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Academic Bill of Rights Makes a Splash at Duke By: Cindy Yee
Duke Chronicle | Wednesday, February 18, 2004


After a Duke Conservative Union advertisement ran in The Chronicle Feb. 9 alleging a lack of intellectual diversity among the University's professoriate, the campus has been astir with discussions about ideological bias in the classroom and what Duke can or should do to protect academic freedom for both its faculty and students.

While some say the adoption of an Academic Bill of Rights--as drafted by conservative columnist and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture David Horowitz--is the University's best recourse, others say Duke's existing policies are adequate.

"I am a staunch advocate of the importance of freedom of expression of a variety of political and other opinions in our classroom," President Nan Keohane wrote in an e-mail. "If some students feel that Duke has problems living up to this commitment--a commitment which many of us share--the solution is not another statement, but conversations and awareness of the problem so that people can talk about it frankly and make sure that our principles are put into practice."

Advocates of Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights acknowledge Duke's long-standing commitment to academic freedom, especially as it concerns members of the faculty, but contend that the University's current policies do not do enough to protect students' rights. Stephen Miller, president of Duke's chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, a nonpartisan organization, said a meeting with Dean of Trinity College Robert Thompson revealed that administrators are aware of many accounts of political bias in the classroom. And yet, Miller said, the University has done virtually nothing to correct the situation.

"We need a specific, clear, unquestioning policy that protects students' rights in the classroom and prevents professors from abusing their power," Miller said. "I've reviewed our policies, and by and large they respect the rights of professors but not of students."

Horowitz said he had reviewed Duke's policies and had reached the same conclusion.

John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said Miller and Horowitz's conclusion was not true, noting that the University has adopted multiple policies over the last century that protect students' rights.

In a Jan. 13 memorandum to Keohane, Provost Peter Lange and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe, Thompson outlined the University's existing policies on academic freedom as they relate to students. Since 1987, the Faculty Handbook has included a section on faculty responsibilities with respect to students' academic freedom, which outlines the processes to follow if a complaint is made that a faculty member has limited a student's academic freedom, Thompson reported.

In addition, Thompson reported, Duke Student Government included a "Joint Statement of Rights and Freedoms of Students" in its constitution, ratified in 1993, which mirrored the language and spirit of the national "Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students" approved in 1968 by Duke's chapter of the American Association of University Professors. This joint statement called for, among other measures, protection of freedom of expression in the classroom, protection against improper academic evaluation and protection against improper disclosure about students' personal views or political associations.

"I'm confident that our policies protect both students and faculty members in an appropriate manner," Lange said.

Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights strives to "secure intellectual independence of faculty and students and to protect the principle of intellectual diversity" and lays out a number of principles and procedures that universities would have to follow if they adopted the document as policy. For instance, the document dictates that students be graded solely on the basis of their reason and knowledge, and not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

Burness said the University's current policies are in many ways similar to the policies proposed in the Academic Bill of Rights.

"If we adopted a national or external policy like the Academic Bill of Rights, it's tantamount to saying we have a problem in our current policies, and that our procedures don't allow us to address these issues as they arise," he said. "But I don't believe we have a problem."

Horowitz noted that a lack of publicity surrounding Duke's policies has negated their existence. "Since the University makes no effort to inform Duke students of their rights, to my knowledge, they may as well not have them," he said. "Minority students know what their rights are in terms of skin diversity because they get orientation sessions, lectures and, for all I know, information packets on how minorities should be treated at Duke. What's wrong with doing that for the intellectual minorities at Duke?"

Madison Kitchens, executive director of DCU, agreed with Horowitz. "If in fact Duke does specifically promote intellectual diversity, we don't hear much about it," he said. "The fact that we haven't had this debate on campus until now would indicate that the policies aren't known."

Lange noted, however, that the policies seem to be fairly well-known around campus, adding that both he and Keohane have reiterated the spirit of the University's policies a number of times in the last several months. Even if people are uninformed about the University's policies on academic freedom, Lange said, the issue should be in educating the community about current policies, and not about writing new policies.

Horowitz said the adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights could potentially serve as an educator in itself by bringing issues of academic freedom to the forefront of everyone's attention--especially if the main impetus for adoption comes from the students. "I want Duke to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights, and I'm hoping students there will be the first to propose it, going through the student government and then to the administration," he said.

Miller, who said he saw the issue as relatively uncontroversial, said he hoped to introduce the Academic Bill of Rights to DSG.

"It's hard to say what the effect would be, but students have to join together," he said. "It may be a symbolic gesture, but it's a necessary gesture. And if DSG decides to adopt it, then hopefully President Keohane will get the message and be willing to take action."

DSG President Matthew Slovik said that although DSG supports some of the principles outlined in the Academic Bill of Rights, he did not believe the adoption of such was necessary at this time. He noted, however, that the topic of the Academic Bill of Rights may be open to exploration in the future. For now, DSG Vice President for Academic Affairs Avery Reaves will be working closely with Thompson, Chafe, students and faculty to discuss academic freedom from both the faculty and student perspectives.

Horowitz noted that he had already approached Duke's administration about considering the Academic Bill of Rights, but that Burness had said the University was not interested due to an adequacy of policies already in place.

Keohane added that the University does not usually adopt external policies. "We don't usually sign on to statements prepared by others, preferring to craft our own, as we have done on this issue," she wrote.

Horowitz said Duke is not alone amongst universities in shying away from his proposal--a trend that has led him to urge Congress and state legislatures to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights. The U.S. House of Representatives has already introduced a version as legislation, and the Senate should soon follow suit, Horowitz wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education Feb. 13.




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