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Academic Freedom Leads to Open Conversations By: Allison Roeser
The Tufts Daily | Friday, March 04, 2005


With the approval of the Tufts Academic Freedom Project (TAFP) resolution from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate on Sunday, Feb. 13, the students behind the TAFP are preparing for the next step, and other members of the Tufts community have addressed their concerns about the resolution.

The TAFP is a sub-group of the Tufts Republicans.

Senior Brandon Balkind is at the forefront of the TAFP movement, and said that recognition of academic freedom - the right of students, faculty, and administrators to be free from ideological discrimination - is crucial in a university setting.

"I'm not a liberal myself and as an engineer, I don't really encounter ideological or political bias in my classes, but I'm working from a conservative standpoint," he said.

Balkind said that he is concerned with curriculums and course reading lists administered by some of the faculty at the University.

"How can we develop a better curriculum? I think liberal students are not getting the full spectrum ... The course list, the syllabus, should not support one ideology. The reading lists need to be revamped. Students will go through college without reading one conservative author or philosopher," he said.

TCU Senator senior Matt Pohl was against the TAFP resolution from the start. "Ideology is very subjective. Students should not be able to claim ideological discrimination if their academic work is factually inaccurate or is grounded in assumptions without the support of a scholarly network," he said.

English Professor Ronna Johnson, who was reported by a student two years ago for having liberal bias in the classroom, said that academic freedom was originally instituted into places of higher education to protect the dissenters, not those in power or those in agreement with the dominant political view.

"That was the whole point," Johnson said.

Pohl said that prior to the introduction of the TAFP's Academic Freedom resolution, the University's own policy on academic freedom outlined sufficient guidelines for upholding and protecting students' and faculty's rights against ideological discrimination.

"Academic freedom should not be defined for students who just have differing opinions. Tufts' Academic Freedom policy covers that and when it's so narrowly defined, it's a disservice to the University ... Students don't realize how much the University's policies can protect them. This group didn't do its homework," Pohl said.

The University's policy on academic freedom, last revised in 2000, opens with the statement: "Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental, not only to the advancement of truth but for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning as well."

One part of the University's policy on academic freedom, with regard to teaching practices, states: "The teacher is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject, but should be careful not to introduce into his/her teaching controversial matter which has no relation to the subject."

The policy goes on to state: "Hence, [the educator] should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that he/she is not an institutional spokesman."

With regard to reports of ideological bias in the classroom, Balkind gave the example of a student who was derided by a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the post-election period when the student discussed why he voted for President George W. Bush.

"We're also concerned when we hear of teachers who make fun of conservatives and the President," Balkind said. "I've heard about some other cases where, what happens is, students will see what kind of ideological beliefs their professors have and before they turn in a paper or an assignment, they'll change what they're going to write."

Junior Jordana Starr, a libertarian and managing editor of the University's journal of conservative thought, The Primary Source, gave an example of a specific incidence of ideological bias she has encountered in the classroom.

Last semester, Starr took a class in the Political Science Department entitled "Media, Politics, and Law," taught by Professor Michael Goldman. Starr said the class should have been called "Political Bias 101," as "[Goldman] essentially used the class as his soapbox for liberalism."

Starr had a list of quotes from Goldman from class that struck her as being the most intolerant, including, "George Bush was a draft-dodger and John Kerry was a war hero - get over it" and calling President Bush an "imbecile" on several occasions.

"[Goldman] only expressed one political belief - his own - and if someone expressed something different, he would shut them down," Starr said. "Half the time I did agree with him, because I am socially liberal, but it was frustrating the way he ran his class. The teachers I respect are the ones who keep their opinions out of it and can argue both sides of an argument."

Goldman said it shouldn't come as a "humongous shock" that he is a liberal professor, but that he is very open-minded in his classes.

"This is what I tell my classes: determine what in your value systems are framed by ideology, gender, religion, geography, ethnicity, and be proud of it. [As a professor], you're always going to get those people who don't like what you have to say ... When there are 75 people in a classroom, they're all going to hear and interpret things differently-that is what they bring to the classroom."

Goldman said that he assigns non-liberal readings to his class - recently, he has added books about former U.S. President Ronald Reagan to his reading list.

According to Assistant Dean of Students and Bias Intervention Program Director Marisel Perez, the Bias Intervention program does not handle reports of ideological bias.

Instead, the Oversight Panel for the University is obligated to attend to complaints from members of the Tufts community who have encountered ideological discrimination.

History Professor Steve Marrone sits on the oversight panel and said that he has not yet dealt with a case of a student who has reported being "persecuted" for their political or ideological beliefs in an academic setting.

"I've never heard of anyone say in specific words ... that they felt disadvantaged because of their ideological stance," Marrone said. "But sometimes I'll hear students talk about professors being 'too far to the left' or 'too far to the right' in comparison to their views, to which I just tell the students to keep on talking and discuss the differences."

When a case of a member of the Tufts community who has felt ideological discrimination arises, Balkind said that the members of the TAFP will report the incident to the TCU Senate and will publish it in The Primary Source, which Balkind said, "is an on-going thing we've been doing for awhile."

"We'd like these complaints to be aggregated by the University so that the appropriate [academic] department may be made aware, the students may be protected, and the community will also be aware," he said.

Pohl said he did not think this is an efficient way to report bias.

"I heard of very many specific problems [of ideological discrimination]. I don't like to read about these [problems and bias incidents] in The Primary Source because [The Source's] purpose is to antagonize instead of verify," Pohl said.

Balkind said that there is no way to change the way teachers grade and teach, so any complaints and reports would be "an awareness thing," and the wording behind the TAFP resolution entrusts the identified faculty and departments "to fix [their alleged discrimination]."

Balkind said the next step for the TAFP is to bring together students, faculty, and administrators from the Tufts community for a forum on academic freedom.

"We're calling faculty members - we don't want to say names - just to hear their opinions on this topic. We want to have meetings with professors, students, Democrats, Republicans and the TCU Senate," he said.

In individual meetings with a dozen or so undisclosed professors, Balkind said that he has asked these faculty members what they like and do not like about the resolution.

"A lot of professors like the idea that this is being addressed. Some professors just pay attention to racial differences, handicaps and have positive affirmation of the fact that they're not [discriminating against ideologies]," he said. "Some professors don't like to give viewpoints, which I think a lot of students would disagree with. Students want to be presented with viewpoints."

Johnson felt that the students behind the TAFP were jumping to conclusions too quickly and making incorrect assumptions.

"[The members of the Tufts Republicans and TAFP] are mini-imitations of Karl Rove - they're making hyperactive, preemptive strikes on the faculty with the absence of evidence," she said.

Pohl agreed. "Bad policies make ungrounded assumptions, and [the TAFP resolution] didn't delve deep enough," he said.

During the 2003 - 2004 academic year, alumnus and former Tufts Republicans president Phil Tsipman presented a Bill of Rights for academic freedom. It was not approved by the TCU Senate because of "national issues," according to current TCU President Dave Baumwoll.

Baumwoll said he believed that this Bill of Rights was tied to social critic, author, and commentator David Horowitz, who spoke at the University last April about his concerns regarding the lack of political diversity among professors in higher education.

To make this year's TAFP resolution appropriate for Senate review, "[the TCU Senate and Balkind] narrowed down the principles, took out the parts about national issues, and gave it more of a Tufts scope," Baumwoll said. "This [resolution] could have easily not been on the table again with the language of the original resolution."

Balkind said there is no connection between the TAFP's current resolution and the Tufts Republican's Academic Freedom Bill of Rights from last year.

"The people who were in charge of that are not in charge of the current [TAFP resolution]. This was done from scratch; it didn't use their Bill of Rights," he said.

Pohl said that he felt the way the wording in the original resolution was presented was "dishonest." He said that last year's TCU President, Chike Aguh, was responsible for adding Tufts policy into the final resolution for the February meeting.

"I think a stronger resolution will [adhere] to Tufts' policy in order to educate the students and professors about it," he said. "I'm not going to point fingers and name names, but I think when there's a movement that involves campus conservatives, the hijacking of language concerns me. If I voted against the original resolution as written, am I against academic freedom? Absolutely not."




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