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Academic Freedom Comes to Brandeis By: Sara Dogan
Brandeis Justice | Friday, April 30, 2004


Below is a report written by Brian Paternostro in the Brandeis Justice newspaper on David Horowitz’s recent visit to Brandeis and the Academic Bill of Rights initiative which he authored. It is followed by a response from Sara Dogan, the National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom -- The Editors.

Conservatives Spell out Campus Rights by Brian Paternostro.

Since the presidential primaries, tensions have been mounting between Democrats and Republicans. Now the conflict between the two sides has opened up a frontier in college classrooms across the country.

In early October, David Horowitz, the editor of the conservative magazine Frontpage Magazine, toured Colorado universities in an attempt to promote his Academic Bill of Rights. In doing this, he set off a firestorm of constitutional controversy that has spread from Colorado to Capitol Hill.

Horowitz's "Bill of Rights" is designed to allow for freedom of expression to apply to all students and to ensure that students with minority political opinions -- often conservative views -- receive the same rights to speak out as those with majority and generally more liberal ideologies.

The issue exploded after The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post picked up the story. The Post ran a scathing editorial that openly criticized Horowitz and Colorado Senate Majority Leader John Andrews.

"Can't they just be content controlling the legislature, the governor's office, Congress and the presidency without needing more conservatives hired at Colorado universities? What happened to their rallying cry of getting a job based solely on talent and skills," wrote the Post editorial board in their Sept. 13, 2003 issue.

The editorial prompted responses from many Republicans in the Colorado State Legislature and Colorado Governor Bill Owens.

"It's not right, at a college run with tax dollars, that some students or faculty should be afraid for their grades or their career if they don't keep a lid on their patriotism and their faith," Andrews said in a press release. "That's happening on campuses in our state, and I am looking at policy changes to stop it."

In the months that followed, the doctrine picked up national attention in both state legislatures and Congress. Many states have since begun drafting legislation to institute the Academic Bill of Rights into law. In California, state Sen. Bill Morrow proposed Senate Bill 1335 to adopt the bill for all universities in California.

"(Students) are not exposed to the diversity of social, economic, historical and political perspectives that characterizes the world they will enter upon graduation," Morrow said in a public statement. "We're not adequately preparing our young people for reality."

Many conservative students nationwide are championing Horowitz's call for reform; Brandeis is no exception. Many students feel that though Brandeis promotes expression, its efforts fall short of actual tolerance for minority opinions.

"While Brandeis strives to foster learning in a community atmosphere, a community that often fails to accept the views of those who are in disagreement with the majority requires more guidelines to show the community how to accept such views," said Sarah Chopnick '04, the vice chair of the Brandeis Republicans. "I think that the Academic Bill of Rights that is currently being proposed has a lot of promise in helping to achieve this goal of greater tolerance and acceptance."

Adversely, there are other students who feel that though the bill is rooted in good ideas, it would limit what a professor can say in class.

"I think that in principle, it is important for there to be a wide range of perspectives on different issues; there are statistics and charts that say as people get more educated they get more liberal," said Sam Siegel '06, the president of the Brandeis College Democrats.

"Since professors are some of the most educated people in the country, it is not surprising that there are so many liberal professors on college campuses," Siegel added. Also, in a class a professor needs to present both sides of an issue and their opinion should not be left out of the classroom."

With such emphasis placed on professors' alleged liberal biases, it was only a matter of time before the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) entered the discussion. They issued a statement last year denouncing this legislation.

"A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards," the AAUP said in a statement from its Association's Committee on Academic Freedom.

At Brandeis, neither the Union Senate nor the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UCC) have any intention of adopting the Academic Bill of Rights to campus guidelines, though they have not completely ruled it out either.

"Nothing has reached the UCC regarding the Academic Bill of Rights, although I am aware of the debate that has developed on this issue and that does not mean the administration is not looking at it," said Alan Tannenwald '05, a Union representative to the UCC.

Some professors feel that these claims are either false or irrelevant.

"American higher education is the very best in the world. There are many reasons for this, but high on the list would have to be decentralization and competition and insistence by American universities on high levels of professional skills and achievements for their faculties," Prof. George Ross (POL) said. Notably, Ross is not a registered Democrat.

"Meddling with this very successful mix to correct alleged political imbalances ... is likely to harm what is in fact one of our country's greatest achievements," Ross said.

Some Brandeis professors oppose such a law because they feel that it will change the nature of the University. Others feel that there are already safeguards in place to prevent students from being "indoctrinated," as Horowitz described.

"Some professors choose to make no secret of their views, and some play it a little closer to the vest," Prof. Steven Teles (POL) said. "I think the internal academic market, where students choose which professors to take classes from, is sufficient to deal with this. This also extends to the kinds of books that are used -- I wouldn't think we'd want some kind of super-university committee overseeing syllabi."

*

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see the recent Justice coverage of David Horowitz’s recent visit to Brandeis and the Academic Bill of Rights initiative which he authored (Conservatives Spell out Campus Rights, by Brian Paternostro, 04/27).

 

Mr. Paternostro’s reporting was excellent in most respects, but I must correct a few points in his article. First, the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) protects not only conservative students but all students, regardless of political viewpoint, from harassment due to their political and religious beliefs. The word “conservative” does not appear once in this document which states that “Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.” Intellectual diversity and an atmosphere of open inquiry on campus are equally beneficial to all seeking an education, not just to those who possess a “minority” viewpoint, and the Bill’s champions include many liberal-minded students as well as conservatives.

 

Secondly, the Academic Bill of Rights would not interfere with the “standards of the academic profession” as the AAUP quote alleges. In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights makes direct reference to those self-imposed standards when it states that “exposing students to the significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty.” These standards would continue to be set by those in academia. The Bill merely asks that professors make an effort to cover the entire spectrum of academic views in any given subject.

 

I invite all Brandeis students to visit our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org to learn more about how they can join the academic freedom movement.

 

Sincerely,

Sara Dogan

National Campus Director

Students for Academic Freedom

Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org


Sara Dogan is National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom.


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