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Victory for Academic Freedom in Florida By: Sara Dogan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 24, 2005


In a significant advance for academic freedom, a Florida House committee has approved Bill 837 which would institute an Academic Bill of Rights on that state’s public college and university campuses. The bill was sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley who said that the bill would prevent professors from abusing their authority “to indoctrinate the next generation." An article in The Ledger, a local paper, stated that “Given Baxley’s powerful post of House Education Council chairman, passage in the House seems likely.”

Students for Academic Freedom applauds this bill as a necessary step to safeguard the academic freedom of Florida’s students. While some Florida university codes already contain similar academic freedom guidelines, these policies are seldom enforced and are not publicized in places where students are likely to search for them such as student handbooks or course catalogues. For example, the Rules of the Department of Education for the University of Florida state that “The University student must ... have the opportunity to study a full spectrum of ideas, opinions, and beliefs, so that the student may acquire maturity for analysis and judgment. Objective and skillful exposition of such matters is the duty of every instructor.”

House Bill 837 would remedy this situation mandating that, “Students, faculty, and instructors have a right to be fully informed of their rights and their institution's grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogs and student handbooks and on the institutional website.” 

Florida House Bill 837: Student and Faculty Academic Freedom in Postsecondary Education

GENERAL BILL by Baxley

Student and Faculty Academic Freedom in Postsecondary Education: Provides a postsecondary student and faculty academic bill of rights; specifies student, faculty, and instructor rights; requires the dissemination of copies of the act to state universities and community colleges.

Effective Date: July 1, 2005.

Last Action: Favorable by Choice & Innovation Committee on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 3:30 PM

HB 837

A bill to be entitled
An act relating to student and faculty academic freedom in postsecondary education; amending s. 1002.21, F.S.; providing student rights to academic freedom; creating s. 1004.09, F.S.; providing a postsecondary student and faculty academic bill of rights; specifying student, faculty, and instructor rights; requiring the dissemination of copies of the act to state universities and community colleges; providing an effective date.

WHEREAS, the principles enumerated in this act fully apply only to public postsecondary institutions, and nothing in this act shall be construed as interfering with the right of a private postsecondary institution to restrict academic freedom on the basis of creed or belief, and

WHEREAS, the central purposes of a postsecondary institution are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and general development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to society at large, and

WHEREAS, free inquiry and free speech within the academic community are indispensable to the achievement of these central purposes which reflect the values of pluralism, diversity, opportunity, critical intelligence, openness, and fairness that are the cornerstones of American society, and

WHEREAS, the freedoms to teach and to learn depend upon the creation of appropriate conditions and opportunities on the campus as a whole as well as in the classrooms and lecture halls, and

WHEREAS, academic freedom is indispensable to American postsecondary education and, from its first formulation in the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, the concept of academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is the pursuit of truth and that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and

WHEREAS, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech and, in the words of the general report, it is vital to protect as "the first condition of progress, [a] complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results," and

WHEREAS, because free inquiry and its fruits are crucial to the democratic enterprise itself, academic freedom is a national value as well, and

WHEREAS, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, a historic 1967 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a New York State loyalty provision for teachers with the words, "Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, [a] transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned," and

WHEREAS, in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957), the Supreme Court of the United States observed that the "essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities [was] almost self-evident," and

WHEREAS, academic freedom consists of protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers, and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself, meaning that no political or ideological orthodoxy should be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring, tenure, or termination process or through any other administrative means by the academic institution nor should legislators impose any such orthodoxy through the control of postsecondary institution budgets, and

WHEREAS, from the first statement on academic freedom, it has been recognized that intellectual independence means the
protection of students as well as faculty from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political or ideological nature, and

WHEREAS, the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors admonished faculty to avoid "taking unfair advantage of the student's immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher's own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own," and

WHEREAS, in 1967, the American Association of University Professors' Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students reinforced and amplified this injunction by affirming the inseparability of "the freedom to teach and freedom to learn" and, in the words of the joint statement, "Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion," and

WHEREAS, the academic criteria of the scholarly profession should include reasonable scholarly options within the areas of discipline, and

WHEREAS, the value of the life of the mind was articulated by Thomas Jefferson when he stated, "We are not afraid to follow
truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it," and

WHEREAS, the education of the next generation of leaders should contain rigorous and balanced exposure to significant theories and thoughtful viewpoints, and students should be given the knowledge and background that empowers them to think for themselves, NOW, THEREFORE,

Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:

Section 1. Subsection (7) is added to section 1002.21,
Florida Statutes, to read:
1002.21 Postsecondary student and parent rights.--

(7) STUDENT ACADEMIC FREEDOM.--As detailed in s. 1004.09, students have rights to a learning environment in which they have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion, to be graded without discrimination on the basis of their political or religious beliefs, and to a viewpoint-neutral distribution of
student fee funds.

Section 2. Section 1004.09, Florida Statutes, is created
to read:

1004.09 Postsecondary student and faculty academic bill of
rights.--

(1) Students have a right to expect a learning environment in which they will have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study. In the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, the fostering of a plurality of serious scholarly methodologies and perspectives should be a significant institutional purpose.

(2) Students have a right to expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their
political or religious beliefs.

(3) Students have a right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.

(4) Students have a right to expect that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience of students and student organizations will not be infringed upon by postsecondary administrators, student government organizations, or institutional policies, rules, or procedures.

(5) Students have a right to expect that their academic institutions will distribute student fee funds on a viewpoint- neutral basis and will maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious disagreements, differences, and opinions.

(6) Faculty and instructors have a right to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

(7) Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their fields of expertise and will not be hired, fired, denied promotion, or denied tenure on the basis of their political orreligious beliefs.

(8) Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will not be excluded from tenure, search, or hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

(9) Students, faculty, and instructors have a right to be fully informed of their rights and their institution's grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogs and student handbooks and on the institutional website.

Section 3. The Chancellor of Colleges and Universities shall provide a copy of the provisions of this act to the president of each state university. The Chancellor of Community Colleges and Workforce Education shall provide a copy of the provisions of this act to the president of each community college.

Section 4. This act shall take effect July 1, 2005.


Sara Dogan is National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom.


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