A Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has found that students’ academic freedom rights are not protected in the 17 public universities in the state. In a report published on November 14, the Select Committee on Academic Freedom of the Pennsylvania House published its findings after ten months of hearings, the Committee “determined that a significant number of institutions had adopted faculty academic freedom policies, but not student academic freedom policies.”
The Committee was created by House Resolution 177 sponsored by Representative Gib Armstrong in 2006. It called for hearings to “…examine, study, and inform the House of Representatives on matters relating to the academic atmosphere and the degree to which faculty have the opportunity to instruct and students have the opportunity to learn in an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth and the expression of independent thought at State-related and State-owned colleges, universities, and community colleges…”
David Horowitz, author of the Academic Bill of Rights and sponsor of a nationwide campaign for academic freedom, hailed the report as a “major victory in the battle for student rights.” Said Horowitz: “We have been trying to draw attention to this deficiency in university policies for three years. Now our pleas have been heard.”
To remedy the present situation the Pennsylvania Committee has recommended that “Public institutions of higher education within the Commonwealth should be required to review existing academic freedom policies and procedures and establish a student-specific academic freedom policy that includes student rights and a detailed grievance procedure is readily-available.”
The Committee further recommends that grievance machinery should be provided to students which allows them to file complaints with university officials other than faculty, a measure which Horowitz called “essential” because of students’ fear of faculty reprisals.
The Committee also called on “all public institutions of higher education” to maintain records of the complaints and provide students with evaluation forms regarding the “status of academic freedom,” and to make students aware of the availability of academic freedom policies and grievance procedures during student orientation when they are also informed of non-discrimination policies on the basis of gender and race.
Finally, the Committee instructed all public universities to create an “Office of Academic Standards and Intellectual Diversity to establish clear standards of appropriate academic discourse in curricular matters and classroom discourse” and “to strengthen academic freedom on their campuses.”
Sara Dogan, National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom called these recommendations, “the most important advance in academic freedom since the classic statements by the American Association of University professors almost forty years ago.”
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