it."

Proponents of keeping the original language said that the Horowitz movement posed far more danger than speech codes. Sandi Cooper, a professor of history at the City University of New York's Graduate Center and College of Staten Island, said courts have thrown out speech codes so criticizing them is "beating a dead horse" while the Academic Bill of Rights is "a very serious threat."

William Cutler, president of the American Federation of Teachers chapter at Temple University, noted that in his state of Pennsylvania, Horowitz won a victory with the creation of a special legislative committee to investigate colleges and universities - a panel that resumes its deliberations this week. Adding speech codes to the resolution, he said, would take away from the "primary issue," which is the need to defend faculty members under attack by Horowitz and his legislative allies.

In the end, that argument won over most of the historians present. After their amendment was defeated, however, backers of the expanded version - as they had pledged to do during the debate - backed the original resolution.

The historians also passed one other resolution: calling for more public debate on the way the United states is treating foreign prisoners and rejecting "the use of torture" by the government. Both resolutions were then formally approved on Sunday by the AHA Council.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities statement is in some ways similar to the one approved by the historians. The Academic Bill of Rights, the statement said, "inappropriately invites political oversight of scholarly and educational work."

The statement goes on to question whether the Academic Bill of Rights creates a false impression that good education is primarily about sharing a range of views on issues. "Teaching the debates is important, but by no means sufficient," the statement said. "It is also essential that faculty help students learn to engage differences of opinion, evaluate evidence, and form their own grounded judgments about the relative value of competing perspectives."

Carol Geary Schneider, president of the association, faulted Horowitz for implying that the political makeup of college faculties is a pressing issue, compared to so many others. "Focusing on the balance of political opinions among faculty members draws attention away from the more important educational task of preparing students," Schneider said. "We must ensure that far more college students develop the analytic capacities and sense of social responsibility fostered by a liberal education."

Not surprisingly, Horowitz, in an e-mail interview, took issue with both academic groups that condemned him in recent days.

Horowitz said that the AHA's refusal to condemn speech codes "shows the hypocrisy of the organization's claims to principle." He also said that the AHA resolution was incorrect in stating that his proposals would give the government power over curriculums and courses or impose "political criteria" in educational policy. He said that he would give $10,000 to the first member of the AHA who can show that the Academic Bill of Rights would have this impact.

"The AHA resolution is a pathetic display of ideological prejudice on the part of the small minority of apparently hysterical academics who attended the AHA business meeting," he said.

Of the AACU resolution, Horowitz said that it was inaccurate in saying that his proposal would require "balance" on faculties or in the curriculum. "That the academic left has to invent canards like this to oppose the Academic Bill of Rights just shows what a desperate state they are in."

- Scott Jaschik


Good for Horowitz: At least he has the conviction to put his money where his mouth is. The question now is will those falsely alleging that the ABOR mandates political hirings and promotions now finally put up or shut up?

Federal Dog, at 8:01 am EST on January 9, 2006

Historians believe in teaching students social responsibility? Historians believe that it was up to the judges to challenge or stop speech codes? Historians are not absurd hypocrites?

When laws prescribed, and judges did due obeisance, to principles that recognized the inferiority of females and all persons of color, did historians fall down and adore what society had thus wrought? And when they did, were they surprised that some of their students were reluctant and dubious? Horowitz has hit a nerve all right-the one that excites the galvanic response of chickens.

John C. Bonnell, professor of English, at 8:02 am EST on January 9, 2006

Not what it says, but who wrote it
These are intelligent people, but they are reading things into the very short statement that simply are not there. All the ABOR syas is that you should allow your students to state their own views without discriminating and humiliating them. There is nothing about liberal or conservative, creation or evolution. Sheesh, what a bunch of nervous ninnies.

Have a happy day!

Cal, at 8:29 am EST on January 9, 2006

double standards
What am I to make of the fact that I (a white male) have been told "You are the wrong race and sex" to teach a course on racism and sexism (which I had previously taught at other schools without incident).

Why do colleges emphasize the importance of making all students feel comfortable on campus, then put up anti-Bush flyers on faculty doors, invite anti-Semitic speakers, etc.

One might consider such practices to be double standards. So yes, I think Mr Horowitz has a point.

Joel Warren Lidz, Ph.D., at 8:38 am EST on January 9, 2006

The important point in this discussion is not that Mr. Horowitz has proposed the ABOR, but that colleges and universities with their speech codes and political correctness have created environments that give traction to Mr. Horowitz's issue. If the academy had done of better job of fulfilling its responsibilities or even taken the lead in combating the limitations on expression and the self-censorship that have become all too prevalent on many campuses, there would be no call for an ABOR and no specter of external, right-wing meddling. I don't particularly like many of the types who support Mr. Horowitz, but the issue he raises is reasonable, and, unfortunately, the academy is reaping what it has sown. Only in academe could smart people convince themselves that there is no relationship between speech codes and the ABOR. What self-delusion.

Mommy, at 9:32 am EST on January 9, 2006

How Reassuring
I'm certain that all students who might disagree with their history professors will sleep soundly tonight knowing that they need only fear failing marks and expulsion for dissenting from the campus orthodoxy rather than being put to the rack or in the iron maiden.

Kudos to the AHA for succinctly making Horowitz's point for him.

Stu Gittelman, at 11:49 am EST on January 9, 2006

Everyone Supports Speech Codes
The problem with equating the specific "Academic Bill of Rights" with speech codes is that every college has a speech code, and should have one. If you think there should be any regulations on verbal harassment, threats, disruptions of classes, shouting down of speakers, etc., then you support a speech code. So a general statement against speech codes makes absolutely no sense. What we need to oppose are badly written speech codes which restrict free expression. However, internal speech codes are a completely different issue from a national movement to impose legislation restricting political expression on campuses, and it was perfectly for the AHA to criticize Horowitz's dangerous proposals without addressing every flawed policy on campus.

John K. Wilson, at 11:49 am EST on January 9, 2006

Speech Codes Wrong
Speech codes have no business being used in an institution based on free inquiry.

Hank Vandenburgh, at 12:15 pm EST on January 9, 2006

John: look more closely?

We especially wrote the resolution to address your concern. It does not oppose (as I repeated endlessly at the meeting) speech codes. It only opposes speech codes that violate academic freedom (a concept that the original resolution sponsored by our opponents endorsed, apparently without any qualification). Here is our resolution:

Whereas, Free and open discourse is essential to the success of research and learning on campus; andWhereas, Faculty and students face threats to academic freedom from multiple sources which include government agencies and campus administrators; and

Whereas, The so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights and campus speech codes represent the two leading threats to academic freedom today; and

Whereas, Administrators, politicians, and others have used speech codes and the Academic and Student Bill of Rights to improperly restrict faculty choices on curriculum, course content, and personnel decisions; and

Whereas, The so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights and speech codes violate academic freedom and undermine professional standards by imposing political criteria in areas of educational policy that individual faculty members normally and rightly control; and

Whereas, These measures have restricted free and open discourse for students and faculty alike through such methods as "free speech zones;" therefore be it

Resolved, That the American Historical Association opposes the passage of the Academic and Student Bills of Rights, the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom, and all similar attempts to limit free and open discourse on campus.

David T. Beito, Associate Professor at University of Alabama, at 1:05 pm EST on January 9, 2006

Chasing your tail
" Whereas, The so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights and campus speech codes represent the two leading threats to academic freedom today"

We are *still* waiting for someone - anyone - to show what in the ABOR constitutes a "leading threat" to academic freedom. Conclusory statements that are patently false only prove that you cannot make your case based on facts and logic.

Federal Dog, at 1:07 pm EST on January 9, 2006

Speech Codes
Speech Codes generally go above and beyond the legal definition of harassment and such and tend towards open ended statements about "respect" and "comfort" - no campus should need to go beyond what the law requires - it is already more than sufficient.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 1:55 pm EST on January 9, 2006

Hey Dog, I could use the 10K
Show me where the ABOR is so I can get the 10 grand! This is easy. It's about some political group, any outside group, telling me how to teach my class. Horowitz would trample on my job, my responsibility, as far as what argument(s) or point(s) is/are made. It's MY class. It's not a democracy. I grade, I write the syllabus, I grade the received materials, I determine what policies will be made on absences, missing work, etc. Only the department chair or the administration should have a voice if they don't like something. That's it. I've been hired to do a job and I intend to do it, not pander to students who want A's for no work nor to politicos or activists who want to censor or change what I do. Do you want me to tell you how to do your job? Maybe you want me to cut and chew your food for you too. Didn't think so.

Lisa Kazmier, Dr. at IUP, at 8:35 pm EST on January 9, 2006

Hey, Lisa, you must be very lucky or very female to have gotten this far into your career and still be able to believe that "any outside group" can not usurp your responsibility and begin telling you how to teach your class. It happens all the time, particularly if the professor is "white," male, non-diversified and heterosexual. When the "outside group" is any collocation of federal judges, you may well find that your ideas are suspect, your training outdated, and your appearance or demeanor insensitive. The classes you teach are not YOUR classes; the students in them are not YOUR captive audience. They are the captive audience of the State. What used to be properly understood as your academic freedom now is construed as the property of the "academy." It is said that neither the state nor the judiciary may interfere with the academy's attending to its own business, even when these public managers have stooped wholesale to managing the words and ideas of the teachers they hire. Nor does the judiciary have any idea what the point of such institutional "academic freedom" might be. Judges merely do the sort of mindless parroting that is becoming the normal requirement for instructors.

I don't know what trampling will follow Horowitz's plan, should it be embraced. I do know it will have one hell of a long way to go to rival the trampling already in force. As you have evidently dodged this misfortune, may the goddesses still smile benignly.

John C. Bonnell, professor of English, at 6:07 am EST on January 10, 2006

Hey, Lisa
As long as you do the job you were hired to do and do not abuse your students, I do not care (and neither does Horowitz!). Silly paranoia about evil boogieman Horowitz demanding that people **do the jobs they contracted to do** is unbecoming, to say the least.

All people must be accountable for their conduct to others or society will properly make them accountable. No one is exempt from this basic principle of accountability. All the difference in the world separates academic freedom and infantile licence in the classroom. It's high time knuckleheads in the schools learned this basic distinction. Until they do, if necessary, outside intervention may be proper to safeguard students from abuse.

Here's a thought: Do what I do! Teach the courses contracted and let the kids learn *how* to think, not *what* to think. It works for me!

Federal Dog, at 7:20 am EST on January 10, 2006