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University of California Attacking Academic Freedom By: Dustin Frelich
UCSDGuardian.org | Monday, April 21, 2003

A UC Berkeley law professor and the UC president are seeking to undermine students' political opinions. This attempt to infringe upon students' rights comes as the result of a collaboration between former UCSD Chancellor Richard Atkinson, now the UC president, and UC Berkeley law professor Robert Post. If the two have their way, professors will more easily have the ability to turn their classes into stages for political persuasion.

Traditionally, academic freedom on campus has been protected by statements known as academic freedom statements, generally accepted by institutions of higher education. The American Association of University Professors has such a collection of statements, and so does the UC system. The UC's official statements on academic freedom ensures that students will not be subjected to the unabashed political leanings of their instructors, no matter the climate.

But in this time of war, Atkinson and Post are attempting to relinquish professorial oversight from the UC Academic Freedom statements, perhaps to lessen the degree to which professors are responsible for their impartiality. The Atkinson/Post changes to UC Academic Freedom statements no doubt reduce accountability of professors in classroom debate and their own course-expressed personal opinions.

Atkinson and Post propose altering the current UC Academic Freedom statements by means of deleting key phrases, which inevitably leads to a strengthening of the power of professors and diminishing that of students.

First, they plan on removing a sentence key to the very idea of academic freedom: "To convert, or to make converts is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, 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" will be struck from the UC Academic Freedom statements.

Conversely, an official academic freedom statement of the AAUP states, "Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition."

Getting rid of the UC statement seems a complete anathema to the AAUP's academic freedom guidelines. Granted, AAUP Academic Freedom statements are not binding, but that's exactly the worry. Without those statements to keep the UC system in check, the new proposal is truly navigating uncharted waters.

"I believe the university's stance on academic freedom should reflect the modern university and its faculty," Atkinson said, referring to the decision to modify the UC Academic Freedom statements.

NoIndoctrination.org, a nonprofit organization seeking to put education before political agendas, criticizes Atkinson for choosing to remove key academic freedom statements from the UC system under the aegis of change.

And yet there are two more important phrases removed by the Atkinson/Post proposal. One concerns itself with competency, the other with political involvement.

"Essentially the freedom of a university is the freedom of competent persons in the classroom. In order to protect this freedom, the University assumes the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda," their revision removes.

A third UC Academic Freedom statement struck down states that "the University will steadily continue to ... [serve] the people by providing facilities for investigation and teaching free from domination by parties, sects or selfish interests."

I long for the day of indoctrinating, incompetent, party-line professors. And now I just might get it, thanks to the new proposal. Can you imagine those attempting to support these changes with a straight face?

Speaking of support for the changes, NoIndoctrination.org states that the Atkinson/Post proposal attempts to reconcile the omissions with the fact that the concepts are covered elsewhere.

"The proposal claims that APM-015 (the UC Faculty Code of Conduct) (2) covers such issues," the organization stated in a press release. But "while APM-015 does have a few statements that protect students' rights, it is extremely limited, and NoIndoctrination.org finds in them no adequate replacement."

Forgetting students' rights for a second, claiming support for phrases chosen to be omitted plainly doesn't add up. I just can't seem to wrap my head around it, as the saying goes, and I'm sure neither can others. Alas, I must concede that explaining any removals must merely be for public relation's sake.

The duo of Atkinson and Post are attempting to give power to professors while taking them away from students. Indeed, the freedom of professors to roam the political landscape is more important to the UC system, should it adopt these amendments than a student's education "free from domination by parties, sects or selfish interests."

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