Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Ohio’s proposed "Academic Bill of Rights"

Peter mentioned the proposed "Academic Bill of Rights" in an earlier post. Here’s the text of the proposal, for those who are interested.

The law purports to apply to all colleges and universities in the state, not just public institutions. Of course, there are all sorts of issues one can raise with respect to this proposal. What, for example, would be the enforcement mechanism? None is mentioned in the legislation. I assume that if the bill were passed, a student who felt that his or her rights were violated could file suit seeking some sort of relief. If the legislation passed, and I were teaching in Ohio, I’d probably look into purchasing professional liability insurance, because I’m not sure I’d want to rely solely on my institution to defend me from the potentially frivolous lawsuits such a measure might inspire.

But there’s another issue I find even more troubling, one that trenches on the freedom of an institution to define its own educational mission. Here’s what the proposal says:

Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.

This sounds great until you think that, for example, promoting a religious point of view might well be integral to a college’s mission. The proposal seems to demand that every institution adhere essentially to a single standard--the liberal marketplace of ideas. What becomes of what some have called "institutional academic freedom," the freedom of an institution to define and pursue a distinctive mission?

And then there’s this:

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.

Again, this sounds great, until you think about "institutional academic freedom." A religious institution could not maintain a religious atmosphere on campus, for that would violate the freedoms of students and student organizations to speak and express themselves in heterodox ways. A religious school would have to permit--and, indeed, as another provision makes clear, fund out of student activities fees--an "atheist club."

Stated simply, in the name of promoting intellectual diversity (a most laudable national goal, not to mention a most laudable goal for Ohio and for many colleges and universities, one that I support wholeheartedly when it is consonant with the mission of the institution), the proposal seeks to impose a sort of institutional uniformity. In this respect, it departs from the model proffered by David Horowitz’s
Students for Academic Freedom, which contains this proviso:

These principles fully apply only to public universities and to private universities that present themselves as bound by the canons of academic freedom. Private institutions choosing to restrict academic freedom on the basis of creed have an obligation to be as explicit as is possible about the scope and nature of these restrictions.

I remember a debate when I was in grad school between
Walter Berns and someone from the port side of our department. At issue was the extent to which the university should be conceived as a servant of the society and subjected to democratic control. Mr. Berns’s (I can’t help it; he’s still "Mr. Berns" to me) response: "Do you really want the rug merchants to control the university?" Well, in Ohio, the rug merchants are banging on the campus gates. Why? Because all sorts of folks have been pursuing committed ideological agendas in their classrooms. Not everyone. Probably not even a majority. But there are enough people out there who enjoy inflicting their views on captive audiences. And they haven’t seriously considered the consequence of their actions, which is to provoke a political response to what they themselves understand to be a political act. And when the response comes, especially in this ham-handed form, we all lose. As someone said recently, the chickens are coming home to roost.

For another take on this issue, from a different point of view (I’m all about diversity), go here.

Update: It occurs to me that in the early 90s at least two of the regional accrediting associations--the Western States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, if memory serves--sought to impose a "one size fits all" vision of diversity in higher education on schools seeking reaccreditation. Among the targets were Thomas Aquinas College and St. John’s College Annapolis, whose "Great Books" curricula were insufficiently diverse, and Westminster Theological Seminary, whose Board of Trustees was insufficiently diverse. Defenders of genuine institutional diversity across the spectrum of American higher education successfully resisted this push (so much so that I was on the Middle States reaccrediting team for St. John’s). While accrediting agencies can threaten the future of colleges and universities in ways that the Ohio proposal (at least immediately) cannot, the two are similar in their indifference to genuine institutional diversity of mission.

None of this means that we should countenance faculty who indoctrinate and/or intimidate while hiding behind the barrier of academic freedom, nor that we shouldn’t do what we can to promote intellectual diversity on campuses that are ostensibly and officially devoted to it. But this legal sledgehammer is not terribly helpful to those of us in the trenches.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Mr. Knippenberg --
Something tells me that the more savvy students that take your classes can probably determine, within a short time, where you personally exist on the ideological spectrum - of course, many of your students may indeed PREFER a professor of your sociopolitical orientation, but some may not. Your reading lists (Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss!), your assignments, subtle remarks in class - do you really think that (and expect us to believe) you conduct truly unbiased classes, and expose students to such a wide variety of material, that your OWN ideology is effectively invisible? I suspect that in your own, perhaps subtle, way, you work diligently to "inflict" your views on as many of your students as possible. The "problem" is only when left-leaning professors might do the same thing!

Mr. Richter,

I invite you to ask my students and consult my syllabi to see for yourself. Yes, I have a point of view. Yes, I assign Strauss (where appropriate), but not only Strauss. But I go out of my way to encourage "dissent" in my classroom and to encourage students who have different points of view.

I learned this a long time ago - can’t remember whether it was from my dad or elsewhere. If any group won’t police themselves to control the charlaitans, the sheysters, the fakers and the frauds, then society as a whole, or at least those affected by the adverse behavior of others, will rise up and police the group themselves. I think both the academic world and the legal world need to think long and hard about whether they’re going to police themselves (get rid of the Ward Churchills on campus), or be policed by others (the president’s tort reform and other litigation measures).

I’m solidly conservative, but I am unimpressed with the turgid and poorly reasoned "Academic Bill of Rights" offered by Horowitz et al. I appreciate your observations on the Ohio version.

I have no problem with the presence of left-wing professors at public institutions, with two provisos: (1) Some measure of balance in the form of right-wing professors; and (2) a genuine committment on the part of all professors to the idea that "We are not so much concerned whether. . . your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts" (Hugh B. Brown). In a pinch, I’d sacrifice proviso (1) before (2).

I’d love to discuss it with your students, but your school is a couple thousand miles away from me. I’m guessing your syllabi might also be heavy on Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman and maybe even some Ayn Rand, but true, I’m just guessing. Are any of your syllabi posted online?

You generously concede that you do have a point of view, and that you "go out of [your] way to encourage dissent." So, you do SHARE your point of view with your students, then? So, as long as leftist professors "encourage dissent" from their pupils you have no problem with them sharing their viewpoints in class (assuming it only takes up a small percentage of class time)???

I don’t assign Hayek, Friedman, and Rand, but have in the past assigned Stephen Macedo, John Rawls, Charles Taylor, and Alexandre Kojeve, among others.

I have no evidence that students are unwilling to share their points of view when we have class discussions on current events (as in my course last semester on parties and elections), or when we discuss anything else for that matter.

I am fond and proud of students and former students whose political opinions cover the spectrum, as this post at least indirectly indicates.

If you want to see examples of recent syllabi (nothing current is on-line), send me an email and I’ll send you some files.

I’m guessing your syllabi might also be heavy on Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman and maybe even some Ayn Rand, but true, I’m just guessing.

This is probably one of the most insulting posts I’ve ever seen on this list. Oh, Knippenberg’s a conservative--that must mean that he indoctrinates his students with Hayek, Friedman and Rand, no matter what the subject of his courses might actually be. Are you a university professor, Mr. Richter? If so, what do you assign?

Oh, and it took about ten seconds with a search engine to find this: .

Argh! Now I’m going to have to update my website.

I do not believe that the bill (I support the basic idea) should apply to private universities, only to public institutions.

Academic freedom is fine, but please remember who pays your salary. Why should I be forced to pay for a professor that TEACHES (what he believes personally is his own business) that socialism is a viable economic alternative to capitalism.

I think that the 20th century gave us enough pratical evidence that it is not.

I love debate and I am saddened at the thought that the government must be used to unsure it, but ensure it it must.

"This is probably one of the most insulting posts I’ve ever seen on this list."

Wow, if THAT is as uncivil as it’s ever been on this blog, then it’s much more of a mutual lovefest / echo chamber than I’d even noticed in the last week or two since I discovered it.

Ok, I took a guess about what Mr. Knippenberg assigns, and apparently I was wrong. Fine. And no one here ever jumps to any conclusions about liberal-oriented professors, right?

D Richter,

Just because other people do it, doesn’t make it right (*thanks mom*). It was kind of an insulting assumption, even if other people do that here too. I’m glad some people can admit that they were wrong, though. :)

Wow, if THAT is as uncivil as it’s ever been on this blog, then it’s much more of a mutual lovefest / echo chamber than I’d even noticed in the last week or two since I discovered it.

I didn’t say it was the most uncivil, and it certainly hasn’t been among the most abusive. Indeed, it was the comment’s non-abusive tone that made it all the more insulting, in my view. It’s easy to laugh off simple name-calling and profanity, but the suggestion that Mr. Richter made cuts to the very nature of what we’re supposed to be doing.

Incidentally, I’ve encountered both liberal and conservative faculty who abuse their positions to engage in what I consider indoctrination--neither side holds a monopoly on that vice. Fortunately such people still, I believe, make up only a small minority of those in the profession. But, to the extent that the academy tends to be disproportionately liberal, so do the indoctrinators.

I don’t know, Dr. Moser . . . if I remember correctly you were playing some old, German propoganda music in class once. I remember falling into a deep trance and subliminal messages coming to me in waves ("communism is good", "property is bad", etc.) That day I went out (actually marched out) and joined the Communist Party. So, practice what you preach Dr. Moser!!!

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