Update on NY Academic Bill of Rights · 17 December 2006

Democracy Project

It is good news that the New York State Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) legislation is almost certain be re-introduced in next year’s legislative session. With the recent escalation of incidents of campus censorship and bullying of students and speakers with divergent viewpoints, this bill is now even more necessary for safeguarding intellectual diversity and basic constitutional rights on college campuses. The original brainchild of David Horowitz, ABOR was introduced in the NYS Senate as S6336 early in the year sponsored by 10 Senators followed by the sponsorship of the same bill in the Assembly as A10098 by 6 Assemblymembers due to the lobbying efforts of several supporters of ABOR and I.

The stated purpose of the bill is “to ensure that students enrolled in institutions of higher education receive exposure to a wide range of scholarly viewpoints, and to recognize the academic rights of faculty members.” The bill “…ensures an academic environment for both students and faculty members that allows freedom of political viewpoint, expression and instruction” and it requires that institutions of higher education set up a viable grievance mechanism.

The bill’s prospects look promising in the NYS Senate thanks to the continuous efforts of a number of concerned colleagues and students over the past year calling state representatives and sending letters and faxes to Higher Education Committee members. In recent conversations with John Googas, the Chief of Staff of Senator Padavan, one of the co-sponsors, he assured me that the bill would be reintroduced in 2007. He said he doubts that anything will be done with the bill in the current state legislative session. This is a lame duck session that has accomplished absolutely nothing, failing to raise the cap on charter schools as well as a number of other vital measures. He mentioned that the position of the Higher Education Committee, where the bill now sits, is well staked out and its prospects for passage look good once it gets to the floor.

In answer to the dire warnings of the NYSUT and faculty unions, that this bill would bring government intrusion into the classroom, Googas assured me that policing the colleges and classrooms is the furthest thing from the legislator’s busy agendas. He said that it’s not up to the legislators to get involved in the minutia of academic details. That’s for the faculty and staff to worry about. No government bodies are going to interfere. The purpose of ABOR is to make the faculty and staff face their responsibilities to live up to their own professional standards and depose the ‘rotten apples’ who are abusing the institution for political or other biased agendas. Susan Aron, Chief of Staff of Senator Maltese, another co-sponsor, expressed concern that the bill would face an uphill battle in the Assembly and we should concentrate our efforts there.

Nonetheless, the word from Assembly sponsors is just as reassuring, as far as reintroduction of the bill is concerned. Assemblyman Seminerio’s Chief of Staff Jody Rickert said that the Assemblyman, the chief sponsor, would certainly reintroduce it next year. As a conservative Democrat, he is a strong ally of the academic freedom movement having experienced the abuses first hand. When he was a college student, he was penalized for having a different viewpoint from his professors. In a recent Frontpage interview he expressed his strong support for the bill:

If a professor is there to shape your mind and teach reasoning and thinking, you’re not going to get that from always hearing a one–sided view. The overall reports that I get are from students who have professors that hate America. A student who protests an anti–American professor should not find their marks or their grades in jeopardy. Once we pass it they will have to accept it.

This past year I have reached out to other Assemblymembers conducting several phone sessions with Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, Assemblyman Kirwan, and I have future plans to do so with Mark Weprin, my own Assemblyman. John Delessio, one of Kirwan’s aides, a recent graduate spoke to me about the problems he encountered with his own “leftist Marxist professors”. He said that ABOR would be difficult to enforce in such a classroom setting under the dominion of leftist professors. The biggest problem in his opinion is the hostile academic environment that is not conducive to learning and reasoning. Rather students learn to shut up and agree with their professors in order to get good grades.

In all cases I discussed some of the incidents and experiences I have heard from students on local NY campuses or read about. When I mentioned testimonies of student’s failing grades for disagreeing with their professors, 9/11 conspiracy theory courses presented by professors at Pace University and BMCC, the mob violence at Columbia and censorship at Pace to silence certain viewpoints, they were stunned that such abuses and anti-American indoctrination are such a growing phenomenon right here in their own legislative backyards and vowed to fight for the current ABOR legislation as a key step to a solution.

The need for outside legislation has been proven by the fact that university staff and administrators are reluctant to deal with the lack of intellectual diversity and rampant political indoctrination in the classroom and the curriculum. After publicly declaring his intention to strengthen intellectual diversity on State University of New York (SUNY) campuses and give the matter a fair hearing, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Egan failed numerous times to make time for the issue and encourage a fair debate when it was brought to the table by SUNY trustee Dr. Candace deRussy. In March SUNY trustees once again had had an opportunity to formulate a statewide policy to encourage intellectual diversity and protect the academic rights of students and professors from viewpoint discrimination, but again they rejected all attempts to seriously look into the matter.

As a result of the apparent fact that an Academic Bill of Rights or any other version such as the ACE Statement, could not get a fair hearing on college campuses in New York and no such safeguards presently exist, various supporters of ABOR and I initiated the phone and letterwritting campaign to let our legislators know that we are concerned about the bias on campus. Once the bill is introduced in the new legislative sessions in 2007, we will undoubtedly need to commence our campaign once again and contact our state Assemblymembers and Senators to express our concerns.