The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
The 14 schools of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), almost without exception proclaim their commitment to academic freedom on their official websites. But these websites, so far as the Committee has been able to discern, without exception, provide no definitions of “academic freedom,” nor do they specify any protections associated with academic freedom.
A system-wide provision for academic freedom does exist for PASSHE schools. This is the AAUP “Statement on the Principles of Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.” But, this Statement and its provisions are part of the faculty-union contract, and thus do not specifically apply to students. Nor would they be accessible to students who did not have a reason to research the faculty union contract.
The President of Millersville University, Dr. Francine McNairy, testified on March 23, 2006 at the public hearing held on the Millersville campus. Comments from this testimony have been included below.
Dr. McNairy: As a capital university, meaning all 14 universities in the same system having the same collective bargaining agreement, Millersville has been diligent in developing policies to protect students’ academic freedom. And these are listed in the “Students’ Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” which is published on our website and in the Student Handbook and also our governance manual.
The Select Committee commends Dr. McNairy and her administration for specifying the rights that Millersville students have and informing them of their rights in a Student Handbook. The Committee notes however, that the policy leaves significant gaps where academic freedom issues are concerned. Thus, in its very first article defining “freedom” there is no mention of students’ rights not to be discriminated against because of their political affiliation or ideas.
Article I. Discrimination
FREEDOM: Every aspect of university life should be free from discrimination because of race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin, sex or sexual preference. Student housing organizations, athletics, classes and community facilities should be open to all who desire to participate.
In her testimony Dr. McNairy drew attention to Article XI, which is the only article in the “Student’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” that specifically discusses student academic freedom rights in the classroom:
Dr. McNairy: In particular, Article XI of the “Student’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” in the section entitled “In the Classroom” addresses the issue of academic freedom as follows: “Students should be free to express their thoughts and positions on all issues pertaining to curricular material being presented in the classroom.”
This is an admirable policy, but the document does not contain the grievance process to be used if a student feels such rights have been violated. For this reason, it may be necessary to include a statement directing students to the location of a grievance process that can be used to file an academic freedom complaint if such rights are violated.
Does indoctrination occur? The following sentence appears in the course description of a Millersville University sociology course, available on the university website: “Given these premises, this course is dedicated not to whether or not these theorists and participants in social movements are right or wrong in some kind of objective sense, but instead is dedicated to understanding the importance of changing the American social structure to bring about new forms of social justice, and to understanding the relationship between social theory and social praxis.”
The instructor’s dismissal of objectivity, and the commitment of his course to a political agenda of radical social change is hardly in keeping with academic freedom principles, such as Penn State’s admonition that, “In giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.”
Nor is it compatible with this classic statement of Robert Gordon Sproul, longtime president of the University of California: “The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the process whereby truth is to be made known. To convert or to make converts is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes social, or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts…”