Dear Students and Supporters,
Welcome back to campus! As the summer winds to a close, we are excited to kick-off the new school year with the announcement of several important developments in the quest for students’ academic freedom rights.
Last year, two universities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Pennsylvania State University, became the first in the nation to adopt policies specifically protecting students’ academic freedom and outlining grievance procedures to protect academic rights. While the policies at both schools are historic for being the first to apply academic freedom protections directly to students, the Penn State policy in particular stands as a model for other campuses.
Penn State Policy HR 64 is perhaps the most powerful statement of the meaning of academic freedom at any university. It outlines the standards of professional conduct that is expected of educators in the classroom, stating in stark terms that indoctrination or ideological coercion in the classroom will not be tolerated. But up until last year, students at Penn State had no recourse if their professors refused to abide by this policy.
Consider this passage from HR 64: “It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence 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.”
The policy goes on to add, “No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.”
Last year, the Faculty Senate at Penn State passed a new provision, Policy 20-00, which states, “Students having concerns about situations that arise within the classroom, or concerns with instructor behavior in a course that violates University standards of classroom conduct as defined in Policy HR64 ‘Academic Freedom,’ may seek resolution according to the recommended procedures established under Policy 20-00, Resolution of Classroom Problems.” By this one simple step, students at Penn State were granted academic freedom protections and the right to file a grievance if their professors ignore the provisions of HR64. This year, one of our key goals will be to take these victories in Pennsylvania and apply them nationwide, using the examples of the Penn State and Temple policies to encourage administrators and trustees to take action to protect students’ rights on other campuses in other states.
Another of our goals will be to continue the work we’ve accomplished at Penn State and Temple, using these new policies to challenge classroom indoctrination and political discrimination. Reports released by Students for Academic Freedom have revealed even after the adoption of the new academic freedom mandates, multiple departments on these campuses currently stand in stark violation of the universities’ academic freedom policies by openly endorsing ideological positions in their course descriptions and requirements. Students at these schools are fighting back and using the new policies to file grievances and challenge one-sided teaching and classroom indoctrination. Check back with us over the course of the year for updates on these student challenges.
Sparking Change on Your Campus
The new academic freedom policies at Temple and Penn State have paved the way for all our chapters across the country to call for the adoption of similar statutes at their universities.
We urge our SAF chapter leaders to use these victories as the leverage you need to bring change to your own campus. Examine your school’s academic freedom policies to see whether they specifically protect students’ academic freedom (in virtually all cases, they will not). Survey your fellow students about their experiences in the classroom to collect evidence that students’ academic freedom is being violated. Once you have amassed a body of evidence that change is necessary, request a meeting with your college president or dean of students or other top-level administrator and ask them to adopt the policy that Penn State has put in place which specifically grants academic freedom protections to students.
Joining Students for Academic Freedom
If you are not already active in Students for Academic Freedom, the new semester is the perfect time to start up a chapter of SAF on your campus. Deliver the message to your campus administration that abuse of students for their political, intellectual, or religious beliefs is unacceptable.
We have a great variety of printed SAF materials to give you. Many of these materials are also available online including our organizational handbook which details how to start a campus chapter of Students for Academic Freedom and a variety of online chapter tools.
To bring the academic freedom movement to your campus, please contact the National Campus Director Sara Dogan at 888-527-3321 or at Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org. I look forward to working with you to improve the state of academic freedom in this country over the course of the academic year.
Yours in Freedom,
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom