On April 6-7, 2006, Students for Academic Freedom held its First National Academic Freedom Conference at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, DC. The conference featured detailed discussion on the indoctrination that is occurring in America’s K-12 schools and the politicization of American universities. A panel which served as a press conference featured the announcement by Pennsylvania Representative Sam Rohrer that he is going to initiate a process of legislative hearings that could lead to an Academic Bill of Rights for K-12 schools in his state. Representative Rohrer is the chairman of the subcommittee on K-12 education of the Pennsylvania House.
Rohrer’s action of behalf of K-12 education was prefaced by a presentation by Sol Stern, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of the book Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice. Stern detailed the many ways in which a political agenda is inserted into K-12 curricula and teacher’s education programs, including in the naming of public schools after Communists and terrorists. One elementary school in Harlem for example is named after Don Pedro Albizu Campus, a Puerto Rican terrorist who directed two of his followers in an assassination attempt on President Harry Truman (one policeman and one terrorist were killed in the assault) and Powell Middle School in Harlem named for former congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. who was found guilty by the U.S. Congress of misappropriation of funds and other illegal activities.
The press conference also included the presentation of the “Sean Allen Award” by David Horowitz to Colorado high school student Sean Allen whose recording of an illiterate political rant by his geography teacher, Jay Bennish, created a national furor over classroom indoctrination. The “Sean Allen Award” and will be presented annually to a student who displays great courage as Sean did in combating classroom indoctrination and standing up for academic freedom.
One of the highlights of the conference was the seven-member student panel featuring representatives from a diverse array of educational institutions including Temple University, Duke University, Bowdoin College, UC-Davis, and Georgia Tech who each detailed the widespread political abuse they had witnessed and experienced in the classroom.
Temple student Marlene Kowal recounted how one of her professors stated in her “Contemporary China” class that “Communism has been given a bad name in this country” and “The only reason why Mao Zedung is given the bad reputation he has is because of the bourgeois press and their racism toward the Chinese…I am a Maoist and my intention in teaching this class is to demonstrate to you why Mao was such a great figure.”
“One of the private comments made to me by one of the students who had not filed a report was that she had never encountered this problem in her classroom before this semester,” Marlene explained. “I had this student as a classmate in a class last semester where the Iraq war was explained by the professor to be a criminal event and Che Guevara was plugged as being a role model. Once I brought up this point to the student she replied, ‘Well, then I guess I never realized it before.’ And this is our main problem; students do not even realize they are being indoctrinated.”
UC-Davis student Mason Harrison described attending a Women’s Studies class on a dare from his girlfriend who thought he wouldn’t be able to handle the politically charged atmosphere. She offered him $50 to sign up, but his girlfriend won the bet when he dropped the course after students were made to chant “No on Arnold, no on recall!” during the first class session. In another course on Counter-Terrorism, he was told that the number one middle-eastern terrorist was Jesus Christ.
Bowdoin College student Dan Schuberth described how he helped to inspire 1000 students to join the academic freedom movement in Maine, leading to the introduction of an Academic Bill of Rights in the state legislature and student government resolutions in numerous schools across the state.
One of the most exciting segments of the day was a panel on the question “Is Legislation Necessary or Advisable.” The panel was moderated by Scott Jaschik, editor in chief of InsideHigherEd.com. It featured Students for Academic Freedom Chairman David Horowitz, State University of New York Trustee Candace de Russy and Colorado Regent Tom Lucero who defended legislative action on the Academic Bill of Rights and The panel also included United University Professions President William Scheuerman and American Council on Education Vice-President for Governmental Relations Terry Hartle who both oppose it. Horowitz defended the Academic Bill of Rights from its critics and quoted Alan Kors’ insight that “what universities do in private they cannot defend in public.”
Scheuerman and Hartle questioned whether the multitude of student anecdotes presented by the academic freedom movement as evidence that political advocacy is prevalent in university classrooms can be relied upon as data, leading Horowitz to reiterate the point that the academic freedom campaign relies not only upon student testimony, which exists in abundance, but also on official university curricula which reveal that whole university departments are infused with political agendas, such as the Women’s Studies departments at Santa Cruz (where it is actually called the Department of Feminist Studies) and at Kansas State University which requires students to demonstrate their acceptance of leftwing agendas and “their understanding that Women’s Studies….is committed to social action and social change.”
The conference also highlighted the perspectives of legislators who have introduced versions of the Academic Bill of Rights in their respective states, including Former Colorado Senator John Andrews, Pennsylvania Rep. Gib Armstrong, Kansas Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, Massachusetts Rep. Jeff Perry, Ohio Senator Larry Mumper, and Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley.
A panel featuring professors included Harvard Professor Stephan Thernstrom, Slippery Rock Professor Alan Levy, U Wisconsin-Madison Professor Don Downs, University of Minnesota Professor Ian Maitland, Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, and National Association of Scholars President Steve Balch.
Other featured speakers at the conference included Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston who first sponsored the Academic Bill of Rights as House Concurrent Resolution 318 in the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senator and former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.
“Today there's a growing political one-sidedness from the left and an absence of true diversity on too many American university campuses,” Alexander commented in his address. “And I'm glad Students for Academic Freedom is putting the spotlight on this. Because I believe this is the greatest threat to broad public support for and funding for higher education in the United States.”
Commenting on Alexander’s statement, David Horowitz summarized, “The danger facing universities – which the Academic Bill of Rights would prevent – is that if universities enter the political arena, they become subject to the laws of the political arena, and one of these laws is that you don’t fund your opposition. Leftwing universities are not going to inspire conservative individuals and conservative legislatures to fund them generously. There is a crisis in educational funding in America and our nation’s universities are contributing to it by allowing these institutions to become a political base for the radical Left, and conducting an intellectual cleansing process to rid them of a conservative presence.”
A sign of how serious the leftwing opponents of the academic freedom movement regard its progress was the attendance at the conference of leaders of the major teacher’s unions including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the American Association of University Professors.
“Our goal in holding this conference and in introducing the Academic Bill of Rights was to put the educational community on notice that partisan advocacy in the classroom will be resisted,” said Horowitz. “The fact that union leaders felt compelled to attend our conference shows that we’ve succeeded in doing exactly that.”
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