In what may be a landmark battle currently playing out at a large Midwestern community college, the College of DuPage’s faculty association has pitted itself against the board of trustees over whether to protect the academic freedom of its students. This latest skirmish in the five-year war over David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) reveals the lengths to which faculty unions are prepared to go to deny college students the right to an education free from indoctrination.
If adopted, as the Board of Trustees has proposed, this reform would make the College of DuPage the first institution of higher learning in the nation to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights and only the third to recognize that students have academic freedom rights that are distinct from (but related to) those granted to faculty.
“I and the other trustees thought it was important to provide for the academic freedom of students as well as faculty members,” explained Kory Atkinson, a trustee at DuPage and the principal author of the new policy manual which contains the Academic Bill of Rights.
“We’ve had some anecdotal evidence from students about faculty at DuPage providing lower scores [for ideological reasons] and even in some written reports for classes where professors made comments about sources being ‘right-wing’ rather than rejecting them for scholarly reasons, mainly in the social sciences where sources tend to be more subjective,” Atkinson said, explaining some of the Board’s impetus for proposing the Academic Bill of Rights.
The Academic Bill of Rights proposed at DuPage echoes the language of the original Bill authored by David Horowitz in 2005. It recognizes that the principle of academic freedom applies not only to faculty but also to students who should be protected “from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature.” The DuPage bill acknowledges the right of faculty members to “pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views” but states that they should “consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints” and that “courses will not be used for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.”
Despite such guarantees, the DuPage faculty union, a unit of the National Education Association (NEA), has declared open war over the proposed policy change.
In an 11-page letter to the Board of Trustees addressing the Academic Bill of Rights and other proposed policy changes, the NEA chapter claims that the Bill has “political connotations.” The letter goes on to state, “ABOR supporters apparently hope that the bill will give elected officials the power to dictate, for example, whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution in college biology…. it is the responsibility of college professors, who are trained experts in their fields, to evaluate that evidence. It’s not the job of politicians.”
In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights makes no mention of elected officials, nor does it refer to creationism or any particular political viewpoints. The Bill’s tenets do not require that all viewpoints be represented and further stipulate that only scholarly viewpoints need be considered at all.
Writing for the website InsideHigherEd.com, a journal that generally reflects the perspectives of the teacher unions, editor Scott Jaschik summarizes the complaints of the DuPage teachers: “Faculty groups say that the measure would lead to professors constantly looking over their shoulders, make it impossible for them to express strong views, and force them to include conservative interpretations of everything or face criticism for not doing so.” No evidence is presented to justify these concerns.
Individual faculty members at the College, speaking only for themselves and not the Faculty Association, strike a more moderate tone, but seem misinformed over the current protections offered to students.
Cathy Stablein, a professor at the College who serves as faculty advisor to the student newspaper, argued that existing policies at the college provide students with academic freedom rights: “There are a lot of procedures that have been worked out over the years, based on past practice and experience.” In particular she pointed to a section of the college catalogue on Student Rights and Responsibilities which she says “seems to come from a very similar perspective.”
But the section states only that students “can rightfully expect that the college will exercise with restraint its power to regulate student behavior” and states nothing about students’ academic freedom. The existing student grievance and harassment procedures also do not include academic freedom or disputes related to a student’s political beliefs.
David Goldberg, an associate professor of political science at the College, also believes that existing policies are sufficient to protect students’ academic freedom, but he stated that he is open to further discussion on the issue if evidence proves him wrong. “…Before adopting the Academic Bill of Rights full cloth,” Goldberg says, “I would want more evidence that the existing policies are not meeting student needs where they’ve been practiced.”
In fact, when hearings regarding student academic freedom were held before the state legislature in Pennsylvania three years ago (the only such hearings on record), no policies governing student academic freedom were found to exist at any public university in the state, and DuPage has no such policies in place.
Students at the campus who oppose the Academic Bill of Rights seem to have been influenced by the Faculty Association’s uninformed objections. “I think that teachers should be able to decide the curriculum because they know the most about their field,” commented student Shannon Torii, editor-in-chief of the campus paper, The Courier. “[The trustees] want to control the curriculum, take it out of control of the teachers,” she continued, echoing the Faculty Association’s false claims that the Academic Bill of Rights would somehow transfer faculty’s authority over academic curricula to elected officials or to College trustees.
“These are the same tired and ill-informed objections we’ve heard again and again from the teacher’s unions and the academic Left.” David Horowitz, author of the original Bill. “Neither the DuPage bill nor the original bill propose that politicians be given the power to decide what goes on in the classroom. The fact that it is trustees of the university, not legislators, who are proposing a change in university regulations underscores the hysteria of the faculty response.
“Alleging that the bill would require the teaching of creationism is an example of the dishonest tactics of the opposition. The proposed new policy at DuPage states that ‘Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty.’ Creationism is not a scholarly viewpoint and we have never suggested that it be taught in science classes.
“The idea that the ABOR uses political standards to subvert scholarly ones is another false claim propagated by the teachers’ unions. The Academic Bill of Rights is explicitly drawn from the statements of the American Association of University Professors which urge professors not to ‘take unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity to fairly examine other opinions.’ This is a sound educational principle, not a political statement.”
Ironically, the faculty union contract at DuPage, signed by the DuPage Faculty Association, contains an academic freedom provision that is strikingly similar to the Academic Bill of Rights. Section C-2 of the contract on Academic Freedom states that
“Faculty Members shall be free to present instructional materials which are pertinent to the subject and level taught and shall be expected to present facets of controversial issues in an unbiased manner” (emphasis added). This clause echoes almost exactly the language of the Academic Bill of Rights which the DuPage Faculty Association finds so objectionable. The difference is that the faculty union contract does not apply to students. If professors ignore its provisions (which students would hardly be familiar with in any case) students would have no right to complain. The new policy would close that loophole.
“Really the only thing that a student can challenge under the current policy is a grade,” explains trustee Kory Atkinson. “Creating a specific right for a student to challenge ideological discrimination really worries them [the faculty]. They will have to be accountable for what they’re doing in the classroom and they really don’t like that.”
If the DuPage Trustees are successful in their bid to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights, the College will become only the third campus in the United States to recognize student-specific academic freedom protections. Pennsylvania State University and Temple University both previously adopted student-specific academic freedom protections when a series of state legislative hearings showed that no public university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had academic freedom provisions that applied to students.
Asked about the Bill’s chances for success, Trustee Atkinson strikes a positive note. “I feel very good about it,” he says. “Right now there appear to be a majority of trustees who are committed to seeing that our students are educated, not indoctrinated. It just seems like a common-sense thing to do to me.”