Response to Inside Higher Ed · 24 April 2005

In a recent article (Layers of Meaning, 04/21) Roger Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, claims that the AAUP's academic freedom principle adopted in 1940 and reiterated in 1970 that faculty members "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" is meant merely as a "polite suggestion" rather than an official academic freedom policy.

Since when are statements of principles "polite suggestions"? Probably since David Horowitz proposed that the AAUP take its own principles seriously.

In its 1970 restatement of the principle, the AAUP said: "The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is 'controversial.' Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry, which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject." ("1970 Interpretative Comments," endorsed by the 56th annual association meeting as association policy.) It is difficult to construe "the need for teachers to avoid" as a mere "suggestion," polite or otherwise.

If the University of Texas policy and similar statutes which appear in university codes across the nation are really so at odds with the AAUP position, why has it taken decades for the AAUP to object? UT faculty claim to be troubled by the language because it mirrors the Academic Bill of Rights, but in reality it is the Academic Bill of Rights which mirrors existing-yet-unenforced AAUP and university policy.

If the AAUP truly has an interest in protecting the academic freedoms of students, it should stop making excuses and enforce its stated policy among its membership.

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom