I am the author of an Academic Bill of Rights (text available at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org) that was designed to foster intellectual pluralism in universities like Princeton, where it is sorely absent, and to remind faculty of their professional responsibility to students, which is to educate students, not to recruit them to their political causes.
I never intended to take my Bill of Rights to legislatures, but did so after I found that when I approached university administrators their response was universally to blow me off: "We have no problem here, David," I was told by Elizabeth Hoffman, the recently departed President of the University of Colorado. How wrong she was. In short, I have gone to legislatures as a last resort. In Colorado, it happens, when my bill was passed by the Education Committee of the House, we agreed to withdraw the bill after Hoffman and other university presidents agreed to put it in place.
The chief criticism of my bill is that, by enjoining professors not to be political partisans in the classroom, it would limit professors' speech. Leave aside for a moment the validity of this claim. Are not professors already limited in their speech by the powerful faculty commissars of political correctness who will not allow certain things to be said or certain questions to be raised? Just ask Larry Summers. And secondly by the strictures of diversity correctness which enjoin certain ideas or the use of phrases hurtful to minority sensitivities? I am certainly not for the suppression of ideas. But as long as universities are enforcing certain civilities, how about civility towards those who disagree with the majority view on politics and religion? How about respect for these differences? We don't expect our doctors to give us political lectures or make derisory remarks about our political choices. Neither should students have to expect this of professors.
That is what my bill of rights is about. It is not about affirmative action hiring for conservative professors, as Jon Wiener falsely claimed in these pages. In fact, it expressly forbids the hiring or firing of faculty on the basis of political belief. How to promote intellectual pluralism? If it were truly committed to this goal, Princeton could instantly diversify its faculty and enrich its curriculum by granting departmental status to Professor George's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
Wiener and others have also distorted the Academic Bill of Rights by claiming that it would require the teaching of creationism in biology classes. It would not. It specifically requires that students be "made aware of the spectrum of significant scholarly opinion." The last time I checked, the Bible was neither a scientific nor a scholarly text.
In fact, the only "restriction," so to speak, on faculty speech proposed by the Academic Bill of Rights is one lifted verbatim from the Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors, going back to its General Report of 1915 in which it warned that there was a difference between "indoctrination" and "education." In 1940 the AAUP's "Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom" said this: "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 is what my bill says, in the same language. Interestingly, many universities have incorporated the same language into their faculty guidelines. For example, the faculty handbook of Ohio State, whose administration opposes the bill, says that "Academic freedom carries with it correlative academic responsibilities. The principal elements include the responsibility of teachers to . . . (5) Refrain from persistently introducing matters that have no bearing on the subject matter of the course; . . . (7) Differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly."
All across this nation — and possibly even at Princeton — professors electioneered in the classroom against George Bush. This is a violation of students' academic freedom. It has been recognized as such in the academic freedom code of the AAUP and in the academic freedom guidelines of most universities. But it has been entirely neglected by administrations because it does not appear as a student right. My bill would rectify this situation by informing students of the right and hopefully by inducing universities to provide a grievance machinery when the principle is violated.
One reason for universities like Princeton to adopt these policies is that it may protect them from the storm that is coming. Today too many professors, like Ward Churchill and his faculty defenders, regard universities not as liberal educational institutions but as their radical political base. As a result, the university is increasingly perceived by the public as a redoubt of anti-American radicalism. This is damaging not only to the university's own function, but to its position in the larger society. If it comes to be seen as a promoter of sympathies for our terrorist enemies, the ensuing damage will be great. By embracing intellectual diversity and fostering true intellectual dialogue, universities like Princeton will not only be serving their students better, but also themselves.