What We Have Inspired at Georgia Tech · 18 April 2005

Blog Post from David Horowitz--04/18/05

Here is an article about an intellectual diversity forum that was held at Georgia Tech as a response to our initiative. We had nothing to do with sponsoring this event and weren't a part of it, except that Bill Hamrick who wa one of the sponsors of our Academic Bill of Rights spoke. My only comments on this report are that it is crucial that grievance machinery for problems associated with academic freedom issues be put in place and that students have clearly delineated academic freedom rights.

Forum Highlights Academic Freedom
By Jennifer Lee--The Technique--04/15/05

Sponsored by SGA and Diversity Forum, a town hall meeting on the topic of academic freedom was held this past Monday.

Spurred by events in last year's legislature, the motivation for the event was to of course promote discussion, especially since academic freedom "hadn't been addressed on this campus in any shape, form or fashion," said Stephanie Ray, associate dean of students and director of diversity issues.

Guest speakers included Bill Hamrick, a Republican state senator from Georgia ' s 30th District and chair of the Senate ' s Higher Education Committee during the previous legislative season, and Barry Bozeman, Regents ' professor in the School of Public Policy.

The emcee for the event was Charles Brown, business director for GTRI and chair of the Diversity Forum, who began by introducing the four panelists, who each spoke at length about their own take on academic freedom.

Brown began with Senator Hamrick, who spoke mainly about the history of Senate Resolution 661, a resolution passed last session in favor of an Academic Bill of Rights which Hamrick co-authored with fellow senator Eric Johnson.

The resolution was originally heavily based on the Academic Bill of Rights as outlined by the Students for Academic Freedom, a "national coalition of independent campus groups dedicated to restoring academic freedom" in higher education, according to their website.

However, during committee hearings, Hamrick said, " We discovered that there was a lot of concern among the universities, among the professors, and we also realized that there were a lot of students who had stories to tell...I was convinced that there was enough concern that we wanted to at least see if we could find a compromise. "The final version of the resolution that was passed was a modified, less controversial version."

Bozeman then took the podium to give a general overview of academic freedom as it pertained to professors and the classroom. He presented examples of faculty bylaws from other universities and statements on professorial ethics from the American Association of University Professors as evidence that laws and legislation - "Even good, well-meaning [ones] such as SR661, "he said - were not necessary in the light of the extensive body of guidelines on teaching that already exists.

Bozeman also outlined what should be done in place of legislation, emphasizing the importance of awareness among both faculty and students.

Then the two student panelists spoke. Jessica Smith, a senior in Biology, spoke about the need for an Academic Bill of Rights, giving Tech-specific examples of situations where students felt their rights were violated. "We need education, not indoctrination...scholarship, not partisanship," Smith said.

Alan Bakowski, a graduate student in Public Policy, took the opposite stance, speaking against an Academic Bill of Rights, saying that such a bill would be better described as academic "protection." "If...[students] are able to stand up and say I disagree with my professor...then you're also talking about students who are mature enough to not need the protectionism that academic freedom for students is supposed to [provide]," he said.

The four panelists spoke for the first hour of the town hall, and then took the stage to answer questions from the audience.

The question-and-answer portion, which lasted the full second hour of the town hall meeting, addressed a wide range of related issues: the role of legislature and media, appropriate grievance procedures, academic freedom in engineering versus liberal arts classes, and the need for self-governance among faculty.

Kirk Bowman, a professor in the School of International Affairs, asked the Senator whether the resolution had been made based on real data. "I find it a little disconcerting that public policy is being made on a series of anecdotes," Bowman said, noting that he teaches a class in empirical methods.

"The legislature is always acting on anecdotal situations, " Hamrick replied. "[There are] many laws that have evolved out of one story or one situation...it's just part of the reality of the process."

Jason Bond, a third-year International Affairs major, asked what should be done about bad professors. Bozeman acknowledged the difficulty of this question, noting the difficulty in understanding "what a bad professor is."

In extreme cases, he said, identifying a poor professor becomes easier. "Then the question becomes, what can you do about that?" he said. "It's very difficult...for the same reasons that you would have a difficult time judging and taking actions on the basis of behavior of your friends"

Another student asked about the tangible results of SR661. Hamrick, who continually emphasized throughout the meeting that a resolution was not the same as law, nevertheless suggested that it promoted discussion. "Hopefully this [forum] is a tangible result," he said.

Brown added, "I think it got the attention of the administrations at the universities...I know that discussion happened here at Georgia Tech because of the resolution."

Ray, who supervised and organized the forum, said she was pleased with the overall event, especially the turnout. The meeting, held at the Clary Theater in the Student Success Center, had a nearly-full house, with Ray counting 85 people at one point during the evening.

"This is such a busy time for Georgia Tech students; so that lets me know...that the campus is very concerned about diversity of opinion in the classroom and academic freedom," Ray said.

She was also impressed with the faculty participation. "At least 15 faculty...came to the program," she said. "I cannot recall...a time when we had as much faculty and student interaction in an evening program...the exchange of ideas that went on between students and faculty was incredible."

Many students attended the event because of personal connections to the issue or the panel members, but were pleasantly surprised.

"I didn't put a whole lot of thought into it," said Troy Watson, a first- year Mechanical Engineering major who was friends with Smith. "I guess I could have thought of some of this on my own, but [it was] definitely very beneficial to make me think about both sides of the story," he said.

Similarly, Bob Grant, a third-year Mechanical Engineering major, said that though he didn't necessarily agree with some of the discussion, it was worthwhile. "I always heard the case for [an Academic Bill of Rights], but I hadn ' t heard as much of the case against it," he said, adding that he found Bozeman's talk informative.

Other students spoke positively about Senator Hamrick. "I really enjoyed listening to the senator; I think he was very frank - good personality," said Daniel Rubenfield, a second-year International Affairs major.

Indeed, at one point in the discussion, the senator quipped, "Let me say that I'm an Auburn graduate, and we're at Georgia Tech, and [the discussion] is getting dangerously close to going over my head," to appreciative laughter from the audience.

Ray, like many of the forum ' s participants, thanked the senator for coming, nothing the value in being able to hear the story "from the horse's mouth." "I was very honored that he came...it took a lot of courage," Ray said. " He didn't have to; I think there was always the possibility that he could've taken a lot of heat."