Teachers' Unions For Indoctrination · 18 April 2005

Filed under: Replies to Critics

By Sara Dogan--04/18/05

On Friday, April 15, the National Education Association in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers announced a joint lobbying effort to combat a provision in the Higher Education Reauthorization Act inspired by our Academic Bill of Rights which would promote greater intellectual diversity in our nation's colleges and universities and combat discrimination against students for their political, religious, or ideological beliefs.

In a press release announcing their opposition, the NEA and AFT deliberately mischaracterize the Academic Bill of Rights and the provisions in the Higher Education Act which echo its language and intent.

The misrepresentation of the Bill is apparent even from the subheadline of the release which declares that "Proposed changes in the Higher Education Act would….create an ideological litmus test for faculty." This statement is an outright falsehood and was adopted from an American Association of University Professors statement which has falsely claimed since the introduction of our bill that it would "enforce a kind of diversity that is instead determined by essentially political categories, like the number of Republicans or Democrats on a faculty, or the number of conservatives or liberals." Our response to this misrepresentation of the Bill by the AAUP can be viewed here.

Far from imposing an ideological litmus test on faculty, the Academic Bill of Rights proposed by our organization explicitly forbids the consideration of political or ideological views in hiring and tenure processes. The portions of the Higher Education Act which reflect our Academic Bill of Rights are chiefly concerned with the rights of students rather than educators and thus do not contain this exact provision-in fact the section of the Higher Education Act inspired by the Academic Bill of Rights is silent on the topic of hiring educators illustrating the lack of research which went into the NEA/AFT response. But these provisions similarly outlaw the use of political standards to judge or grade students, mandating that students not be "excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or official sanction on the basis of their political or ideological beliefs."

The body of the release is equally misleading. A special paragraph devoted to the issue states: "A special concern for the two unions is a proposed congressional resolution on what the Republican majority ironically calls the 'Academic Bill of Rights.' If passed, the resolution would impose a litmus test on curriculum, teaching and hiring decisions. Several states also are considering state versions of the "Academic Bill of Rights" that would bar faculty from discussing controversial subjects and in other ways bar academic freedom, including legislatures in Minnesota, Ohio, New York and Rhode Island."

NEA President Kathy Sproles is then quoted as stating, "If Congress tries to create a 'balance' of political and religious views and other forms of expression by faculty through this action, they will kill academic freedom."

The mischaracterizations in these statements are many.

The first charge, that the Bill would "impose a litmus test on curriculum, teaching and hiring decisions," is clearly contradicted by the text of the Higher Education Act itself which states that students should be presented with "diverse approaches and dissenting sources and viewpoints within the instructional setting" and should not be "subjected to discrimination…on the basis of their political or ideological beliefs." Nowhere does either the Act or the full Academic Bill of Rights refer to any particular political position or viewpoint, much less mandate that instruction be directed by political aims.

It takes a suspension of rational judgment to conclude that the teaching of diverse scholarly perspectives-which should be an aim in any educational setting-amounts to the imposition of a particular political agenda or "litmus test." The American Historical Association even emphasizes the importance of teaching diverse perspectives, declaring in its recently-revised Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct that, "Students should be made aware of multiple causes and varying interpretations. Within the bounds of the historical topic being studied, the free expression of legitimate differences of opinion should always be a goal" (emphasis added).

NAS President Sproles' comment that mandating a "'balance' of political and religious views and other forms of expression by faculty" would "kill academic freedom" is misleading of several grounds. Nowhere does the section of the Higher Education Act inspired by our Academic Bill of Rights or the Bill itself contain the word "balance" which implies a 50-50 division of views which might lead to intellectual quotas. The concept touted by the Higher Education Act and the Academic Bill of Rights is not that of "balance" but rather of intellectual diversity. As was revealed above, it is the same concept recognized by the American Historical Association and is already embedded in the Academic Freedom Policies of many public universities across the nation. Can a concept that is already so widely recognized as a key component of academic freedom really be a means to "kill[ing] academic freedom"?

On the final claim, relating not to the Higher Education Act, but rather to the legislation introduced in many states, that it would "bar faculty from discussing controversial subjects," the AFT and NEA again distort the facts. The clause which can be found in much of the state legislation states: "Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

As can clearly be seen from the above passage, it is a vast simplification and overstatement to say that these state bills would "bar faculty from discussing controversial subjects." The language of the legislation makes explicitly clear that only those controversial topics that have "no relation to their subject of study" and serve "no legitimate pedagogical purpose" would be considered out-of-bounds. This policy is in fact a much more lenient standard than that held by the AAUP which states in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure 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 their subject." Furthermore, many individual universities have also adopted regulations which are also more stringent than our legislative bills including Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University.

As the two higher education unions that by their own claim represent "more than 90 percent of unionized faculty and professional staff employed in the nation's colleges and universities," the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have undermined their credibility by releasing this poorly-researched and one-sided propaganda piece as an official statement.

Press release from the NEA and AFT:

For Immediate Release
April 15, 2005
Contact: Jamie Horwitz
202/879-4447
jhorwitz@aft.org
Denise Cardinal
202/822-7239
dcardinal@nea.org

NEA AND AFT ANNOUNCE JOINT EFFORT TO COMBAT THREATS
TO COLLEGE ACCESS FROM FEDERAL BUDGET-CUTTERS

Proposed Changes in the Higher Education Act Would Increase Risk of
Student Loan Fraud and Abuse and Create an Ideological Litmus Test for Faculty

MINNEAPOLIS - Two higher education unions, representing more than 90 percent of unionized faculty and professional staff employed in the nation's colleges and universities, today announced their joint lobbying effort on the federal Higher Education Act, which is under consideration in Congress. Central to this debate is grant funding for low-income students and funding for a range of student loan options. The organizations announced a call-in campaign for next week to urge Congress to increase rather than cut federal support for such student aid programs.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) made the announcement at an AFT higher education conference in Minneapolis.

Congress last reauthorized the Higher Education Act in 1998 and is scheduled to be renewed this year. "This is a critical time for anyone thinking about attending college or any parent who has to foot the bill," said AFT Vice President William Scheuerman. In recent years, Congress has steadily been shifting college aid from grants to loans. "We are concerned about some proposals that would require students to pay substantially more interest for their loans while removing protections from the student loan program that have prevented fraud and abuse by trade schools. These proposed changes are bad for both students and taxpayers," said Scheuerman.

"As those who teach in these institutions of higher learning, we know from personal experience how necessary it is for the federal government to encourage students from all backgrounds and incomes
to pursue degrees after high school," said Kathy Sproles, president of the National Education Association's National Council for Higher Education. "The very future of our country depends on it."

The two groups signed on to a joint agreement that lays out priorities for upcoming lobbying efforts. Those priorities, which the unions will advocate together in the halls of Congress and with their members on college campuses across the country, include:

• Increasing the maximum Pell Grant to keep pace with rising college costs.
• Retaining and expanding education support programs for low-income students, such as TRIO, Upward Bound and Gear-Up.
• Improving student grant awards for colleges that enroll nontraditional students.
• Maintaining funding for historically black colleges and universities, tribally controlled colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
• Providing controls to guard against fraud and abuse at for-profit institutions, particularly distance education programs.
• Retaining existing rules that ensure institutions participating in student aid programs have a sound and independent financial base.
• Providing funds to strengthen and improve teacher training programs from high school through graduate school, including programs at community colleges.
• Firmly rejecting any congressional action that would impose ideological concerns, such as religious belief or political party affiliation, to be considered in the appointment of faculty, curriculum development or classroom teaching.

A special concern for the two unions is a proposed congressional resolution on what the Republican majority ironically calls the "Academic Bill of Rights." If passed, the resolution would impose a litmus test on curriculum, teaching and hiring decisions. Several states also are considering state versions of the "Academic Bill of Rights" that would bar faculty from discussing controversial subjects and in other ways bar academic freedom, including legislatures in Minnesota, Ohio, New York and Rhode Island.

"If Congress tries to create a 'balance' of political and religious views and other forms of expression by faculty through this action, they will kill academic freedom," said the NEA's Sproles.

The American Federation of Teachers is holding its annual national higher education conference in Minneapolis, Minn., at the Hilton Minneapolis, April 15-17. Together, AFT and NEA represent more than 250,000 college and university faculty and professional staff.

The complete NEA-AFT statement on the Higher Education Act is available on the Web at www.nea.org/he/leg-news/jointhea.html.

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