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The Left Strikes Back By: Sara Dogan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 08, 2009

On April 16, the Board of Trustees at the College of DuPage, a large community college in Illinois, made history by voting unanimously to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights and include it in the school’s policy manual, making DuPage the first campus in the nation to have adopted the actual text of the Academic Bill of Rights and only the third campus to recognize student-specific academic freedom protections.  But the teachers unions, understanding the threat the Academic Bill Rights posed to their political agendas on the DuPage campus, were ready for this development and engineered the installation of a new Board to reverse this decision on May 4, a scant two weeks after DuPage had committed itself to academic freedom.

The NEA, which has opposed scholarships for inner city black and Hispanic children and has fought the Academic Bill of Rights since its introduction over half a decade ago,  had seen the victory of the Academic Bill of Rights coming.  It had poured $100,000 into the community college trustee election on March 7, and succeeded in gaining a four-seat majority on the DuPage Board of Trustees.  On May 4, only days after being seated, the four new union-backed trustees voted to rescind the months-long work of the previous board (which NEA sympathizers had tried to stigmatize as “a lame duck board”), culminating in the April 16 vote. Kory Atkinson, a member of the previous board who helped to pass the Bill, commented:  “The decision by the new College of DuPage board to rescind the Academic Bill of Rights is nothing more than the exercise of raw political power. The faculty union poured over $100,000 into recent board elections and essentially bought 4 board members.  It is noteworthy that the Board voted to rescind its ABOR policy by a 4-3 vote, and that each of the 4 trustees voting to rescind the policy received all of their campaign contributions, totaling tens of thousands of dollars apiece, from the faculty union.”

The quick reversal should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the Academic Bill of Rights at DuPage. An intense power struggle over the Bill’s adoption has been ongoing since last fall when it was first publicly announced that the DuPage Board of Trustees was considering including the Bill among several revisions to the campus policy manual. Aided by the national teachers unions and left-leaning academic associations, the DuPage Faculty Association coordinated an underhanded and manipulative disinformation campaign against the Bill in the local and national media, falsely claiming that it would “give elected officials the power to dictate what theories, data and critical interpretations would be allowed in a classroom”—an absurd charge given that it was the university’s own trustees who initiated these reforms.

Additionally, a letter sent by the Faculty Association to the Board of Trustees last winter claimed in Orwellian language that the Bill has “political connotations” (it is in fact designed to remove politics from the curriculum) and that “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” (a flat out lie). 

The Faculty Association was joined in these attacks by the Illinois Community College Faculty Association and the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors which is the chief opponent of the academic freedom campaign. The AAUP claimed that the proposed policy changes including the Academic Bill of Rights represented “an extraordinary attack on academic freedom, shared governance, and intellectual liberty” and sought to discredit Academic Bill of Rights author David Horowitz as a “controversial polemicist.” The term “shared governance” as interpreted by the AAUP is a doctrine under which professors are accountable to no one but themselves for what goes on in the classroom.

In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights bears little resemblance to the caricatures created by the leftwing teacher unions and their faculty spokesmen. It ensures political neutrality in the classroom, and does not require the teaching of any doctrine. The exact language of the ABOR states that “Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty.” Any controversies as to what constitutes a scholarly viewpoint would be resolved by the college, not by politicians. 

The provisions in the Academic Bill of Rights are drawn explicitly from the classic academic freedom statements of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in the days before it became a radical organization. These statements have been embraced by universities across the country, though there is currently little enforcement of their tenets as regards students.  The Academic Bill of Rights guarantees the rights of both faculty and students to academic freedom regardless of their political or religious views. It prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing and promotion of faculty based on political or religious beliefs and forbids faculty from abusing their positions for the purposes of “political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination” in the classroom.

While the ABOR was being considered by the DuPage in the early spring, the Faculty Association claimed that not enough time had been allotted for public debate and consideration. But only days after the new members elected with union funds were seated, the new union board voted to rescind the ABOR without any opportunity for a public hearing.  “This defeat shows that while the left is prepared to conduct a war to defend their campaign to indoctrinate America’s students in radical hogwash,” says David Horowitz, architect of the Academic Bill of Rights. “Ever since I first introduced the Bill of Rights in 2003, the teacher unions have conducted a campaign of misrepresentation and slander to protect their political agendas in the classroom. The actions of the incoming trustees at DuPage are not a commentary on the Bill so much as an illustration of how determined the left is to corrupt our universities and use them for their political ends. I am encouraged however, by the willingness of the previous courageous DuPage trustees to regroup for the next round of this battle.”

Despite the temporary setback, Board of Trustess member Kory Atkinson vows that the fight is not over: “The students and taxpayers of the College of DuPage district will not stand by while the faculty bought trustees place the interests of their faculty patrons above the interests of the students.”

Sara Dogan is National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom.

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