Horowitz Champions Academic Bill of Rights in Florida · 05 April 2005

Filed under: Florida, Press Coverage

Horowitz Champions Academic Bill of Rights in Florida

By Kimberly Miller--Palm Beach Post--04/06/05

TALLAHASSEE - Conservative activist David Horowitz wants free speech on Florida campuses protected, he told legislators Tuesday.

But he wouldn't have allowed liberal moviemaker Michael Moore to speak at the University of South Florida in September, despite the fact that public money wasn't used to pay the producer of Fahrenheit 9/11. The school administration should have found a conservative speaker to balance Moore's liberal beliefs before letting Moore speak, Horowitz said

Horowitz, who once toured college campuses to tell students they were cowards "in the grips of the fascist left," testified Tuesday in favor of what has been dubbed the "academic freedom bill," saying that professors should not stray from their subject matter, should keep personal opinions to themselves and should limit class discussions on controversial issues.

"It is not the place of teachers to force conclusions on controversial matters," Horowitz told the House Education Council during a workshop. "This is not a controversial bill. It has been made controversial by people who have a vested interest in keeping universities as their political platforms."

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, invited Horowitz to speak about HB 837, which Baxley modeled after template legislation promoted by a national conservative group, Students for Academic Freedom, founded by Horowitz.

The bill, which has a Senate companion (SB 2126) states that professors have the right to academic freedom, but adds that students should not "be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no (teaching) purpose."

Florida university faculty say the bill would limit free speech in the classroom by intimidating professors who may shy away from controversial topics for fear of being accused of bias. They point out that there is no definition in the bill of "persistent" or what would be considered controversial.

"Professors need to have freedom without having to be looking over their shoulder," Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida, testified Tuesday. "I don't think faculty will be encouraged to come to Florida if they see that something that should be dealt with in the university is being dealt with in the legislature."

The Florida Department of Education has estimated colleges and universities would need $4.2 million to hire an extra attorney to handle lawsuits that are likely to appear if the legislation is passed.

Auxter said most universities have procedures for students or faculty who feel they have been discriminated against to report the offense to administrators.

But Baxley said the bill will protect the rights of conservative Florida college students, some of whom testified Tuesday about prejudices they say they fell victim to at the hands of liberal professors.

"I find it humorous that we are pretending our universities are not bastions of liberal thought," said Baxley, who is the chairman of the House Education committee. "Conservative students have to go underground or face retribution."

In introducing the workshop, Baxley cited several other examples from around the nation, including an anecdote that Horowitz used in a column about a University of Northern Colorado student getting an F on an essay after she refused to write about "why George Bush is a war criminal."

But Horowitz admitted last month on his Web site that the anecdote was untrue, although he did not correct Baxley Tuesday.

In 2001, Horowitz also caused a stir when he attempted to run an ad titled "Ten reasons why reparations for slavery is a bad idea for blacks - and racist too" in newspapers, many on college campuses.

The University of Florida and Florida State University were among many student papers nationwide that refused to sell Horowitz space for the ad, which said reparations totaling trillions of dollars have already been paid to blacks through welfare and racial preferences.

Gov. Jeb Bush, when later asked about Baxley's bill, called Horowitz a "fighter for freedom."

"The idea that speech rights are given comfortably to one side but not the other is wrong," Bush said. "Universities need to be sensitive to the fact that some people feel their rights are restricted and they feel isolated."