Liberating Academia: S.A., Horowitz Bills Protect Vital Campus Debate · 03 May 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

Editorial from the Cornell Daily Sun, 05/04/04

Why is The Sun sponsoring the "Resolution on Academic Freedom"?

Because academic freedom is what every university must cherish and protect at all costs. Because it affirms that Cornell must strive to "Open Minds" -- and opening minds comes only through free, uncensored, lively, engaging discourse: in speech, in writing, in divergent ideas and viewpoints.

Because censorship belongs in a gulag, not a world-renowned academic institution.

Because no one should have any reason to oppose a resolution such as this one, which will be heard before the Student Assembly on Thursday.

The proposed resolution, which is being submitted by Ross Blankenship '05, seeks to preserve "a spirit of free inquiry," noting that this spirit is "indispensable to the achievement" of the goals of Cornell University.

Most importantly: "[A]cademic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech."

A similar resolution was recently passed at Brown University. A more expanded version of both is currently circulating across the nation in the form of David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, which has reached the state legislatures of both Colorado and California.

In their most basic form, these resolutions seek to remove political, ideological or religious bias from the hiring, firing and promotion of college professors. They seek to do the same for allocating funds to speakers and publications. They protect the freedom of expression -- in speech, in assembly, in press -- that is so often threatened on university campuses. And they encourage fair grading and the presentation of alternate viewpoints in course materials.

Most opponents to Horowitz's bill raise two objections. First, they foresee a de facto quota system which they fear would result in the allocation of spots for underrepresented conservative professors. And second, they prophesize a day when, for example, German studies departments hire Nazi-sympathizing professors in order to achieve "intellectual diversity."

Nonsense! Universities exist to promote excellence. The hallmark of the academic tradition is the institution of peer review and the mutual acknowledgment of intellectual accomplishment, regardless of political stripe. This ensures that inferior ideas -- ethnic cleansing, totalitarianism, to name a few -- will not have their defenders in academic departments. And the word "quota," or any conceivable synonym, does not appear in Horowitz's or Blankenship's resolutions.

On the contrary, the language of these proposals clearly seeks to remove any bias -- toward the left, the right, or anywhere in between -- that may or may not currently exist in American academic culture. If such bias is nonexistent, as many critics of the Bill of Rights contend, then supporting it will result in no change whatsoever.

The importance of Blankenship's resolution in particular lies in its position on funding allocation. Since the S.A. presides over the Student Assembly Finance Commission, which divides student fees among many competing campus organizations, it is important that political non-discrimination is established as its official policy in the future. This is especially significant considering the current campus climate in which groups are calling for the censorship of SAFC-funded publications. This is the time for the Student Assembly to make a difference where it has the power and the will to do so.

Why is The Sun sponsoring the "Resolution on Academic Freedom"?

Because The Sun is proud to be Cornell's independent student voice. Because as such, it is The Sun's duty to foster open dialogue in its pages, as it is Cornell's duty to do so in its classrooms and throughout campus.

The entire Cornell community should offer its support to these bills and the ideals they represent as well.

The Student Assembly vote this Thursday will be the first opportunity. The day the Cornell administration considers the Academic Bill of Rights will be the second.