Just over a week ago, Temple University’s Board of Trustees adopted a new policy on academic freedom, one that extended rights to students and not only to professors.
The policy, which goes into effect today states in part that students “should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for the truth,” “should be free to take reasoned exception to the information or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion,” and “should have protection through orderly grievance procedures against prejudiced or capricious evaluations that are not intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration.”
According to Sara Dogan, National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom, Temple’s new policy is the first (to her knowledge) to “specifically address students’ academic rights.”
David French, Senior Legal Counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), views Temple’s policy revision as an encouraging sign.
“I think it is an incredibly positive development and proves that at least at the leadership level, Temple recognizes there is and has been a problem. People keep saying it has been ‘a solution in search of a problem’, and I remember President Adamany said that there were no complaints and Christian DeJohn was sitting right there incredulous,” said French.
Following those hearings, DeJohn, with the help of David French and the ADF, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Temple that is currently pending. A Temple graduate student, DeJohn testified before Pennsylvania’s House Select Committee on Academic Freedom earlier this year and complained that Temple professors have prevented him from graduating because of complaints he has made and an anti-war bias among faculty. DeJohn is a Sergeant in the Army National Guard and is training to be a Public Affairs officer.
Ray Betzner, Director of Communications for Temple University, said the updated policy was adopted in accordance with David Adamany’s testimony and has nothing to do with the pending lawsuit.
“He [Adamany] said in more than five years he had not gotten any complaints about it, at the same time he said we could do a better job raising awareness about Temple’s procedures and that he would like to look at the procedures being used to see if there was a need for a broad University-wide statement. That is essentially what was done by the Board of Trustees,” said Betzner.
According to an article from the Temple student paper, at the hearings Adamany said, “A student probably should not be required to master different sets of grievance procedures in order to assure his or her rights in different academic programs.”
Before this policy, students were protected by the policy of their individual school, explained Betzner.
The real difference according to Betzner is that this policy is university-wide. Betzner also acknowledged that the new policy’s inclusion of recordkeeping and reporting grievances to the Trustees is completely new.
But, if one compares the previous academic freedom policies with the new policy there is a distinct difference. Temple’s previous academic freedom statement which was listed in Section I of the Faculty Handbook only applied to professors. Student could submit grievances under previous policies, and under the specific statements of their individual school, but were not explicitly provided any rights of academic freedom.
French remains cautiously optimistic.
“I think it’s a great first step. Let’s see how this plays out in practice. Will it be enforced? It is one thing to reform a policy, it is another to enforce it. The campus culture is so hostile to conservative expression, so we’ll have to see how they follow through,” he said.
Betzner said that the new policy will be distributed to incoming students, will be linked on several pages of Temple Web sites, and that it is also likely that the independent school newspaper will publish a story on it.
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