Censoring the Liberal Cadre · 14 March 2006

Censoring the Liberal Cadre

By Anika Fontaine--Maryland Diamondback--02/23/06

I'm sure we could all appreciate a remote control with the power to mute a professor mid-lecture. Many of them have a tendency to give unnecessarily long-winded explanations of ideas we don't really want to hear about. But can't we also agree there is a difference between muting a professor and censoring him? Muting a professor is often desirable - censoring him never is.

David Horowitz, the Marxist-turned-neo-conservative political commentator and author, would not agree. Horowitz is notorious for his view that "liberal radicals" have conquered the academic community. He is also the author of the Academic Bill of Rights - though "Academic Bill of Restrictions" seems more appropriate.

ABOR is a piece of legislation (already adopted in part by several states) that claims to promote academic freedom in the world of higher education by guaranteeing neither students nor professors are ever discriminated against on the basis of their political views. This all sounds peachy keen and common sense - but then you keep reading …

The legislation calls for a professor to only teach students ideas that have been accepted as fact and cannot be considered controversial. The only topics that can safely be taught are those on which everyone agrees.

In the case a professor is allowed to discuss a controversial topic in the classroom, he must always offer a dissenting viewpoint.

To illustrate: Professors of biology would have to treat creationism with as much consideration and significance as they treat evolution. And a government and politics professor would have to offer arguments for why the war in Vietnam was a failure as well as for why it was an exemplary success.

Horowitz's newest book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America was published just over a week ago. This book is a blacklist. Its book jacket promises the exciting profiling of 101 professors as "terrorists, racists and communists." But the real meat of this book is the 48-page introduction that explains the reasoning behind ABOR.

Horowitz accuses liberal professors of using interdisciplinary programs such as women's studies and African-American studies to train a "radical cadre" and that these "ideological programs" are "not appropriate" in a university setting.

In his opinion, liberal professors are often given special treatment and can apparently make "racist … remarks in public" without affecting a reaction from the administration, as long as these remarks are only offensive to "unprotected groups" such as whites and Christians.

This all might sound extreme, but I have heard Maryland students voice the same complaints. If your ideas are not always well-represented and have been verbally annihilated in classroom discussions - tough luck. Ideas should be challenged. Frankly, if you're too sensitive to stand up for your idea in a discussion, then you should think about how strongly you believe in it.

Even though I may often be part of the liberal "majority" in classroom discussions, I have been far outnumbered plenty of times. After all, I'm in the business school, which is crawling with Republicans a la Scrooge McDuck, (though they do not, to their dismay, have a morning swim in a pool of gold - I assume). Anyway, I don't feel discriminated against when I am given the evil eye because I defended a more rigorous welfare state or, worse yet, corporate responsibility.

To uphold and take advantage of the free marketplace of ideas a university is supposed to offer, people of all ideologies should be free to speak their minds. Censorship of professors and of academic material would restrict this free marketplace of ideas, which would severely limit our academic experience.

I only hope no one takes Horowitz as seriously as he takes himself. And those who are too sensitive to take some opposition to their ideas should grow some thicker skin.

Anika Fontaine is a junior marketing major. She can be reached at amfontaine@comcast.net.

Response to the Diamondback:

In her recent article on the Academic Bill of Rights (Censoring the Liberal Cadre, 02/23) Anika Fontaine reveals herself to be misinformed both on the content of the Bill and the history of academic freedom.

She claims that the Academic Bill of Rights "calls for a professor to only teach students ideas that have been accepted as fact and cannot be considered controversial" and states that it would force a biology professor to teach creationism alongside evolution. These statements are 100% false.

The Academic Bill of Rights does not in any way hinder professors from discussing controversial topics in the classroom. It merely states that "Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination" and calls for professors to teach a "spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints" on the subjects examined in their courses. Creationism is neither a scientific nor a scholarly viewpoint, and thus it has no place in a biology class.

The provisions in the Academic Bill of Rights are taken from the American Association of University Professors which in its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (which is quoted in hundreds of university policies across the nation) states that "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 the subject."

Asking professors to abide by the standards of their profession is not censorship; it is the basis for academic freedom.

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom