Once again it falls to a lowly columnist to explain something that has apparently flown over the heads of almost everyone else in this university town. I am speaking of course of State Senate Bill 24, or, rather, what is being called the "Academic Bill of Rights."
The Academic Bill of Rights was first submitted to educators by David Horowitz, a noted author and conservative political advocate who wrote the proposal, and only when it was stonewalled by universities did Horowitz submit it to legislatures. The bill was introduced to ensure the freedom of ideas and expression in a profession where the overwhelming majority of professors are liberals.
Over the past week or so several articles have been written decrying that the bill will limit free speech in the classroom and seriously hamper students' abilities to learn from a variety of viewpoints. However, the actual intention of the bill is to guarantee these very freedoms, not take them away. The proposal of the bill that I am referring to can be found here.
The very first section of the proposal states that "The institution shall provide its students with a learning environment in which the students have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study." Isn't that what we are all after as students and faculty? This can't possibly be what people are objecting to.
In section B, the bill states "Students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study and shall not be discriminated against on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs." Wow, this sounds great to me. God forbid that as students we shouldn't be guaranteed fair and equal treatment. Section B continues on: "Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or antireligious indoctrination." Is this where the opposition comes from? I'm confused.
Section D of the proposal answers the charge that the bill will limit free speech. "University administrators, student government organizations, and institutional policies, rules, or procedures shall not infringe the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience of students and student organizations." How could anyone seriously charge that this bill will limit free speech when it sets out to guarantee it in the first place?
The proposal also seeks to ensure the proper treatment of faculty as well as students: "Faculty and instructors shall be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise and shall not be hired, fired, promoted, granted tenure, or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs." Now why would faculty oppose this bill except for the fact that they want to be able to talk about topics irrelevant to the class topic?
I know I am not the only one who has sat through a class irrelevant to contemporary politics only to hear how we are screwing things up in Iraq, or how the teacher is fed up with George Bush or, rather, the government in general. I have had to hear how Israel is really the oppressor and the Palestinians are fighting for a just cause in classes unrelated to Middle East politics. I have had teachers tell me that they disagreed with our presence in Iraq but wished me luck as I was deployed.
Should teachers spend class time talking about their personal opinions on things other than those which relate to class material? How at all do these discussions help students learn other than affirming the view that universities are stomping grounds for liberals?
State Senate Bill 24 was proposed to ensure what students pay for: an education -not indoctrination -and should pass in order to do so.
Horowitz notes in an article entitled "A Campaign of Lies" that "Anyone who thought the Academic Bill of Rights might give too much power to legislatures could show their good faith by recommending that universities rather than legislatures adopt the bill. But none of its opponents has."
After reading the bill proposal it seems that anyone with some common sense would realize that the bill seeks to guarantee freedom of speech rather than restrict it. Apparently the comedian Bernie Mack was right when he remarked that the thing about common sense is that it isn't all that common.