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An Historic Moment for Academic Freedom By: Peter Collier
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 09, 2006


Today marks a historic moment in the movement to return academic integrity to the American university, as a Select Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature opens a new round of hearings into the status of academic freedom on the state’s public campuses at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It will be the first time that the university administrators who have ignored student rights and have allowed faculty to turn parts of the curriculum into indoctrination and abuse students in the process will be called to account,” says David Horowitz, author of the Academic Bill of Rights.

The first set of hearings were held at the University of Pittsburgh on November 9 and 10. Legislators heard testimony from James Maher, the Provost of the University of Pittsburgh; Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars; and Princeton history professor Joan Wallach Scott. Testifying today and tomorrow will be Horowitz; Temple President David Adamany; former Vice Provost Stephen Zelnick; Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni; and Logan Fisher, a senior at Temple and vice-chairman of the Temple College Republicans. Teacher union leaders will also speak.

The Pennsylvania legislature’s academic freedom hearings are the direct result of a campaign Horowitz began two-and-a-half years ago. After repeatedly hearing from students about classroom indoctrination during his campus appearances,  Horowitz set out to persuade university administrators to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to restore “intellectual diversity” to American universities. When those efforts ran into a stone wall of denial from administrators, he turned to state and federal legislators to press the academic community to reconsider its stance.

 

Horowitz had  experienced success in launching legislation embodying the bill’s concepts in several states when he was contacted by Pennsylvania representative Gibson Armstrong. A former Marine, Armstrong had begun thinking about the problems on Pennsylvania campuses when one of his constituents, a woman named Jennie Mae Brown, approached him in the summer of 2003, three months after U.S. forces had entered Iraq. Brown, an Air Force veteran then attending the York campus of Pennsylvania State University, complained to Armstrong about a physics professor who regularly used class time to attack President Bush and the war in Iraq. As the New York Times later reported, “Ms. Brown felt the teacher’s comments were inappropriate for the classroom.”

 

Disturbed by what he had learned from Jennie Mae Brown, Rep. Armstrong contacted Horowitz to discuss legislation he intended to sponsor to address this problem. The result was House bill HR 177, which passed the Pennsylvania House by a 108-90 majority. His bill created a Select Committee to hold hearings on the state of academic freedom at Pennsylvania’s public colleges and universities. The hearings which promise to give the academic freedom battle an enormous life were Armstrong's idea.

Horowitz will appear before the Select Committee on Tuesday. Previewing his testimony, he commented:

Temple University has in place an academic freedom policy that prohibits professors from using their classrooms as political soap boxes. But it is not enforced by the present Temple administration and consequently the academic rights of students at Temple are widely abused. Temple has required courses like the Freshman Year Writing Program which are designed to indoctrinate students in left-wing political and social fads and are taught by instructors—mainly graduate student—whose only professional expertise is in English. Most sections of this “writing course,” for example, are explicitly devoted to instructing students in ‘gender theory’ using textbooks that are almost entirely one-sided. Having unqualified teachers attempt to impose an orthodoxy in the name of education is a form of consumer fraud practiced on Temple students and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

Testifying today, along with the university’s President Adamany, are Temple senior Logan Fisher and Professor Stephen Zelnick.

Fisher says that his remarks “will not only contain my personal experiences, but those of many students who are afraid to testify, for fear of repercussions to their academic careers. As a vice-chairman of the Temple College Republicans and Vice-President of the Temple Chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, I experienced first hand their apprehension as they expressed to me concerns of retaliation by professors and fear of being singled out in their classes in the future.”

Zelnick has been on the faculty of the English Department at Temple for 37 years. During that time he had served as president of the Faculty Senate, director of University Writing Programs, and director of the Intellectual Heritage Program, which together formed a “core curriculum” and were required for all Temple undergraduates. Professor Zelnick had also served on the staff of the president of Temple, and more recently as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.

 

“[My] father was an illiterate immigrant,” Professor Zelnick will tell the legislators. “My life was transformed by my education at this institution.” While he saw himself as “a long-time supporter of the best traditions of this University,” he decided to testify before the Select Committee because he was profoundly disturbed by what Temple had become -- in particular, by the slanted nature of the curriculum. “The one-sidedness of the faculty in their ideological commitments and a growing intolerance of competing views [had] resulted [in the] abuse of students, occasionally overt and reported, but most often hidden and normalized, and the degrading of the strong traditions of intellectual inquiry and free expression.”

 

Professor Zelnick will tell the legislators that an event staged prior to the Temple hearings had prompted his decision to appear. “I don’t suppose I would be here testifying today were it not for the rallying event scheduled at the weekly meeting of [Temple’s] ‘Dissent in America’ forum. The meeting was organized by the faculty union, with the support of the Faculty Senate with the purpose of rallying faculty support against House Resolution 177, a resolution calling upon a body of the legislature to be delegated to investigate the issues of students’ rights to open discussion and for protection against abusive assertions of ideology in the classroom.”

 

According to Professor Zelnick the meeting to the committee was entirely “one-sided, and an excellent example of the replacement of sober discussion with group adherence.” One speaker compared the legislature’s concerns for student rights with “the purge of Communist professors in the 1950’s, and in particular the banishment of Professor Barrows Dunham, the distinguished chairman of the Philosophy Department at Temple University at that time.” Professor Zelnick had known Barrows Dunham and was his friend at the time. But he said, “The attempt to connect that moment with this was inflammatory and ill-conceived. The notion that any hearings conducted by the legislature, and representing the interests and concerns of the citizens and taxpayers of Pennsylvania, amounted to a witch-hunt to condemn faculty members for their political affiliations wildly misstates the purposes and spirit of these hearings. That rabble rousing does, however, represent what too often passes for thinking.”

 

Zelnick:

 

But untruths told to students is part of what brings us here, and it was brashly on display. As is typical these days at this and many other universities, holding a meeting where only one side is represented and where a disfigured account is offered as truth is the order of the day. The historic…statement [of the American Association of University Professors] that promises full consideration of all views in the search for truth, and which provides the foundation for House Resolution 177, has been replaced sadly with truths that are beyond question.

 

Professor Zelnick’s experience as an administrator at Temple provided him with a birds-eye view of the changes in faculty attitudes in the last two decades,  and the increasingly one-sided and political nature of the Temple curriculum: “As director of two undergraduate programs,” he testified, “I have had many opportunities to sit in and watch instructors. I have sat in on more than a hundred different teachers’ classes and seen excellent, indifferent, and miserable teaching... In these visits, I have rarely heard a kind word for the United States, for the riches of our marketplace, for the vast economic and creative opportunities made available for energetic and creative people (that is, for our students); for family life, for marriage, for love, or for religion.”

 

The hearings at which he appears today could mark the moment when these subjects and a wide spectrum of others which have been suppressed for years begin to work their way back into the curriculum. It also may mark a turning point in the campaign to restore educational values that have been dramatically eroded the last thirty years by a radicalized professoriate bent on introducing its political agendas into the classroom. 

 

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Peter Collier co-authored seven books with David Horowitz, including the widely read Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the ‘60s. He is also the author of many other books including, biographies on the Fords, Rockefellers, and Kennedys.


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