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What I Told Pennsylvania's Academic Freedom Hearings By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Before I begin, I want to say that I am honored and grateful to the Committee for inviting me. These hearings are historic in their concern for the health of academic freedom on our college and university campuses, and I thank you for allowing me to participate. But I also want to express my concern about statements that have been made by some members of this Committee which raise a question as to whether those members are actually interested in what I and others who have come before this committee have to say, or whether they think this is all just a “colossal waste of time,” and a “hunt for Bigfoot.”

 

These comments were made at the very first session of these hearings and they have been repeated to reporters since then. The comment about the hearings being a “waste of time” was actually made at the conclusion of testimony by David French, who is one of the nation’s leading advocates for the First Amendment rights of college students. David French testified that all but two of the public universities of Pennsylvania, with a collective student body of well over a hundred thousand, have instituted regulations that violate the constitutional rights of every one of those students. I am sure that most members of this committee will be concerned about protecting the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania students in institutions funded by the taxpayers of this state. I am sure they will agree that ensuring that those rights are protected is not a waste of time.

 

In his testimony, David French described a free speech case at Shippensburg University which he successfully litigated and in which the court found that Shippensburg administrators had indeed violated the Constitution with their speech code. The identical speech code – word for word – is incorporated in the administrative regulations of other Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning for which this legislative body is responsible. In other words, not only have the administrators of Pennsylvania universities violated the law in the first place, but they have continued to do so even when the courts have ruled against them on the issue. I am sure that most members of this committee will regard this as a serious matter and not a waste of the committee’s time.

 

The most pressing matter for this committee to examine is the failure of the administrators of Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning to respect and observe federal and state law and their own regulations pertaining to the academic freedom of their students. 

 

The committee could well begin the business of remedying this situation by attending to David French’s observation that no state university in Pennsylvania ever informs its students of their basic rights in regard to academic freedom. The committee will have done a good day’s work if it persuades the administrators of Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning to inform Pennsylvania students of their basic rights in regard to academic freedom.

 

It is not a waste of time for legislators to be concerned when Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning consciously restrict the rights of more than a hundred thousand Pennsylvania students and violate their constitutional guarantees. Nor is it a waste of time for legislators to be concerned when academic administrators continue to do so even when apprised by the courts of their violations.

 

At the Pittsburgh session of these hearings, National Association of Scholars president Stephen Balch presented lengthy testimony detailing the violations of academic freedom by Pennsylvania public universities. Balch identified entire academic departments that are engaged in advocacy and indoctrination rather than education. He presented to the committee university hiring profiles that specify that a candidate be politically correct – for example that they advocate “social justice” which is a generally recognized code for socialism. It is a violation of state and federal law to hire or fire individuals on the basis of their political beliefs, yet many Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning do exactly that. These are disturbing realities that should be of pressing concern to a committee that represents the voters and taxpayers of this state in matters of education.

 

I apologize for the candor of these opening remarks but the seriousness of the circumstances, in my view, make them necessary.  I do not intend to waste the time of this committee. My testimony will show that individual professors, individual courses, entire departments, and university-wide programs at Temple University violate standard academic freedom guidelines, including Temple University’s own academic freedom guidelines. Moreover, Temple administrators cannot be unaware of these violations, yet do nothing to correct them.

 

My name is David Horowitz. I am a well-known author and media commentator and am the president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a non-profit supported by the contributions of 40,000 individuals. I am the creator of a national organization called Students for Academic Freedom which has chapters on 150 campuses nationwide, including several in the state of Pennsylvania. I am also the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, which has already changed the educational policies of Colorado, Ohio and Tennessee, and which has been grossly misrepresented before your committee by the representatives of the American Association of University Professors, the Provost of the University of Pittsburgh and others. I will return to this issue in a moment.

 

In the course of the last twenty years I have spoken on over 300 campuses and have personally interviewed several thousand students concerning the academic freedom issues we are here to discuss. Among Pennsylvania campuses I have visited are the University of Pennsylvania (three times), Penn State, Penn State Worthington, Duquesne Law, Villanova, West Chester, Lehigh, Swarthmore (twice) and Dickinson.

 

The Academic Bill of Rights is a codification of existing academic freedom policies whose spirit is embraced by all modern research universities and most colleges – private and public -- in the United States. My bill differs from these existing guidelines only in that it specifically recognizes the academic freedom rights of students.

 

Under the present system, academic freedom has been interpreted to mean mainly the protection of faculty – with which I have no quarrel. Existing academic freedom templates are written primarily in terms of the protection of the intellectual freedom of professors on the one hand and on the other the responsibilities of professors to behave professionally and in a manner that does not violate the academic freedom of students. The change I have proposed is that where faculty is said to have responsibilities, students should be said to have rights. In other words, if a professor is instructed by university guidelines not to introduce partisan politics into the classroom -- as professors at Temple University are -- I believe this should also be regarded as a student right. And every student should be made aware of his or her right in this matter. Students should have a right to have their professors behave professionally and not behave as political salesmen in the classroom. But many of them, and an increasing number of them, now do.

 

At the November 10 hearings of this committee, Provost James Maher, of the University of Pittsburgh, testified that he was concerned about the Academic Bill of Rights. Provost Maher is obviously an intelligent and dedicated civil servant with the best academic intentions. Nonetheless Provost Maher misrepresented the Academic Bill of Rights beyond recognition in his testimony. Provost Maher testified that the “[Academic] Bill of Rights “would create a situation where every course that raised an issue that was controversial would have to give essentially equal weight to every viewpoint” [p. 26 l. 11-16.]. Obviously this would make teaching impossible. But the Academic Bill of Rights says nothing of the kind. Provost Maher’s characterization is false. The Academic Bill of Rights does not insist that all points of view be represented. Instead, it says, in so many words, that “exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.”

 

The meaning of this text could not be clearer. On issues that are controversial, professors should make students aware of the existence of more than one scholarly view – with the emphasis on scholarly. Not all views. Just more than one. And it should be a scholarly view. Not all views are worthy of attention and the Bill takes specific note of this. The clear intent of the Bill is that students should not be left with the idea that a professor’s perspective on controversial issues in the humanities or the social sciences must be taken as a gospel. I’m sure everyone on this committee would agree with that. Even those who think this is all a waste of time.

 

Provost Maher’s false impression of the Academic Bill of Rights is the result of a nation-wide campaign against the Bill, which has been conducted by professor-unions, like the American Association of University Professors, who are intent on defending the status quo. This campaign has been exceptionally dishonest relying not on reasoned disagreement with the reforms the Bill is proposing, but on misrepresenting them as something they are not. For example: Contrary to what has been asserted to this committee by hostile witnesses, the Academic Bill of Rights would not impose legislative control of academic decisions; it would not give students equal rights with teachers; it would not ban controversy from the classroom and it would not force teachers to teach unscholarly, unscientific points of view like Holocaust denial or Intelligent Design. All these charges have been made against the Academic Bill of Rights before this committee. All of these claims are demonstrably false.

 

The Academic Bill of Rights can be simply summarized as an effort to restore the principles that the academic profession has traditionally honored but in all too many cases no longer observes -- as the testimonies by David French, Stephen Balch and Steven Zelnick have amply demonstrated. The Academic Bill of Rights is furthermore an attempt to express and codify as student rights what are already recognized as faculty responsibilities in regard to academic freedom.

 

The Academic Bill of Rights has already had a positive impact not only on legislatures, but on the universities themselves. It has prompted the American Council on Education, for example, to adopt a new and welcome policy statement on academic freedom. The American Council on Education is a national organization that represents all the state and private universities in Pennsylvania. On June 23, 2005, the American Council on Education issued a new statement of principles on academic freedom. I would like to read to you a brief description of this event which appeared in the October-December issue of The Presidency, a magazine for university presidents. It was written by Kermit Hall – who is a Professor of History and also the president of the Albany campus of the State University of New York:

 

In June 2005, the American Council on Education and 27 other higher education organizations issued the Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities. The Statement was a pragmatic response by the higher education establishment to the escalating challenge posed by its neo-conservative critics and their most ardent advocate, David Horowitz.. … Horowitz is … the chief architect of the Academic Bill of Rights, a document designed to protect college students from becoming victims of political intolerance. While Horowitz’s name does not appear in either the statement or in the press materials that accompanied its release, he was the ghost at this banquet.[1]

 

The article goes on to say that the health and credibility of universities depend on their ability to respond to the challenges raised by the Academic Bill of Rights and the movement it represents. I quote: “Only when higher education is willing to address squarely the question of whether there is a political imbalance in faculties, one-sided course readings and campus speaking events, or the existence of an oppressive campus orthodoxy, will we command full legitimacy.” Those are the words of President Hall. That is what we are discussing in these hearings, which if conducted in good faith and wisely, will serve to strengthen academic institutions throughout this state.

 

The American Council statement declares that “intellectual diversity is central to a higher education,” and further that there should be no political discrimination against students, and finally that there should be grievance machinery for students who feel they have been discriminated against. One easy step that this committee could take to strengthen the public institutions of higher learning in this state would be to recommend that they implement the recommendations of the American Council on Education.

 

Temple University is itself a member of the American Council on Education. But it has done absolutely nothing to implement this academic freedom policy. That is why your committee has been created. That is why legislation – perhaps merely in the form of a resolution expressing the will of the legislature -- is needed to remind universities like Temple of its responsibilities to the citizens of this state. If, as trustees of the state system of higher education in Pennsylvania, you fail to act in this matter, the good intentions of the American Council on Education will remain just that – intentions, and Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning will be the weaker and the worse for it.

 

Can legislation regarding academic freedom work without interfering with university governance? This is a question that has been put to this committee with a resounding answer in the negative. But in fact there is already legislative oversight of universities in Pennsylvania with which those who raise this objection -- the opponents of HR 177 and the Academic Bill of Rights -- have no quarrel. Laws like U.S. Title IX restrict universities that receive federal funding concerning whom they admit as students, whom they appoint as professors, and which programs they must discontinue, based on sex discrimination. Racial discrimination and sexual harassment laws tell universities what kind of attitudes members of the academic community can and cannot display towards certain minorities and women; all are already on the books. All these regulations require hundreds of millions of university dollars, in the aggregate, to enforce; and all have been supported by the opponents of HR 177 and the Academic Bill of Rights. It seems that government intervention is good when it comes to securing some rights and some freedoms, but not intellectual rights and intellectual freedoms.

 

The fact is that all the legislation we, as proponents of academic freedom and intellectual diversity, have proposed thus far has been in the form of resolutions, not statutory requirements. If there is goodwill on the part of university administrators, resolutions will suffice. For example, in the Ohio Senate, a resolution (Senate Bill 24) was introduced to implement provisions of the Academic Bill of Rights. The legislators sponsoring the resolution were then approached by the Inter-University Council of Ohio, representing the 17 largest private and public universities in the state. The universities wanted to know if the legislative sponsors would withdraw their bill if the universities would sign an agreement to implement the statement on academic freedom issued by the American Council on Education.

 

The legislative sponsors of Senate Bill 24 said yes, and the statement was signed. In order to ensure that the agreement is actually implemented, we are now urging the Ohio Senate to create a committee similar to the one that has been created in Pennsylvania. This is a reasonable way to fix a serious problem without injuring the independence of the universities. Similar agreements have been made that affect the entire public higher education system of Colorado.

 

Now to the situation at Temple. Temple University has an official Academic Freedom Policy. It is based in its entirety on the 1940 Statement on the Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors. Unfortunately, Temple University is typical of the public universities in this state in that it does not enforce its own policy. It is also typical in that its academic freedom policy is stated exclusively in terms of the rights and obligations of professors and does not mention the rights of students.

 

This committee could pass a resolution urging Temple administrators to remedy this omission. All state universities and colleges in Pennsylvania should codify student academic freedom rights, and all university administrators should take their academic freedom policies seriously.

 

Here is the preamble to the Temple Policy on Academic Freedom:

 

1.      Academic Freedom

 

All members of the faculty, whether tenured or not, are entitled to academic freedom as set forth in the 1940 Statement On Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure by the Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors as follows.

 

The handbook then quotes the three paragraphs of the 1940 AAUP statement. This is Temple’s academic freedom policy. One of the three paragraphs specifically addresses the issue of academic freedom in the classroom. Its words are identical to statements in the academic freedom policies of the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University. I quote:

 

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.

 

This principle is violated every day on every campus in this state, and at Temple University specifically. I can say this with confidence because I have interviewed at least a hundred students in this state and every one of them has been in a class or in several classes in which their professors have railed against George Bush, the war in Iraq, and the policies and attitudes of Republicans and conservatives. This may be a small sample in absolute terms, but the fact that a hundred percent of the sample has been subjected to proselytizing by professors in the classroom is telling. Many professors seem to find it necessary to make speeches against the Bush Administration in classes whose subject matter is not American presidents, the administration of George Bush, or the war in Iraq. During the last election season these violations of academic freedom became epidemic, yet I am not aware of a single case where a university administration has stepped in to correct these abuses or even to re-state the academic freedom policy of the university itself and thus to remind professors and students that under existing Temple guidelines this is not appropriate classroom discourse for Temple faculty.

 

Here is a comment taken from an interview we conducted with a Temple student: “The Chairman of the History Department, who is my adviser, told me during advising that ‘If Bush gets re-elected we will have a fascist country.’ He [told me] he will be scared for his survival and will consider possibly moving to Canada. That’s scary coming from a history professor.”

 

It is also entirely unprofessional. This student was in his adviser’s office for a “graduation review” – that is, for advice on the courses he needed to complete his major and graduate. This particular student also observed in the interview: “All the professors had Kerry [election] signs on their [office] doors…. Every single door to the offices, all the professors had a Kerry sign….We also have ‘God Is Not A Republican’ signs all over campus.”

 

Several members of this committee have asked administrators testifying before it how many complaints they have received from students about problems like this, and whether in fact there have been any such complaints. The administrators couldn’t think of one. I ask you to consider whether if you were a political science student at Temple and a Republican, and went to your adviser’s office, who happened to be the chairman of the department, and heard him say in a totally inappropriate context that if George Bush were re-elected we would have a fascist country, and if you saw on every one of your professors’ office doors an “Elect John Kerry” sign, whether you would take steps to complain publicly about these facts. Would you decide to go over their heads to a Dean or Provost? My guess is that like most students you would grin and bear it and get on with your academic career. The same would be true of a Democrat student in an academic environment where all signs and all political expressions by people in authority were Republican, and where your faculty adviser said that if John Kerry were elected President, the terrorists would soon be in our backyard.

 

I view this issue in a personal way. I went to Columbia University in the McCarthy Fifties. My parents were Communists and I wrote my school papers from a Marxist point of view. Yet I was never singled out as a Communist the way conservative students are regularly singled out by their professors. In fact, I don’t ever remember a professor expressing a political point of view in any class I ever had. I am grateful to my Columbia professors for their professionalism and wish that all students would have the same educational privilege of academic neutrality that I had. I hope you will urge Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning to give their students a fair shake as well.

 

As Stephen Balch testified to this committee, state universities in Pennsylvania (as elsewhere) spend tens of millions of dollars each year, and do so every year, to inform their students that sexual and racial diversity are fundamental university values and that harassment on the basis of gender and race will not be tolerated. They insert these values into orientation sessions; they put them into student handbooks, and prepare literature to inform students about them. But these same universities do not spend a single penny on promoting the value of intellectual diversity – even though the American Council on Education has called this “central to a higher education,” and even though somewhere buried in faculty handbooks on most university websites lip service is paid to this core principle of academic freedom.

 

This committee will do a great service to the intellectual health of colleges and universities in its charge if it will make a report recommending that these universities appropriate sums for programs that will foster intellectual diversity on their campuses comparable to those they already spend on racial and gender diversity. Additionally, you could recommend that universities amend their diversity mandates, which now cover race and gender, to include “diversity based on political and religious affiliation.”

 

It is not only students who are in the dark about the academic freedom rights of students. Dean Brown of California University, which is part of the Pennsylvania state system, testified to this committee that the injunction to professors not to persistently introduce controversial matter that has no relation to the subject is a problem for him. What Dean Brown said is this “The questionable part of House Resolution 177 is that it specifies that faculty may not introduce controversial subjects when they’re inappropriate, but it gives no mechanism or means for determining who gets to say what is controversial.” (p. 111, l. 1-6) 

 

Dean Brown is a thoughtful and informed university administrator. Yet he is completely unaware that the statement about not introducing controversial matter irrelevant to the subject is quoted verbatim from the 1940 Statement of Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors, or that it is a core principle of most universities in the state of Pennsylvania including Penn State and – as we have already seen – Temple, and has been for decades. Moreover, Dean Brown’s statement shows that he does not understand the principle, which does not say that all controversial matter is inappropriate to a classroom, but that controversial matter which is irrelevant to the subject is inappropriate to the classroom, as for instance telling your students that George Bush is a fascist or the war in Iraq is wrong, in a class that is not about the Bush presidency or the war in Iraq.

 

Dean Brown’s ignorance of the academic freedom principles of his own university reflects widespread ignorance of these principles among university administrators. Since Dean Brown obviously discussed his presentation with the President of California University and no doubt its legal counsel, this indicates that the entire administration at California University is ignorant on this matter. Since no administrator has even commented on the numerous violations of this principle during the last presidential election and the war in Iraq, it is probable that almost no one in the administrations or on the faculties of the Pennsylvania state system is aware that students have the right – according to their own regulations – not to have their professors inflict on them controversial opinions that have no relation to the subject matter of their classes.

 

Nor is this just a Pennsylvania problem. In the state of Ohio, the entire public campaign against the Academic Bill of Rights was waged on the basis of exactly this misinterpreted sentence about controversial matter that is irrelevant to the subject being taught. The ACLU and the AAUP and the NEA and the AFT all said this language would restrict professors’ speech – as though this restriction on professors’ speech were not a self-imposed professional discipline already enshrined in the academic freedom guidelines of every major university in Ohio. In fact, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a headline “Legislators Seek to Restrict Professors Speech.”[2] The reference was to the same sentence in Senate Bill 24 about controversial matter irrelevant to the subject, which was taken verbatim from the 1940 AAUP guidelines and which is inscribed in those very words in the academic freedom guidelines of nine of the eleven public Ohio universities. This is how badly the opposition has misrepresented our modest proposals for academic reform.

 

The problem we are facing in our universities is that they have lost sight of their own professional responsibilities. When HR 177 gently reminds them of those responsibilities they attack HR 177, even though the responsibilities are specified in the regulations of their own policy handbooks. This committee’s task, like that of HR 177, is to issue a wake-up call to the colleges and universities in this state to become aware of their responsibilities – to take a look at their academic freedom guidelines and begin observing them.

 

At the November 9th hearings of this committee, Representative Lynn Herman, whose district includes Penn State University, asked Stephen Balch about the Penn State policy governing academic freedom, which is even more forceful and precise than the Temple policy.  Allow me to quote a part of the policy: “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.”

 

Representative Herman wanted evidence that this policy is not being enforced at Penn State. This is a reasonable and important question, and I will answer it. As I mentioned earlier, I have visited the Penn State campus and interviewed students there, and I can state with confidence that the professors at Penn State do introduce controversial issues into their classrooms, when they have no relevance to the subject matter, with the purpose of advocating one side of these issues.

 

Here are two testimonies we received in writing from two different students at Penn State:

 

I’m taking a Women Studies class because I thought it’d be a good class to take. Yesterday I was in class and people were giving presentations about women’s issues and one group decided to do abortion.  The next thing I know, we’re spending the whole period learning about how abortion should be completely legal and that it’s a good thing for society to abort babies and that people need to learn how to say the word “abortion” because women should be proud of the fact that they’ve had one.  The professor made us start chanting “abortion, abortion,” and to be honest, I started to cry. There was no place in that class for my pro-life opinion. The one time I did raise my hand to say that I disagreed with abortion and that it shouldn’t be shoved down my throat, the professor  completely cut my opinion down and said that people like me shove their beliefs down their throats and are keeping women down, etc. etc.  I don’t get how I’m shoving my opinion down their throats when they’re making me chant “abortion” at 9 am. – Kelly Keelan

 

Here is the second statement:

 

I had a professor in a Biology Science class, which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, go off on a 20-minute lecture about how Bush was a horrible president and had misled the people and that if I supported the war in Iraq, I was a bad, ignorant person. - Anonymous.

 

Some Penn State instructors appear to think that there is no difference between education and indoctrination. Here is a statement from the official website of a sociology instructor at Penn State: “I’m open about bringing my ideology into this classroom because I see that all educational systems are ideological to the core.” This instructor is the co-director of the Race Relations Project at Penn State and teaches Sociology 119, which is called “Race and Ethnic Relations.” Yet, on his academic website he boasts that, “I never seriously studied race or ethnicity while in college, and I never took an undergraduate or graduate course in the topic.”

 

Is this the standard of professionalism and Penn State?

 

I do not expect the committee to rely on my testimony alone on an issue as important as whether professors abuse their authority in the classroom to advance their non-academic agendas. The question the committee should ask is why isn’t the university itself interested in finding out the answer to this question? In areas like gender and race, the universities are aggressively urging their student bodies to become aware of the issues of racial and gender diversity and to bring such problems to the appropriate grievance committees they have created. Why aren’t they doing this in regard to intellectual diversity and students’ academic freedom?

 

Many universities have professor evaluation forms for students to fill out in regard to their professors’ performances in class. Why not add the categories of respect for intellectual diversity and the observance of professional standards in regard to controversial issues in the classroom? I urge this committee to recommend the adoption of such evaluation forms for all public Pennsylvania universities.

 

To continue reading this testimony, click here.


Notes:

[1] Kermit Hall, “A Cautionary Tale on Academic Rights and Responsibilities," The Presidency, October-December 2005.


David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.


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