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One Side Fits All By: Leila Beckwith
LaTimes.com | Monday, August 29, 2005


MOST CALIFORNIANS, including most University of California professors, think that they know the meaning of the term "academic freedom." They assume it's the equivalent of free speech and therefore that it is bestowed on faculty by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Because they conflate academic freedom and free expression, they assume that academic freedom is immutable and eternal and exists without responsibilities.

These misconceptions lead smart people to conclude that any changes to current academic freedom rules, including a pending amendment to the California Education Code proposed by state Sen. Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), sully the ivory towers of academia with politics and thought suppression. In truth, political agitators accomplished that corruption of higher education in 2003 when they succeeded in changing the University of California Academic Freedom rules that had stood since 1934.

From 1934 to 2003, UC regulations defined academic freedom this way: "The function of the university is to seek and transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts."

Those statements subjugated faculty members' academic freedoms to a student's right to pursue knowledge. Scholarship and teaching were to be concerned with the logic of the facts. Academic freedom was not the same as 1st Amendment rights.

Yet, in 2002, the University of California, in an egregious act of irresponsibility, backed away from these rules after a UC Berkeley graduate student taught a remedial reading and writing course titled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." By all accounts, including the instructor's, the course was strongly committed to the Palestinian perspective in the conflict with Israel and taught without any obligation to present alternative views or inconvenient facts. The original course description went so far as to encourage conservative thinkers to seek other classes.

Though the school rewrote that description, then-President Richard Atkinson also began the process of gutting its academic freedom rules, and, by 2003, the university had eliminated the statements quoted above from its regulations and removed any obligation for professors and instructors to aspire to maintain political neutrality in their courses or even inform students that other viewpoints exist.

Political ideologues had won a major victory. They revealed to Californians what should have been obvious to everyone: Colleges and universities nationwide have their own definitions of and rules for academic freedom, and those can be modified to advance or impede the academic pursuit of truth and knowledge.

The University of California originally wrote its rules in the belief that critical inquiry, unhindered by political coercion or "political correctness," is the best way to educate youth and to make scientific and social discoveries that benefit the community. Because the new rules grant faculty members almost unlimited freedom to teach anything they want in the classroom, academic freedom as currently defined allows and fosters political proselytizing — not by the government or the community but by professors and teachers' aides eager to impose their self-certain views on the students.

Of course, ideological indoctrination derived from the conviction that one knows the truth violates the mission of the university, which is to seek the truth. Yet a minority of instructors and professors, many tenured, have spread political indoctrination in classrooms throughout the University of California.

Ask any UC student if this is the case, and I suspect you'll hear stories of professors who think their job is to convert students to their way of thinking rather than explore a variety of viewpoints in the collective pursuit of truth.

Among the many instances that have been brought to my attention:

•  At UC Santa Cruz, a required freshman course in the humanities included "Palestine" by Joe Sacco, a comic-strip account of Palestinian life written from an unabashedly anti-Israeli perspective, with no other perspective offered, a student in the class told me.

•  At UC Santa Barbara, instead of the professor in an upper-division sociology class teaching theories of culture as described in the official course catalog, students reported on an anti-indoctrination website (www.noindoctrination.org) that he focused on religion and "preached about the dangers of organized religion, and essentially lumped Christian fundamentalists in the U.S.A. with Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East."

•  At UC San Diego, a student on the same website said a sociology class dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath focused on "why the United States has always been wrong, and why the United States is still wrong in attacking terrorism …" and that it was taught in "a hostile atmosphere in which we were told what to think rather than how to think."

As a parent, I do not want my child's education to be compromised by political indoctrination.

As a California taxpayer, I do not want to financially support the university so that it can politically indoctrinate California citizens.

As a faculty member, I do not want the academic excellence of the university to which I have belonged for more than 35 years to be diminished by political agitators who believe they have the truth and feel free to restrict intellectual curiosity and diversity of ideas.

Morrow's bill reinstates part of the academic freedom rules of the University of California that were gutted in 2003. It states that curricula, reading lists and faculty in the humanities and social sciences must provide students with "dissenting sources and viewpoints." It states that "faculty shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination."

How can any sincere believer in education and the pursuit of truth not support this attempt to rectify the assault against academic freedom instituted by political ideologues hiding behind an academic front?



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