The American Association of University Professors issued a report titled Freedom in the Classroom on September 11, 2007. In a press release accompanying the report, the AAUP characterized it as a defense of "the right of college faculty to make comparisons, contrasts, and analogies across the whole range of subjects and historical periods -- no matter what course they are teaching." But in effect the report is an attempt to answer critics who have complained of the widespread practice in American higher education of professors bringing their politics into the classroom.
The AAUP press release noted that the report would be e-mailed to 350,000 U.S. faculty members, and no doubt its total distribution will be even larger. But we at the National Association of Scholars find Freedom in the Classroom to be deeply flawed. It misrepresents the criticisms it purports to answer; it features highly misleading accounts of actual classroom practice; and it puts forward false distinctions. We nonetheless consider the report important if for no other reason than we expect it to be cited by some as "proof" that the critics have no case.
To that end, we provide below an annotated version of Freedom in the Classroom. The annotations trace a great many errors, but if one error stands out above all others, it is the AAUP notion that "truth" is whatever the members of an academic discipline say it is. This Alice-in-Wonderland principle is introduced with sufficient subtlety that the casual reader of the report might miss it. Yet as the report proceeds, it turns up over and over again. Why? It is AAUP's way of saying that professors are respecting the truth even when they don't.
That's not the only trickery the AAUP deploys in this report. The reader is about to encounter a catalog of rhetorical subterfuges and evasions, as well as enough straw men to create a whole straw army.
To read the original text without annotations, click HERE. In the text below, the AAUP document is in bold print; the NAS annotations are bracketed and are in black print.
Peter W. Wood, Executive Director
Stephen H. Balch, President
National Association of Scholars
21 September 2007
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Freedom in the Classroom (2007)
The report that follows, prepared by a subcommittee of the Association's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, was approved in June 2007 by the committee for publication. Comments are welcome and should be sent to the Washington office by ground mail or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure affirms that "teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject." This affirmation was meant to codify understandings of academic freedom commonly accepted in 1940. In recent years these understandings have become controversial.
[Yes. But only in the respect that some faculty members have expanded "their subject" to include political topics and personal opinions that have no sensible connection to the supposed topics of their courses. A familiar example is the diversion of professors of literature away from studying literary works and their authors to expounding social theory.]
Private groups have sought to regulate classroom instruction, advocating the adoption of statutes that would prohibit teachers from challenging deeply held student beliefs or that would require professors to maintain "diversity" or "balance" in their teaching.[Note 1] Committee A has established this subcommittee to assess arguments made in support of recent legislative efforts in this area.
[The citation at the end of the first sentence in the passage above refers not to a "private group" but to a failed bill in the Missouri State Legislature. It is not even clear that the bill in question would have "regulate[d]" the classroom beyond charging public universities with setting some general "best practice" guidelines. The text of the bill can be found HERE: It unfortunately attracted an amendment (item e) that changed its character by asking that universities include "the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant" in their efforts to promote intellectual diversity. Absent this provision, the bill does not trespass against any legitimate aspect of academic freedom.
In any event, the bill was named for, and was in large part a response to, the case of Emily Brooker, a traditional Christian student enrolled in the Graduate School of Social Work at Missouri State University in 2005, who was required by a professor in one course to write and send a letter to the Missouri State Legislature arguing in favor of homosexual adoption. (The AAUP report offers a highly incomplete summary of the Brooker case in Note 23.) Brooker declined to do the assignment and complained to the school administration about her professor's violation of her First Amendment freedoms. She did not believe the academic requirements of the course legitimately extended to requiring her to engage in political activity in support of a cause with which she disagreed. The School of Social Work then retaliated by bringing a charge against Brooker alleging that, in her refusal to lobby the Missouri Legislature in favor of homosexual adoption, she had committed a serious violation of the School's Code of Ethics. Brooker was subject to coercive treatment by the School. After she graduated, she sued the University of Missouri for "unlawful retaliation" against her protected speech. In November 2006, Missouri State University settled with Brooker and commissioned a comprehensive outside evaluation of its Social Work Program. This set the stage for the introduction of Missouri House Bill 213 on January 3, 2007. The AAUP's terse allusion to these circumstances is highly misleading. The Missouri State Legislature was not engaged in an attempt to restrict academic freedom. It was attempting to prevent further cases of a real and proven egregious abuse of academic freedom at one of its public universities.
Though AAUP doesn't identify any of the "private groups" behind this legislation, the original bill followed model legislation put forward by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.]
II. The Contemporary Criticism
Critics charge that the professoriate
[No, critics have made these charges against particular professors, not "the professoriate" as a whole. Critics are indeed concerned that problems of the sort to be discussed in this report are widespread in the contemporary academy, and not just a series of isolated incidents, but we do not universalize the problem. "Many professors, particularly in the humanities and the social sciences" would be a far more accurate designation of the category.]
is abusing the classroom in four particular ways: (1) instructors "indoctrinate" rather than educate; (2) instructors fail fairly to present conflicting views on contentious subjects, thereby depriving students of educationally essential "diversity" or "balance"; (3) instructors are intolerant of students' religious, political, or socioeconomic views, thereby creating a hostile atmosphere inimical to learning; and (4) instructors persistently interject material, especially of a political or ideological character, irrelevant to the subject of instruction. We address each of these charges in turn.
[This list is incomplete and to some degree misleading. First, critics have also pointed to cases where instructors: (5) coerce students to engage in political action. But more important, the phrasing of (1) ("instructors 'indoctrinate' rather than educate") is so vague as to miss the actual criticism. Much of the substance of "indoctrinate" is subsumed in the other three points concerning balance, intolerance of dissent, and extraneous declarations of political opinion. To the extent that "indoctrinate" refers to any phenomena not covered by these other categories, it refers to (a) a deliberate determination on the part of a faculty member to use the classroom for the purpose of gaining new adherents to an ideology, through such techniques as (b) making tendentious assignments aimed at forcing students to state opinions in conformity with that ideology or actually to engage in political activity, (c) employing criticism and grades to create a system that rewards ideological conformity and punishes difference and (d) inciting students to derogate other students for holding political views contrary to those of the instructor. The AAUP's framing of the dispute, in other words, omits much of the character of the complaints in favor of bland abstraction.]
A. "Education, Not Indoctrination!"
The caption is taken from a statement of the Committee for a Better North Carolina, which in 2003 condemned the assignment of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America to incoming students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We agree, of course, that indoctrination is to be avoided, but the question is how education is to be distinguished from indoctrination.[Note 2]
[The National Association of Scholars welcomes this agreement on the principle that "indoctrination is to be avoided." The question of how to distinguish education from indoctrination is indeed central. In line with many centuries of philosophical inquiry, we think that distinction must be based, first, on the intent to inform and transmit skills, rather than to convert; second, on recognizing the differences between fact and opinion; third, on recognizing the importance of uncertainty, provisionality, and openness to alternative views in intellectual life; fourth, on deference to evidence; and fifth, on principled resistance to the tendency of theories to become doctrines that ignore or trivialize dissenting views.
A distinction between education and indoctrination can certainly be drawn on other bases, but it is worth noting that some views that are currently popular in the academy imply that any such distinction is either unnecessary or impossible. In this respect, we are heartened by the AAUP's apparent rejection of the extremes of relativism and post-modernism. "Indoctrination" can take many forms besides the promotion of a political dogma, but the AAUP report seems to address itself exclusively to concerns about political indoctrination.]
It is not indoctrination for professors to expect students to comprehend ideas and apply knowledge that is accepted as true within a relevant discipline.
[Although this is just one sentence, it deserves much attention. This may be the idea that is at the heart of the whole report. The AAUP here enunciates its view of what should pass for "truth" within the university -- and, on closer inspection, it is a very doubtful view.
Whether "accepted as true within a relevant discipline" should count for a great deal or not very much depends on the discipline. "Accepted as true within a relevant discipline" is not the same as true, and some disciplines have much stronger epistemological warrant than others. What is "accepted as true" within chemistry, for example, has a much stronger claim on validity than what may be "accepted as true" in women's studies. The AAUP in this passage blurs this widely recognized difference.
The most important reason for the different standing of truth claims among the disciplines is that the natural sciences have some powerful self-correcting mechanisms that are absent in other fields. Science's power of self-correction has its own limits, but these are often exaggerated by non-scientists who are eager to transform all truth-seeking into a game of disciplinary consensus. Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, with its account of the difficulty science has often had in discarding false premises, is the touchstone of this argument. But the scientific disciplines nonetheless routinely subject both data and theory to levels of scrutiny and testing that are not pursued in other disciplines.
In this vein, we would say that it is not indoctrination to teach chemistry students that the Periodic Table of Elements is a true representation of the atomic properties of the chemical elements as they are currently understood. But it is indeed indoctrination to teach women's studies students that women are universally oppressed by patriarchy. That view may well be "accepted as true" within women's studies, but it is a highly contested claim outside women's studies.
The distinction between the scientific and non-scientific disciplines is crucial to understanding what critics of contemporary classroom practice have been saying, and it is striking that the AAUP report is silent on this point. Not just women's studies, but many disciplines are today dominated by people who uphold what are easily recognizable as political premises.
This is even more true of sub-disciplines, and it should be noted that the AAUP gives no account of what a "discipline" is and where we might reasonably expect to draw the boundaries,
A field such as "post-colonial studies," for example, announces a political premise in its very name. It asserts that the economic and social problems of the third world are primarily the result of continuing post-colonial domination by the West. In the AAUP view, post-colonial studies ought to be free to determine on its own what is "accepted as true," with no regard for any analyses or views developed by experts who may know a great deal about third world history, economy, and culture but who can be denied a hearing because they are not "post-colonial theorists."
The contemporary university has many of these self-enclosed enclaves that create their own islands of "knowledge" and that actively discourage the consideration of views not derived from the island's own premises. Some of these islands, such as women's studies and post-colonial studies, are visible because of their names, but others are masked behind traditional disciplinary names. Disciplines such as history, political science, anthropology, sociology, English literature, and psychology are host to numerous sub-disciplinary enclaves that reject long-established canons of objective inquiry in favor of their parochial and often highly political preferences for what can pass as "truth."
To continue the metaphor, the AAUP asks its readers to accept the sovereignty of this archipelago of islands, each with its own "knowledge" and its own highly selective willingness to consider facts or theories originating anywhere else. This goes way beyond due deference to specialized expertise, to endorse a disintegration of the university into closed epistemological ghettoes. The NAS, along with many other critics, is skeptical of this extreme elevation of "disciplinary privilege" over shared standards that transcend disciplines. Those shared standards are a powerful corrective to the tendency of fields to become the comfortable preserves of "true belief."
The AAUP statement is also disingenuous in asserting that for "professors to expect students to comprehend ideas and apply knowledge that is accepted as true within a relevant discipline" is not indoctrination (emphasis added). Comprehending the ideas of "patriarchy" or "post-colonial oppression" and applying the knowledge in the examples above are not difficult. Even strong critics of these concepts are capable of comprehending the ideas and applying them, and we agree with the AAUP that the mere acts of comprehension and application are not equivalent to indoctrination. The problem is that AAUP has picked a fight with a straw man. Indoctrination goes further than demanding comprehension: it demands assent or agreement, or, at the very least, closes off exposure to serious alternative viewpoints. And indoctrination also requires more than applying the knowledge: it demands that matters that are not really knowledge, but are instead opinion or hypothesis, be treated as established fact.
Indoctrination, in short, requires the student to profess as true that which is merely opinion. That a doctrine may have widespread or even unanimous support within an academic discipline is irrelevant. There are indeed statements so well established as not to warrant any serious doubt, at least until such time as someone proposes a cogent alternative backed by evidence. Asking students to learn such material is part of education, not indoctrination. By contrast, requiring students to treat conjecture as fact is indeed indoctrination. Conjecture has its own well-warranted place in good teaching, but professors have a strong responsibility to respect the difference between established fact and preferred hypothesis. The AAUP has muddied that distinction.]
For example, it is not indoctrination for professors of biology to require students to understand principles of evolution; indeed, it would be a dereliction of professional responsibility to fail to do so.
[We agree. But the example doesn't get to the problematic cases, where the professor asserts as true that which is merely conjectural.]
Students must remain free to question generally accepted beliefs if they can do so, in the words of the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, using "a scholar's method and . . . in a scholar's spirit." But professors of logic may insist that students accept the logical validity of the syllogism, and professors of astronomy may insist that students accept the proposition that the earth orbits around the sun, unless in either case students have good logical or astronomical grounds to differ.
[The AAUP continues to compile uncontroversial examples. Does the AAUP by extension mean that professors of political science may insist that students accept the proposition, "Bush lied," as an explanation for the Iraq war? Or that a professor of English may insist that students accept the validity of the idea that Shakespeare's The Tempest must be read as an allegory of Western colonial domination of indigenous peoples? If the AAUP were approaching this dispute over alleged abuses of academic freedom in a spirit of fair mindedness, wouldn't it confront examples of what critics actually complain about rather than conjure instances on which there is no disagreement?
Incidentally, while we welcome the AAUP resuscitation of its important 1915 Declaration of Principles, the phrase quoted in this paragraph ("a scholar's method and…in a scholar's spirit") comes from a paragraph warning instructors that their freedom to teach is "conditional" on their retaining "the temper of the scientific inquirer," presenting their ideas "with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language," and handling of controversial subjects by setting forth "without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators." In 1915, the AAUP was alert to the dangers of an instructor betraying "a scholar's methods" and failing "in a scholar's spirit." It is more than a little ironic that in 2007, the AAUP quotes these words as describing the responsibility of the student!]
This process is instruction, not indoctrination. As John Dewey pointed out a century ago, the methods by which these particular conclusions have been drawn have become largely uncontested.[Note 3] But, as he went on to observe, such consensus cannot be found in "political economy, sociology, historical interpretation," that is, in disciplines that "deal face to face with problems of life, not with technical theory." Of these, Dewey observed, "the right and duty of academic freedom are even greater than elsewhere."[Note 4] Dewey believed that it was an abuse of "freedom in the classroom" for an instructor to "promulgate as truth ideas or opinions which have not been tested," that is, which have not been accepted as true within a discipline.[Note 5]
[The AAUP's use of these quotations from Dewey's 1902 essay is intriguing. Dewey's original essay provides little support for the view of academic freedom the AAUP develops in "Freedom in the Classroom." The happenstance that the report's authors can find a few sentences and phrases from Dewey that are congenial to their view has to be weighed against the reality that the main point that Dewey argued in his essay was that academic freedom is more imperiled by the immaturity of professors than by interference from plutocrats, trustees, or ignorant outsiders. Dewey does indeed say that at this time "mathematics, astronomy, physics, [and] chemistry" had developed their "established technique" to the point where academic freedom was no longer an issue. Disciplines "more remote from scientific status," however, often faced difficulty in persuading the general public of the validity of their findings. Dewey's argument on this appears uncontroversial and hardly worth picking out as a historical text on these matters.
But the AAUP picks out the sentence in which Dewey says "the right and duty of academic freedom" in these not-yet-scientific fields "are even greater than elsewhere." What does Dewey mean? The AAUP's surprise answer is to enlist Dewey as a social constructionist avant la lettre. First, let's establish what Dewey actually said in his essay.
Dewey, who had high regard for "the social and moral sciences" worried that they were vulnerable because of their own intellectual immaturity. In the essay, he imagines two contrary arguments, one favoring "utmost freedom of investigation" in these fields in order that the public may be "brought up," and the other urging caution lest the "expression of opinion" on the part of instructors be mistaken for "official judgment" that then "compromises the institution." Note that the AAUP excerpts the sentence saying the right and duty of academic freedom are "even greater" among the non-sciences from Dewey's imaginary example. Dewey's passage begins: "The case may be stated as follows," and is followed by the opposite case, beginning, "Per contra." There is no easy way to mistake Dewey's rhetorical method here and one has to wonder why the AAUP misrepresents Dewey's characterization of an argument as Dewey's own argument.
Dewey's next step is to attempt to find a way between these opposites. He is especially alert to the danger of scholars abusing the claims of science: "Whenever scientific method is only partially attained, the danger of undue dogmatism and of partisanship is very great. It is possible to consecrate ideas born of sheer partisanship with the halo of scientifically established belief." He sees this danger more as a matter of the character of the scholar, and suggests that a socialist scholar could criticize capitalism in a way "that would never raise the question of academic freedom," while someone else could present the same views "in such a way as to rasp the feelings of everyone."
Academic freedom, Dewey concludes, doesn't consist of trying to protect the rasper of feelings or the person who confuses "loyalty to truth with self-conceit in the assertion of personal opinion." At this point, Dewey introduces an extended quotation from the president of the University of Chicago, William Harper, to catalog the ways in which a faculty member can abuse academic freedom. First on Harper's list is the professor who presents "as truth ideas or opinions which have not been tested scientifically by his colleagues in the same department of research or investigation." The AAUP quotes this sentence (footnoting it properly to Harper, but introducing it as "Dewey believed.") The AAUP also swaps out Harper's phrase "tested scientifically by his colleagues in the same department of research or investigation" with its own phrase "accepted as true within a discipline." The paraphrase omits the word "scientifically" and conscripts Dewey, via a mangled quotation from Harper, on the side of the AAUP's own apoheosis of the "discipline" as the gold standard for truth. Let's be completely clear. Dewey said no such thing. He did not espouse the AAUP's doctrine of disciplinary inerrancy.
The rest of Dewey's essay focuses on a matter that the AAUP doesn't mention at all. Dewey thought the danger to the academic freedom to "express opinion" was slight, but that a more fundamental academic freedom, "freedom to work," was at much greater risk-at risk from the increasing corporate character of universities, their centralization, the increase of loyalty to the institution overweighing personal initiative, and above all, the risk of academic specialization. "The insidious conviction that certain matters of fundamental import to humanity are none of my concern because outside of my Fach, is likely to work more harm to genuine freedom of academic work than any fancied dread of interference from a moneyed benefactor." Dewey hoped this spirit of disciplinary insularity would be overcome by the "growth of corporate scientific consciousness: the sense of the solidarity of truth."
The reason the AAUP decided not to follow Dewey to his destination in this article seems clear. Dewey was highly skeptical about the claims and comforts of disciplinary specialization. Far from seeing disciplines as the foundation for academic freedom, he saw them as a looming danger to academic freedom. Thus, in multiple ways, the AAUP misused Dewey's article to support its own position.
We recognize that the AAUP's attempt to define "truth" down to majority rule within a discipline has a certain popularity among contemporary academics, particularly in insular disciplines whose claims are widely discounted by the academy at large and the general educated public. Those who assert that truth consists of whatever a majority of practitioners in a discipline say is true have singularly failed to convince the disciplines of mathematics, the natural sciences, logic, and philosophy of their case. The relativism at the bottom of the truth-is-agreement-among-experts is notoriously self-contradictory. The AAUP is, of course, free to espouse whatever conception of truth it wants, but it seems fair to warn the public that, beneath the tone of reasonability and temperance in this report, lies an audaciously eccentric account of how scholars go about discerning the difference between truth and falsehood.]
Dewey's point suggests that indoctrination occurs whenever an instructor insists that students accept as truth propositions that are in fact professionally contestable. If an instructor advances such propositions dogmatically, without allowing students to challenge their validity or advance alternative understandings, the instructor stands guilty of indoctrination.
[The AAUP's mis-paraphrase of Harper's point in the last paragraph now completes its metamorphosis into a position fully attributed to Dewey. Dewey, however, didn't write about "indoctrination" in his 1902 essay. He did worry about "undue dogmatism" and partisanship, as quoted above, but did not associate these failures with the idea of mislabeling what is "professionally contestable." That phrase is an AAUP interpolation meant to imply that Dewey viewed truth the way the AAUP views it: as doctrine derived from agreement within a discipline.
We suspect that the weak account of truth-seeking that AAUP falsely derives from Dewey would allow instructors a Wild West zone of promulgating highly dogmatic propositions in class as "true," provided some other professors also say they are true. In this passage, the AAUP also slips in a new test of what is or is not indoctrination: advancing propositions "dogmatically" says the AAUP is indoctrination. That adverb seems to us to miss the reality of most indoctrination, which precedes less by an overt dogmatic manner than by the frequent repetition of assertions as so plainly true that they need no argument at all. Indoctrination need not be dogmatic in manner at all, and today it rarely is, many ideologically inclined professors preferring the tools of irony, sarcasm, and innuendo.
This may seem a small grammatical point, but as the AAUP report proceeds, this emphasis on manner rather than substance is frequently repeated. Here, of course, there is a possible connection to Dewey, who drew a distinction between the socialist who made his points without inflaming people and the socialist who rasped everyone. But before we give Dewey away on this item, note that Dewey's depiction of the socialist professor who didn't rasp his audience adopted "an objective, historic, and constructive manner."
Yet another point peeps out of this short paragraph. The AAUP makes an important admission that instructors are guilty of "indoctrination" when they don't allow students to challenge the validity of their statements or "advance alternative understandings." But this happens a great deal in contemporary classrooms. There are in our broad fields of inquiry outside the natural sciences very few non-trivial cases of incontestable knowledge. If the AAUP were to be taken at its word on this point, the obligation of instructors to incorporate intellectual diversity into their course presentations would be quite considerable. Of course, this is not what the authors of the AAUP report meant; but it is an inescapable consequence of their own argument. ]
Under this test, however, the Committee for a Better North Carolina could not possibly have known whether the assignment of Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which explores the economic difficulties facing low-wage workers in America, was an example of indoctrination or education. It is fundamental error to assume that the assignment of teaching materials constitutes their endorsement. An instructor who assigns a book no more endorses what it has to say than does the university library that acquires it. Assignment of a book attests only to the judgment that the work is worthy of discussion; it says nothing about the kind of discussion that the work will provoke or inspire. Classroom discussion of Nickel and Dimed in North Carolina could have been conducted in a spirit of critical evaluation, or in an effort to understand the book in the tradition of American muckraking, or in an attempt to provoke students to ask deeper questions about their own ideas of poverty and class.
[This seems disingenuous. Surely the AAUP is right that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill could have assigned Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed for purposes other than indoctrination. It may be that the Committee for a Better North Carolina overstepped the bounds of what it could know, as a certainty, about the motives of the University officials who assigned the book, or the pedagogical methods of the instructors who subsequently discussed the book with students. But if casting some doubt on the omniscience of this Committee is all that the AAUP can yield from its venture into the early writings of John Dewey, we say that venture yielded meager results.
Ehrenreich is widely recognized, by both friendly and unfriendly reviewers, as a highly partisan political writer, and Nickel and Dimed is, without serious question, a polemical book. Such material has a legitimate place in a university curriculum, but any fair-minded observer would recognize that the selection of a book as required reading for an entire incoming class grants a book an exceptional status. At many universities, such a book could well be the only book a class will ever read in common. In that light, it seems highly likely that the book selectors for the summer reading program in 2003 at UNC Chapel Hill intended to advance a favorable view of Ehrenreich's account of low-wage un-skilled jobs in the United States.
Agreed, assigning a book is not in itself "indoctrination," but what exactly is the right word for what UNC Chapel Hill did? Would AAUP be as complacent if a major state university had assigned as required summer reading to its incoming freshman class Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline by Robert Bork or The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray? The same arguments AAUP has made in defense of Nickel and Dimed could be made for these books, but we would view all three as conspicuously inappropriate on the grounds that they advance highly disputed views for which most as-yet-unmatriculated freshmen lack the skills to read critically. The assignment of such a book almost certainly conveys a message of official approbation of its contents.
Indoctrination? Clearly not in the same sense as might happen in a class conducted by a professor bent on propagating his political opinions, but surely something akin to indoctrination in the sense of willfully taking advantage of impressionable individuals to advance a political cause.
Is this conclusion susceptible to a conclusive proof? No. We offer it as an informed judgment of what the authorities at UNC were probably thinking. Under the circumstances, we think the burden of proof falls the other way. When a university selects a politically ardent book as a reading requirement for admitted freshmen, we think it is common sense to see a political agenda at work. AAUP doesn't lay that conclusion to rest by speculating that someone among the faculty may actually have found fault with the book.
The best approach would be to avoid assigning politically-charged books like those mentioned here in the context of pre-freshman orientation. But if a university is bound and determined to assign a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, it could at least ease away from sheer partisanship by pairing it with a book that expresses a contrasting view. Ehrenreich is a respected and articulate spokesman of socialist views. If the university assigns Nickel and Dimed, why not assign it along with a book by Milton Friedman, a respected and articulate spokesman for free market views?]
Even if the University of North Carolina's assignment of Nickel and Dimed were to be understood as in some sense endorsing the book, moreover, the charge of indoctrination would still be misplaced. Instructors indoctrinate when they teach particular propositions as dogmatically true. It is not indoctrination when, as a result of their research and study, instructors assert to their students that in their view particular propositions are true, even if these propositions are controversial within a discipline.
[There is some incongruity in the AAUP using its "disciplinary consensus standard" to justify the assignment of a contentious book to all incoming freshmen. Since we are here dealing with a book assigned across the college, where did the consensus come from that this was a worthy book? Or can we dispense with consensus in certain contexts?
On close inspection the paragraph dissolves into self-conflict. If UNC were to be understood as "endorsing" Nickel and Dimed, says the AAUP, that wouldn't demonstrate an intent to indoctrinate students because instructors might have all independently decided on the same thing, each through his own "research and study." In effect, if the ant colony all climbed up the same tree that might be because each individual ant decided that was a good tree to climb at that particular moment.
One observation is that here the AAUP temporarily forsakes its idea that truth is defined discipline by discipline, and conjures a world in which "particular propositions are true, even if these propositions are controversial within a discipline." Surely that is an accurate statement, but it is one the AAUP consistently rejects throughout the rest of the report.
The only real way to make sense of this passage is to put all the emphasis on the word "dogmatically." But as we said above, this is misdirection. Most indoctrination today involves more subtle techniques than adopting a dogmatic manner. We also see the pay-out of AAUP's adoption of the weak version of truth: according to the AAUP, it isn't indoctrination if the instructor happens to think what he says is true. By this standard, indoctrination can only exist where someone is pushing views he himself believes to be false. That is a definition of indoctrination that would exclude the activities of the state in Orwell's 1984 or the actions of the Red Guard in Mao's China. So the AAUP refutes the existence of indoctrination on campus by defining it so narrowly that it probably couldn't exist anywhere.]
It is not indoctrination for an economist to say to his students that in his view the creation of markets is the most effective means for promoting growth in underdeveloped nations, or for a biologist to assert her belief that evolution occurs through punctuated equilibriums rather than through continuous processes.
[We cannot tell from the examples as phrased whether they are examples of indoctrination. It is imaginable that an economist could present this view in a manner that recognized no possible alternative and brooked no dissenting opinion. A biologist who presented punctuated equilibrium as the only view worthy of due consideration would likewise be guilty of indoctrination. Whether a teacher is indoctrinating or teaching depends on multiple conditions, among them whether the statement is appropriately phrased as fact or opinion; whether it is grounded in evidence and has passed fair-minded and skeptical scrutiny; and whether reasonable alternatives are acknowledged in an appropriate way. The AAUP offers no practical standard for evaluating whether a form of teaching strays into indoctrination. ]
Indoctrination occurs only when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them.
[Once again, the misleading adverb. "Dogmatically" insisting on the truth of a proposition, we agree, would be a form of indoctrination. But it is not the only form and hence the AAUP is wrong to say indoctrination occurs "only" under that condition. Refusing to allow students to contest a proposition is, however, a distressingly common practice in contemporary college classrooms. What is needed in this instance is a more subtle framework than the AAUP allows. Classroom teaching cannot succeed in a situation where students are invited to contest everything all the time. There does, however, need to be a reasonable opportunity for students to challenge premises that an instructor has merely asserted or insinuated.]
Vigorously to assert a proposition or a viewpoint, however controversial, is to engage in argumentation and discussion -- an engagement that lies at the core of academic freedom.
[An odd claim: the AAUP seems to be saying that vigorous assertion is a form of argument, argument provokes discussion, and discussion is the core of academic freedom. We would say that vigorous assertion may provoke an argument, but often it is a technique for silencing or intimidating those who might offer a different view. There is nothing intrinsic in vigorously asserting a proposition that makes doing so ipso facto an exercise aimed at provoking classroom discussion or academic freedom. What is the AAUP aiming at in offering such an ungrounded and implausible assertion?]
Such engagement is essential if students are to acquire skills of critical independence. The essence of higher education does not lie in the passive transmission of knowledge but in the inculcation of a mature independence of mind.
[We agree that helping an individual achieve "independence of mind" is a worthy goal of higher education. We are less sure that such independence is the "essence of higher education." Would independence of mind absent all substantive knowledge be a worthy outcome of college study in the AAUP view? Furthermore, the AAUP contrast of such independence with "passive transmission of knowledge" is a false dichotomy. Is the AAUP's embrace of this false dichotomy simply a rhetorical turn intended to convey the idea that "vigorous assertion" should be normative in teaching?
Whatever the case may be, these two sentences in the AAUP report testify to a particular understanding of the purposes of higher education that seems to us impoverished. "Critical independence" and "mature independence of mind" are left undefined, though sounding wholesome enough. But this formulation ignores other central educational goals that are just as essential. Students need not just independence of mind, but an informed understanding of important subjects. They need to advance to a sophisticated command of intellectual skills. They need to develop the qualities of character that make "critical independence" a constructive element in their lives. Much more could be said on this topic. At this point, however, we simply want to register that, as the AAUP proceeds through its rebuttal of contemporary critics of classroom abuse, it is relying on an exceptionally shallow conception of what higher education is for.]
"Freedom in the classroom" is ultimately connected to freedom of research and publication. Freedom of research and publication is grounded in the exercise of professional expertise. Investigators are held to professional standards so that the modern university can serve as "an intellectual experiment station, where new ideas may germinate and where their fruit, though still distasteful to the community as a whole, may be allowed to ripen until finally, perchance, it may become part of the accepted intellectual food of the nation or of the world."[Note 6] Academic freedom therefore includes the freedom to publish research results on controversial questions of public policy. A faculty committee at the University of Montana put it well in 1918:
If professors of economics and politics can discuss none of these questions, their departments should not be permitted to continue in the University, for the very fact that we have men employed in these subjects implies that they must make a study of them and give the result of their investigations to the people of the state. It does not follow that their conclusions must be accepted, for the opinions of members of the faculty are worthy of consideration only so far as they are supported by indisputable facts and sound logic. In case their arguments are weak, the weakness can be detected and exposed.[Note 7]
It follows that if an instructor has formed an opinion on a controversial question in adherence to scholarly standards of professional care, it is as much an exercise of academic freedom to test those opinions before students as it is to present them to the public at large. Josiah Royce stressed this point more than a century ago in response to the assertion of the regental right to control what is said in the classroom:
Advanced instruction aims to teach the opinions of an honest and competent man upon more or less doubtful questions. . . . The advanced instructor . . .has to be responsible not only for his manner of presenting his doctrines, but for the doctrines themselves, which are not admitted dogmas, but ought to be his personal opinions. But responsibility and freedom are correlatives. If you force me to teach such and such dogmas, then you must be responsible for them, not I. I am your mouthpiece. But if I am to be responsible for what I say, then I must be free to say just what I think best.[Note 8]
[The four preceding paragraphs are a rabbit trail, introduced by the assertion "'Freedom in the classroom' is ultimately connected to freedom of research and publication." This may or may not be true; we leave it for another day as it has no direct bearing on the question at hand: Is the AAUP accurate in its refutation of critics who claim significant numbers of faculty members are engaged in inappropriate political activities in the classroom? In our view, Josiah Royce does not have the answer.]
Some instructors may prefer to dissect dispassionately every question presented, maintaining a studied agnosticism toward them all. Some may prefer to expound a preferred theory. Dewey regarded the choice of teaching style as a "personal" matter. One style may resonate better with some students than with others. Much depends on the "chemistry" of a particular class, as all seasoned instructors recognize. The fundamental point is that freedom in the classroom applies as much to controversial opinions as to studied agnosticism.[Note 9] So long as opinion and interpretation are not advanced and insisted upon as dogmatic truth, the style of presentation should be at the discretion of the instructor.
[NAS strongly endorses the view that college instructors should have considerable discretion about their "styles of presentation." In his paragraph, however, the AAUP continues to twist the position of its opponents. What is at issue is not just dogmatism but a whole range of practices by which a faculty member may foreclose the examination of reasonable alternatives, may thrust inappropriate political claims into view where they do not belong, and may coerce students to give privileged place to his mere opinions. In these ways, some "styles of presentation" are more likely to be abused than others. Moreover, we reject the designation "style of presentation" as an anodyne rubric to cover all forms of classroom performance. Presenting only one side of a controversy is not a "style of presentation." It is an instance of pedagogical malfeasance.
Before leaving the subject of indoctrination, it seems worth drawing attention to a source of criticism of higher education "indoctrination" that appears much more substantial than the example chosen by the AAUP. A non-profit organization of parents called NoIndoctrination.org hosts a website that collects instances of professors who use their courses "for social or political propaganda." For example, on March 30, 2007, a student at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, posted a complaint about a management professor whose required course, "Change and Changing Contexts of Management" allegedly had a pro-immigration "liberal" bias. The student wrote (exact text) to his professor on November 1, 2006:
Here is are a few articles that present the detriment of immigration to the United States
first one is a complete anti-immigration
and the 2nd one is something i would really like you to consider adding to give a conservative view to immigration
thanks for reading
And received this response two hours later (exact text):
Subject: Re: takes from the 'other side' to consider on illegal immigration
I get really tired of right wing stuff. Surely you get enough of it. Do you ask for additional readings in your right wing classes. Obviously not. I resent your insulting assumption that you have the right to teach my class or that students are not familiar with right wing racist crap on immigration. Of course they are. My course is not being taught to reinforce right wing ideology. Don't you get enough of this in other classes, or do you need EVERY class to be consistent with extremist views.
Further details on this incident and other cases are available on NoIndoctrination.org's website. The availability of other examples deepens the "indoctrination" criticism in a way that the AAUP seems unwilling to consider, but NoIndoctrination.org comes into this story in another important way too.
In the summer of 2003, the University of California, responding in part to complaints posted on NoIndoctrination.org, changed its "academic freedom" policy to eliminate the rights of students not to be indoctrinated by their professors-a right guaranteed in the University of California's old policy. The old policy warned professors not to use their classrooms as "a platform for propaganda" to "convert" students. It also required professors to be objective when teaching controversial issues and present different sides of such issues. University of California President Atkinson declared these provisions "out of date," and pressed for the new policy, APM-010, which explicitly allows professors "urgently committed to a particular point of view" to use their classrooms to convey it. Supposedly, students are protected from excesses of zealotry by another policy (APM-015) that forbids faculty members from engaging in acts of "significant intrusion of material unrelated to the course" and from attempts to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student." Luann Wright, argued in a student newspaper, the California Aggie, that the change in the Academic Freedom Policy exposes students "to even greater classroom demagoguery," and noted that there was now no provision "against using the classroom as a platform to advance partisan, sectarian or selfish interests."
The AAUP in this report adopts the pretense that it is defending a classic form of academic freedom. In fact, the University of California had an Academic Freedom policy based on the AAUP's own 1915 statement that embodied that classic form. But the moment students and members of the public began citing its provisions against indoctrination, the University moved to eliminate those provisions. This is strong evidence that the contemporary academy has moved to change the meaning of "academic freedom." Not so long ago, students had academic freedom too-including the freedom not to be propagandized in class. But today, the AAUP appears to speak for the propagandists.]
Current charges of pedagogical abuse allege that instruction in institutions of higher education fails to exhibit a proper balance. It is said that instructors introduce political or ideological bias in their courses by neglecting to expose their students to contrary views or by failing to give students a full and fair accounting of competing points of view.
We note at the outset that in many institutions the contents of courses are subject to collegial and institutional oversight and control; even the text of course descriptions may be subject to approval. Curriculum committees typically supervise course offerings to ensure their fit with programmatic goals and their compatibility with larger educational ends (like course sequencing).[Note 10] Although instructors are ethically obligated to follow approved curricular guidelines, "freedom in the classroom" affords instructors wide latitude to decide how to approach a subject, how best to present and explore the material, and so forth. An instructor in a course in English Romantic poetry is free to assign the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance so long as the course remains focused more on John Keats than on Langston Hughes.
[We agree up to a point. The supervision of course offerings by curriculum committees, however, is a weak defense of the system. Such committees rarely review actual classroom practice. Moreover, curriculum committees are composed of individuals who may condone the very practices in question or are governed by a live-and-let-live attitude toward their colleagues. There is no reason to think that they are watchdogs in this regard. The AAUP's illustration of appropriate latitude on the part of an instructor is puzzling. In what way would teaching works by a 20th century American poet be an appropriate extension of a course on an 18th and 19th century English literary movement? Perhaps this is appropriate latitude, but it is not self-evident and we can imagine that a student subjected to this vagary might have a legitimate complaint. Does the AAUP mean to imply that the pursuit of a multiculturalist agenda by an English teacher is warrant for introducing extraneous material into a course approved by a college's curriculum committee and advertised as dealing with an entirely different topic? In that case, we would indeed raise an objection. A college course ostensibly on one topic should not be used to propagandize on behalf of another topic. ]
To make a valid charge that instruction lacks balance is essentially to charge that the instructor fails to cover material that, under the pertinent standards of a discipline, is essential. There may be facts, theories, and models, particularly in the sciences, that are so intrinsically intertwined with the current state of a discipline that it would be unprofessional to slight or ignore them. One cannot now teach biology without reference to evolution; one cannot teach physical geology without reference to plate tectonics; one cannot teach particle physics without reference to quantum theory.
There is, however, a large universe of facts, theories, and models that are arguably relevant to a subject of instruction but that need not be taught. Assessments of George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda might be relevant to a course on her Middlemarch, but it is not a dereliction of professional standards to fail to discuss Daniel Deronda in class. What facts, theories, and models an instructor chooses to bring into the classroom depends upon the instructor's sense of pedagogical dynamics and purpose.
[This is a red herring. No one is complaining about whether Daniel Deronda is or is not taught alongside Middlemarch. But many people are complaining that courses that give a balanced treatment of the Vietnam War are extremely unusual; courses that allow consideration of the arguments against diversity are nearly non-existent; courses that present the Cold War in other than a "revisionist" perspective are few and far between. The issue of "balance" does not arise in the abstract. It arises where whole colleges and universities have become dominated by a political ideology and more or less reach consensus to ignore scholarly views that lie contrary to that ideology. The "balance" that an instructor fails to achieve in a course that deals with a politically contentious issue usually reflects dynamics in a department and a college as a whole. In some cases, even if an instructor wished to offer a more balanced view, he would face pressure to conform to the one-sided approach. Yet there are many other instructors who are content in their conformity to one-sided teaching.
In this respect, the AAUP report seems to offer counsel to the conformists of party-line teaching.]
To urge that instruction be "balanced" is to urge that an instructor's discretion about what to teach be restricted. But the nature of this proposed restriction, when carefully considered, is fatally ambiguous. Stated most abstractly, the charge of lack of balance evokes a seeming ideal of neutrality. The notion appears to be that an instructor should impartially engage all potentially relevant points of view.
[The NAS has never called for such an absurdly distended standard, nor do we know of any other significant critic who has. The AAUP has again constructed a straw man argument. We can kick the straw man apart too. "Impartiality" at such a level is a rare gift; we would happily settle for the sort of fair-mindedness in which the instructor feels obliged to acknowledge the possibility of weakness in his own case and of strength in his opponents' views. "All potentially relevant points of view" designates a meaningless impossibility. We would settle for due consideration of the most significant alternatives. Why does the AAUP construct such a caricature of its critics' arguments? We are about to see.]
But this ideal is chimerical.
[Why the caricature? So they can knock the stuffing out of it without having to face the substance of what the critics are actually saying.]
No coherent principle of neutrality would require an instructor in a class on constitutional democracy to offer equal time to "competing" visions of communist totalitarianism or Nazi fascism. There is always a potentially infinite number of competing perspectives that can arguably be deemed relevant to an instructor's subject or perspective, whatever that subject or perspective might be. It follows that the very idea of balance and neutrality, stated in the abstract, is close to incoherent.
[We certainly agree that AAUP has constructed an incoherent argument and then labeled it incoherent. But it has so far said nothing about the actual argument. We begin to worry at this stage of the report about the intellectual seriousness of the AAUP's effort.]
The ideal of balance makes sense only in light of an instructor's obligation to present all aspects of a subject matter that professional standards would require to be presented. If a professor of molecular biology has an idiosyncratic theory that AIDS is not caused by a retrovirus, professional standards may require that the dominant contrary perspective be presented. Understood in this way, the ideal of balance does not depend on a generic notion of neutrality,
[We never said it did. Remember, this is the AAUP's own interpolation of what balance "must" mean to the critics. It is interesting, however, that the AAUP is exercised about the concept of "neutrality," which was central to the conception of academic freedom that John Dewey advanced early in the 20th century and which informed the AAUP's original 1915 Statement on Academic Freedom. Elsewhere the AAUP cites Dewey's views in his 1902 article on academic freedom (see Note 3) and the 1915 document with approbation, but here dismisses a core concept of both.]
but instead on how particular ideas are embedded in specific disciplines. This is a coherent idea of balance, and it suggests that balance is not a principle that can be invoked in the abstract but is instead a standard whose content must be determined within a specific field of relevant disciplinary knowledge.
[This is murky. "Balance" surely is a principle that can be invoked in the abstract, but like most abstract principles, it requires further concrete specification to be applied. The same could be said for the principles of justice, equality, or, to take an example close to the heart of this whole discussion, academic freedom. It is odd that the AAUP would erect this false contrast between the principled side of a concept and its practical application. The result is an assertion that "balance" is a "standard" rather than a "principle." This distinction eludes us, although the drift of the AAUP's argument is clear. The AAUP is once again fishing in the pond of unquestionable disciplinary autonomy. Balance, like truth, "must be determined within a specific field of relevant disciplinary knowledge." We think "relevant disciplinary knowledge" is just that -- relevant. But it is not the horizon of all pertinent intellectual debate. A course on mythology taught within the disciplinary confines of psychology, for example, would be "balanced' by some acknowledgement of alternative views from other disciplines, such as comparative religion, classics, and anthropology.
More to the point, some disciplines currently have such ideological blinders that "relevant disciplinary knowledge" sounds unpromising as the basis for any kind of intellectual balance. The NAS has just published a study of the curricula of schools of social work which documents a several-decades-old shift to promoting advocacy of social justice over disinterested analysis of how to help people in need. If the "standard" of balance in the classroom were to be limited to "relevant disciplinary knowledge," no one could fault the wholesale politicization of social work education. Presumably, that kind of exculpation is exactly what AAUP aims at. If the discipline says it's balanced, it's balanced. But this defies common sense. There is a great deal of "relevant knowledge" about America's social problems that is not contained in the social work discipline's current fixation on racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, etc.
NAS welcomes disciplinary perspectives on "relevant knowledge," but when it comes to teaching politically contentious issues, we think the instructor's obligation to achieve a fair-minded presentation of the subject goes further than merely registering the range of opinion within the discipline. We live in an age in which national associations that represent disciplines often take votes to decide if the members are in favor or opposed to particular ideas. Diseases come in and out of existence depending on electoral pluralities. Matters of ethnographic fact are conjured out of thin air by balloting. One day Pluto is a planet, and the next it is not. With that in mind, we view it as intellectually precarious to give "disciplines" the last word on what constitutes valid knowledge.]
There is another sense in which critics of higher education use the idea of "balance" to circle back to the question of indoctrination. It is hard to escape the impression that contemporary calls for "balance" imagine that an instructor's "freedom in the classroom" is merely the freedom to offer a neutral summary of the current state of a discipline, abjuring controversial and individual views.
[Another red herring. The AAUP may find it "hard to escape the impression" but NAS has never reduced academic freedom in the classroom to offering "a neutral summary of the current state of the discipline." Such a technique may sometimes have its place in a good instructor's repertoire of classroom techniques, but we expect that good teaching will include discussion of controversy. Some instructors used to make a point not to present their individual views. Though this is much less common than it once was, it remains a powerful approach, in that it forestalls the efforts of students to mirror the instructor's opinions and often prompts deeper reflection. That said, we recognize that an instructor's expression of his individual views can also be a constructive form of teaching-albeit one that is fraught with potential for abuse, which occurs when the instructor goes beyond expressing his views to rewarding agreement with those views, shutting out opposing ones, and punishing dissent. It is also worth noting the AAUP's current position is the flat opposite of the AAUP's 1915 position, at which time the organization upheld "neutrality" in the classroom as an indispensible component of academic freedom. The 1915 Statement also explicitly endorsed presenting students with contrary views. Given the AAUP's frequent reference to this earlier document, we are puzzled. The AAUP appears eager to claim the moral authority of Dewy, Royce, and others of that period, but also eager to ignore what they actually advocated.]
But this is to misunderstand the nature of higher education. More than fifty years ago, Edward C. Kirkland, a former chair of the AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, observed that departments of economics often housed professors of sharply conflicting views-views that simply could not be reconciled. It seemed to follow that some of them had to be teaching error. But, he concluded,
Colleges and universities do not possess or teach the whole truth. They are engaged in the quest for truth. For that reason their scholars must be free to examine and test all facts and ideas, the unpleasant, the distasteful, and dangerous ones, and even those regarded as erroneous by a majority of their learned colleagues.[Note 11]
[We find ourselves in strong agreement with Edward Kirkland, but confess surprise that the AAUP would quote a text so contrary to its own current agenda. The contemporary academy has all too often stymied the expression of ideas that the political Left finds unpleasant, distasteful, and dangerous. Outside a relatively narrow band of received opinion in the contemporary university, views are very apt to be labeled racist, sexist, homophobic, imperialistic, neo-colonialist, or unacceptable on other such doctrinaire grounds. The "quest for truth" surely demands that the permissible range of topics in classroom inquiry, and of opinions on departmental faculties, be broader than it currently is. AAUP, listen to yourself.]
If scholars must be free to examine and test, they must also be free to explain and defend their results, and they must be free to do so as much before their students as before their colleagues or the public at large. That is the meaning of "freedom in the classroom." To charge that university and college instruction lacks balance when it does more than merely summarize contemporary debates is fundamentally to misconstrue the nature of higher learning, which expects students to engage with the ideas of their professors. Instructors should not dogmatically teach their ideas as truth; they should not indoctrinate. But they can expect their students to respond to their ideas and their research. As students complete different courses taught by different professors, it is to be hoped that they will acquire the desire and capacity for independent thinking.
[We agree with the bromides in this paragraph, although the final thought suggests a faculty more diverse in viewpoint than any of the evidence indicates. One note of disquiet: while we too hope that students acquire "the desire and capacity for independent thinking," it is troubling that the AAUP persists in treating this alone as the purpose of higher education. We believe students should also strive to know something of substance as well, should command sophisticated intellectual skills, and should develop worthy qualities of mind and character -- including due regard for intellectual balance and a humane tolerance for differences of opinion. It is rather alarming that these matters seem to count for so little in the AAUP's view of higher education.]
C. Hostile Learning Environment
Contemporary critics of the academy have begun to deploy the concept of a "hostile learning environment," which was first developed in the context of antidiscrimination law. The concept has been used in universities to support speech codes that suppress expression deemed offensive to racial, ethnic, or other minorities. The concept is now being used in an attempt to suppress expression deemed offensive on religious or political grounds.
[NAS does not support this line of criticism, and we agree that it is inappropriate. We are skeptical of the "hostile learning environment" doctrine in all of its applications because there are better ways to root out real abuses and because the doctrine is so easily used to suppress legitimate exercise of academic freedom.
We do, however, know of numerous cases in which students who self-identify as conservative or traditionally religious have encountered unprofessional behavior from instructors. One of those cases is mentioned above, the student named Emily Brooker at the University of Missouri who was brought up on charges of ethical violations when she refused to obey an instructor's demand that she engage in lobbying on behalf of gay adoption. At issue in cases like this is not the suppression of expression that is "deemed offensive on religious or political grounds," but the mis-use of the instructor's authority to ridicule or ostracize students who disagree with those expressions. While we at NAS would prefer to describe these as violations of First Amendment freedoms of expression on the part of students, in the ordinary sense of English, the instructors who engage in this behavior do indeed create a "hostile learning environment." So there is a factual question here. Does this behavior on the part of instructors rarely never occur? Or does it occur with some frequency? Hard data are needed to answer these questions and AAUP provides none. There is abundant anecdotal evidence recorded in such books as The Shadow University and on such websites as that of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. But a broad-based, systematic survey would be welcome. ]
The statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes, adopted as Association policy in 1994, acknowledges the need to "foster an atmosphere respectful of and welcoming to all persons." An instructor may not harass a student nor act on an invidiously discriminatory ground toward a student, in class or elsewhere. It is a breach of professional ethics for an instructor to hold a student up to obloquy or ridicule in class for advancing an idea grounded in religion, whether it is creationism or the geocentric theory of the solar system.[Note 12] It would be equally improper for an instructor to hold a student up to obloquy or ridicule for an idea grounded in politics, or anything else.
[We strongly agree.]
But the current application of the idea of a "hostile learning environment" to the pedagogical context of higher education presupposes much more than blatant disrespect or harassment. It assumes that students have a right not to have their most cherished beliefs challenged.
[At NAS we suppose no such thing. The AAUP appears in this section to be engaged in shadow boxing. The only cited instance of the kind of complaint that AAUP here seeks to refute is to a bizarre website (fixedearth.com) dedicated to the idea that earth is the unmoving center of the universe. This website, at least in its current version (9/14/07), appears to lack any arguments about "hostile learning environments" on college campuses, although it might be warranted to say that the author(s) of the texts at the site regard the whole modern world as a hostile learning environment.
We must express surprise that AAUP considers "fixed earth" theorists and their like as a real and present danger to academic freedom in the United States. We bow in deference to the AAUP's authority on the matter.]
This assumption contradicts the central purpose of higher education, which is to challenge students to think hard about their own perspectives, whatever those might be. It is neither harassment nor discriminatory treatment of a student to hold up to close criticism an idea or viewpoint the student has posited or advanced. Ideas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student with particular religious or political beliefs might be offended. Instruction cannot proceed in the atmosphere of fear that would be produced were a teacher to become subject to administrative sanction based upon the idiosyncratic reaction of one or more students.[Note 13] This would create a classroom environment inimical to the free and vigorous exchange of ideas necessary for teaching and learning in higher education.
D. Persistent Irrelevance
The 1940 Statement of Principles provides that teachers "should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject." The origin of this admonition lies in the concern of the authors of the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure for immature youth or, more accurately, a concern by the administrators of small and often denominational colleges for potential adverse parental reaction to their children's exposure to thought contrary to the conventional pieties of small-town America.[Note 14] The admonition was reconsidered and addressed in an interpretive comment to the 1940 Statement, appended by the joint drafting organizations in 1970:
The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is "controversial." Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.
The 1940 Statement should not be interpreted as excluding controversial matter from the classroom; any such exclusion would be contrary to the essence of higher education. The statement should be interpreted as excluding "irrelevant" matter, whether controversial or not.
[Up to this point, we have no objections to this section of the AAUP report. Controversy, within the bounds of reasonable analysis and civil discussion is welcome in the classroom.]
The question, therefore, is how to determine whether material is "irrelevant" to classroom discussion. In some contexts, the meaning of "irrelevance" is clear. Students would have every right to complain if an instructor in ancient history dwelled on internecine conflict in her department or if an instructor in American literature engaged in lengthy digressions on his personal life. But such irrelevance is not the gravamen of the contemporary complaint.
[We agree that the examples cited are not the "gravamen of the contemporary complaint," but it is perhaps worth adding that when an instructor strays from the topic of a course, he or she is typically able to rationalize the digression as having some bearing on the topic at hand. The charge of "irrelevance" is warranted when the digression consumes time and attention for no valid pedagogical purpose.]
The group calling itself Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), for example, has advised students that "your professor should not be making statements . . . about George Bush, if the class is not on contemporary American presidents, presidential administrations or some similar subject."[Note 15] This advice presupposes that the distinction between "relevant" and "irrelevant" material is to be determined strictly by reference to the wording of a course description. Under this view, current events or personages are beyond the pale unless a course is specifically about them. But this interpretation of "relevance" is inconsistent with the nature of higher education, in which "all knowledge can be connected to all other knowledge."[Note 16] Whether material is relevant to a better understanding of a subject cannot be determined merely by looking at a course description.
[Perhaps a course description should not be the sole arbiter of relevance, but we detect in this passage a determination by the AAUP to justify one of the more egregious abuses of the contemporary classroom. Numerous students report for numerous classrooms on numerous campuses the widespread practice of instructors taking classroom time to belittle President Bush and to offer gratuitous comments on Bush administration policies. A survey published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found 68 percent of students at the top 50 colleges and universities reported anti-Bush comments from their professors prior to the 2004 election. See http://www.goacta.org/publications/Reports/PoliticsInTheClassroom.htm. These practices are so widespread that we would question the honesty of anyone who denies their existence. They occur, as often as not, in courses that have nothing to do with contemporary politics. The Students for Academic Freedom register the existence of an actual state of affairs. Rather than addre
s this obvious and indefensible abuse of academic freedom, the AAUP attempts to conjure the politics of a by-gone era. The AAUP's tactic here is to sow confusion with its own stream of irrelevancies.]
The profession has long recognized that the arbitrary lines suggested by SAF would confine instruction in ways that are pedagogically unsound. When George Parker, an assistant professor of religion and philosophy, was dismissed from Evansville College (Indiana) in 1948, in part for the introduction of "political discussion" into his classes -- Parker was an ardent supporter of Henry Wallace and a sharp critic of Harry Truman -- the Association's committee of inquiry discussed the 1940 Statement's admonition as applied to Parker's classroom references:
Aside from uncertainties as to what is "controversial" and what is "related," all experienced teachers realize that it is neither possible nor desirable to exclude rigidly all controversial subjects, or all topics upon which the teacher is not an expert.
Many things introduced into the classroom-illustrative material or applications, overtones of significance, illuminating obiter dicta -- may not be in the bond as far as the subject of the course is concerned, but these and kindred techniques may be of the essence of good teaching. Such techniques are readily distinguishable from calculated, overt "propaganda."[Note 17]
The investigating committee's point still holds. Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up Moby Dick, a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville's novel?
[We disagree. The example may be hypothetical, but we accept it as typical of the gratuitous use of contemporary political references in liberal arts classes. The suggested parallel aims to evoke the Left's stereotype of President Bush as a monomaniacal figure heedless of his official responsibilities. Perhaps the tendentiousness of this comparison will be clearer if we consider alternatives. Why not ask the class to consider Senator Ted Kennedy as the Great White Whale, an immense force luring the unwary to destruction? Why not ask the class to consider Senator Barak Obama as Starbuck, the attractive first mate who proves utterly ineffectual in preventing catastrophe? Why not ask the class to class to consider Senator Hillary Clinton as Queequeg, tattooed with images of her barbaric past? If these comparisons seem forced, extraneous, and colored by political animus, well then, so too is a comparison of Bush to Ahab. The difference is that using classroom time to bash President Bush under the gossamer cover o
making a pedagogical point is regarded by many faculty members as a harmless indulgence. We don't think it so harmless. In our view, it debases academic discourse to something near the level of bar-room chatter. We are very surprised the AAUP is unable to see the undesirability of such attempts to insert politics where it does not belong.
The best pedagogy would avoid posing such tendentious comparisons, but if an instructor is determined to ask students to compare Ahab to Bush, we think the instructor should also pursue a comparison with the same level of animus on the other side. If that sounds like poor teaching -- we agree, it is. But there are levels of badness in bad teaching, and it would be less bad to be politically even-handed in making gratuitous comparisons to contemporary political figures.]
Might not an instructor of classical philosophy, teaching Aristotle's views of moral virtue, present President Bill Clinton's conduct as a case study for student discussion? Might not a teacher of ancient history ask the class to consider the possibility of parallels between the Roman occupation of western Mesopotamia and the United States' experience in that part of the world two millennia later?[Note 18]
[We would trust that students in a well-taught class on Aristotle's Ethics or ancient history would be able to find contemporary examples or parallels to modern developments, if they are so inclined. Whether an instructor should lead them to such examples or parallels is another question, for which we do not have a fixed answer. Aristotle's ethics are intended as universal and therefore ought to apply to people in all times and places. Selecting President Bill Clinton as a leading example is fraught with the danger of diverting the class from understanding Aristotle to expressing political judgments. Extending a parallel between Rome's ventures in Asia and the "United States' experience in that part of the world" also seems likely to lead students astray. In both of the AAUP's hypothetical examples, the subject could be taught perfectly well without the insertion of these dubious illustrations, and we would think a judicious teacher would avoid the occasion of misleading students by introducing such -- here's
the word -- irrelevancies.
The AAUP obviously conjured these examples in the hope of presenting instances that are uncontroversial. We, however, do not find them uncontroversial. They are simply blander versions of an abuse that can be much more pungent. Again, we wonder why the AAUP throughout this report prefers to attack straw men and to defend paper dolls? The real phenomena and the real criticisms have a much stronger character.]
SAF would presumably sanction instructors for asking these types of questions, on the grounds that such questions are outside the purview of an official course description. But if an instructor cannot stimulate discussion and encourage critical thought by drawing analogies or parallels, the vigor and vibrancy of classroom discussion will be stultified.
[We cannot speak for the SAF, but in our view "sanctions" would be an extreme action and a last resort. It would be better for instructors to give some careful thought to the deficiencies of this kind of pedagogical error and to develop better practices. In the end, those unable to modulate their behavior into valid pedagogical norms, should probably be weeded from the professoriate through the normal procedures of the university in evaluating candidates' teaching as part of reappointment and tenure decisions. Tenured faculty who continue to engage in such practice pose a problem for which the academy has few options, but we do think public rebuke of those instructors who persistently abuse their privileges as college teachers may sometimes be warranted. We trust, however, that this particular problem -- the problem of gratuitous, politically motivated irrelevancies in the classroom -- can be cured by consensus among faculty members as to "best practice," and that sanctions will not be needed. In that light,
t is disappointing that the AAUP has chosen to deny the existence of the problem rather than lend a hand to improve college classroom teaching.]
It was for doing just this that Professor Ralph Turner was dismissed from the University of Pittsburgh in 1934. The Association's committee of investigation observed,
Dr. Turner is a realist and one who looks at the facts of history realistically. He sought to make students understand that the historical persons of the past were real persons, possessing both virtues and vices and that they have their counterpart in others today. His choice of historical and present-day evidence and illustrations used in this comparative process was doubtless not always wise and caused some misunderstanding and criticism. In studying social conflicts and social traits he urged the students to observe those about them today, stressing the fact that the ever-shifting social processes are the stuff of history.
Dr. Turner taught the Survey Course frankly from the viewpoint of common men and their status under different economic, social, and political conditions. Because of this fact he was regarded by some, including the Chancellor, as a propagandist. Also at times he jumped the gap between the past and the present in order to compare and contrast the past with the present. This procedure the Committee believes was not for the purpose of commenting on present-day conditions, as some criticism of his work implies, but rather to create in the minds of the students a consciousness of historical continuity and development.[Note 19]
[The NAS has no stand on the 1934 case of Dr. Turner. We are not at all sure that it bears on the current situation. The contemporary American university is by no means lacking in appropriate opportunities for instructors to compare and contrast the past and present. No one has argued that such comparison should cease. We do, however, recognize that a comparison is central concern in some courses, tangential to other courses, and irrelevant to still others. Moreover, we recognize "compare and contrast" covers a wide variety of actual approaches, from systemic, scholarly comparison to flippant analogy. What matters here is not the existence of comparison, but how and why a comparison is put forth. The AAUP report is scanting the crucial distinctions.]
How an instructor approaches the material in classroom exposition is, absent breach of professional ethics, a matter of personal style, influenced, as it must be, by the pedagogical goals and classroom dynamics of a particular course, as well as by the larger educational objective of instilling in students the capacity for critical and independent thought.
[The AAUP has rung the chime of "critical and independent thought" twice earlier in this report. We repeat: critical and independent thought are worthy educational purposes, but the AAUP seems to overlook other purposes just as central, such as learning important knowledge on important subjects, acquiring sophisticated intellectual skills, and developing worthy character. What happens in the classroom bears on these purposes too. An instructor who is pedagogically self-indulgent and strews his class with irrelevancies cannot but help to foster an inclination among students towards diffuse knowledge, imprecision, and intellectual intemperance.
Perhaps the effect of one instructor in one course is slight (though not always), but a daily regimen of many instructors in many courses engaged in the pedagogy of free association seems like a recipe for educational failure. Hence the AAUP's relaxed view about the primacy of "personal style" over everything else is troubling. This emphasis on "personal style" might be sufficient if the sole purpose of a college education were to instill "the capacity for critical and independent thought," but we think there is more to becoming an educated person than that.]
The instructor in Melville or classical philosophy or Roman history must be free to draw upon current persons and events just as Professor Turner did seventy years ago. Instructors must be free to employ a wide variety of examples in order to stimulate classroom discussion and thought. If allusions perform this function, they are not "irrelevant." They are pedagogically justified.
[We have nothing against apt allusions. The AAUP seems to endorse allusions for their own sake. Some allusions, in our view, are tendentious, distracting, and educationally unwise.]
At root, complaints about the persistent interjection of "irrelevant" material concern the interjection of "controversial" material.
[This is a twisted assertion. It is true that no one is complaining about an excess of utter non sequiturs in the classroom. It isn't the instructor of Moby Dick who begins to ramble about stock prices who poses a problem. That person would be quickly recognized by everyone as an incompetent teacher. The problem is the instructor who uses his classroom as an opportunity to infiltrate into the class frequent allusions to, discussions of, anecdotes about, and jokes on irrelevant themes, usually of a political character. These become"controversial" only if a student objects, but even in the absence of a student who objects, they are a misuse of the instructor's authority and the students' time.]
The complaints are thus a variant of the charge that instructors have created a "hostile learning environment" and must be rejected for the reasons we have already discussed. So long as an instructor's allusions provoke genuine debate and learning that is germane to the subject matter of a course, they are protected by "freedom in the classroom."
[We are not so sure that this criticism is a variant on the "hostile learning environment" criticism. Frequent indulgence in political irrelevancies is poor teaching regardless of whether a student finds it hostile or objectionable. The AAUP loads the question by defending allusions that "provoke genuine debate." Many such allusions are intended to accomplish the opposite: to make clear to students that the professor has a political opinion to which they should defer. Genuine debate is the last thing classroom Bush-bashing is intended to accomplish. The AAUP's defense of these classroom abuses is disingenuous and cheapens the meaning of "freedom in the classroom."]
In sum, contemporary critics of higher education argue that instructors must refrain from stating strong opinions,
[This is a ludicrous caricature of what the critics have been saying. The AAUP should be ashamed of asserting anything so patently at odds with the facts.]
for doing so would both lack balance and constitute indoctrination;
[as these terms are grossly and self-servingly misconstrued in this report]
that instructors must not advance propositions germane to a subject if some students with deeply held religious or political beliefs might be offended, for doing so would create a hostile learning environment;
[A proposition which AAUP supports with a single example from a website that argues the earth is the unmoving center of the universe -- and even that website seems not to make this particular eccentric claim.]
and that instructors must abjure allusions to persons or events that advance discussion but that some students might fail to perceive to be clearly connected to a course description, for doing so would inject irrelevant material into the classroom.
[Another burlesque version of what the critics actually say.]
Such restrictions would excise "freedom in the classroom" from the 1940 Statement; they would conduce not to learning but to intellectual sterility.
[On the basis of this report, we suspect that the AAUP does know something about intellectual sterility. The critics of contemporary abuses in the college classroom, however, pose no danger to the vitality of American learning. We see a greater danger in the airy dismissal of the critics by an organization that should, in fact, be seeking ways to rectify the problems identified by the critics.]
III. The Modern Menace
We would be blinking at reality if we failed to acknowledge that recent challenges to "freedom in the classroom" are being advanced to further a particular political agenda. This is not the first time that universities have been suspected of harboring faculties who undermine established institutions and prevailing social values. Thomas Hobbes complained as far back as 1651 that university faculties "retain a relish of that subtile liquor . . . against the Civill Authority."[Note 20]
[There is considerable danger that the AAUP has been blinking at reality. Some of the critics of abuses in the classroom may have a political agenda; some may not. Those critics who are moved by politics can hardly be said to be united behind one "particular political agenda." Some of the critics are liberal Democrats, some conservative Republicans, some centrist independents, some Libertarians. To the extent the critics profess common concerns, they align around love of learning and anxiety that students are ill-served by some recent developments in higher education.
But the AAUP is "blinking at reality" in another sense -- in that its whole report consists of attacks on straw-man versions of what the critics have been saying. This cannot be explained as the result of the AAUP being unable to find a documented record of the critics' views. They are widely available in print, in such journals as the NAS quarterly, Academic Questions, in books, and on-line. Yet the AAUP has proceeded to ignore all of the actual criticisms in favor of constructing a fantasy rubric of what non-existent critics might say. The AAUP could have extracted the principled objections from the critics' writing, and dealt with those principles. It could have chosen a representative group of examples of the abuses that the critics have called to public attention. But AAUP chose neither of these above-board approaches. It chooses to attack phantoms of its own imagination.]
According to a leading survey, faculty overwhelmingly subscribe to the proposition that it is wrong for instructors frequently to introduce "opinions on religious, political, or social issues clearly outside the realm of course topics" or to insist "that students take one particular perspective on course content."[Note 21] Although contemporary critics of higher education have alleged that widespread abuse of the classroom is a fixture of the academic scene, the many legislative hearings and investigations nationwide have failed to substantiate the charge.[Note 22]
[The AAUP is to a certain extent right. If substantiating the charge means systematically documenting widespread abuse, the critics have fallen short. Numerous individual cases have been documented but the path towards a more extensive review has been blocked. The evidence is tough to come by, because, when organizations and even governmental bodies seek it, the defenders of the status quo scream "McCarthyism" and declare that academic freedom is in mortal peril. Most campus complaints are dealt with behind a wall of confidentiality.
There are, however, powerful reasons to suspect that there is a widespread reality behind the growing number of individual complaints. Repeated studies have shown huge disparities in liberal arts departments between faculty members affiliated with the liberal/left as opposed to the conservative/right. This is objective data, not opinion, and it lends some weight to the worry that when professors bring political views to the classroom, on most campuses those views will be overwhelmingly colored by support for liberal/left positions.
Another reason to suspect that there are widespread patterns of partisanship in the classroom is the plainly partisan activity of many of the national scholarly associations. In 2004, for example, the executive board of the American Anthropological Association issued a statement supporting gay marriage. (http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/wood200504260810.asp) In March 2007, the American Historical Association voted (76 percent in favor as against 24 percent opposed) to condemn the war in Iraq. (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/03/13/iraq) If faculty members acting as a body support partisan measures under the cover of scholarly authority, why would anyone suppose they would draw the line in the relative privacy of their own classrooms?
Still another reason to credit the widespread nature of these partisan intrusions is the massive wave of student, parent, and alumni complaints against those intrusions. Indeed, the AAUP report is testimony of sorts to the size of this wave. The public anger over academic misfeasance may be based on something unreal. The AAUP suggests that explanation above in its reference to people being driven by a "particular political agenda." But might it be worth entertaining the possibility that the wave of complaints actually points to widespread abuses?
One exception to the relative dearth of systematic investigations occurred in Pennsylvania in November 2006 when the House Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education held hearings. The AAUP report refers to these hearings in Note 23, only to assert that they resulted in nothing but triviality. In fact, the hearings did document a pattern of abuse. The committee's final report, referred to by the AAUP, was a highly redacted document in which most of the details were suppressed. The original draft report is available HERE. The testimony of NAS president Steve Balch, drawing together a substantial mass of data on politicization within Pennsylvania's public university systems can be found at http://www.nas.org/reports.html.
Granted that the evidentiary record is thinner than we would like, we point to the voluminous anecdotal record, the disparity in ideological orientations, the political actions of national academic associations, and the magnitude of the public revolt as reasons to doubt the AAUP's conclusion. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In this case, it is evidence of unwillingness on the part of responsible bodies, such as the AAUP, to respond to the growing body of complaints with an impartial study of the facts. Having been derelict in that duty, the AAUP cannot now claim that its own lack of inquisitiveness is reason to think there is no problem.]
Nevertheless, with more than half a million full-time faculty in four-year colleges and universities teaching more than seven million students, it would seem statistically certain that sometime, somewhere, some instructor will step over the line.[Note 23]
When that happens, sound professional standards of proper classroom conduct should be enforced in ways that are compatible with academic due process. Over the last century the profession has developed an understanding of the nature of these standards. It has also developed methods for enforcing these standards that allow for students to file complaints and that afford accused faculty members the right fully to be heard by a body of their peers. Close analysis of recent charges of classroom abuse demonstrates that these criticisms do not seek to vindicate professional standards, because they proceed on premises that are inconsistent with the mission and practice of higher education.
[The same due process requires that virtually all of these records are sealed. The AAUP has no way of knowing what complaints have been filed and how they have been adjudicated. This passage is pure bluff.]
Calls for the regulation of higher education are almost invariably appeals to the coercive power of the state.
["Invariably?" No. We have called primarily for good institutional self-governance and elevation of the standards of professionalism. The state, however, has a legitimate role to play at least with respect to public institutions of higher learning. When the AAUP speaks of the "coercive" power of the state, it is merely throwing in a scare word. Most state action is regulatory in nature and "coercive" only in the sense that most people are law-abiding. We would settle for that.]
In recent attempts to pass legislation to monitor and constrain faculty in the classroom lies a deep menace, which the architects of the American concept of academic freedom properly conceived as a potential "tyranny of public opinion."[Note 24]
[Perhaps this "deep menace" exists, but it has been invisible and inactive for many decades. Academic freedom today may well be imperiled, but in contrast to earlier eras in American history, the peril this time has come from those inside the academy who have wantonly abused the principle of academic freedom as a license to bring their illiberal ideology into the classroom. The public that is aroused by these abuses does not seek to tyrannize the campus, but hopes to liberate the campus from those who have shown little regard for the sustaining conditions of free inquiry in a free society.]
American universities have been subject to this tyranny in the past. Walter Gellhorn observed in 1952 that the drive to root out communists was based on the assumption that "they will abuse their academic privileges by seeking to indoctrinate students."[Note 25] Gellhorn noted that when the New York legislature declared in 1949 that communists ought not be permitted to teach because they disseminate propaganda, the legislature added that the propaganda "was frequently 'sufficiently subtle to escape detection in the classroom.'"[Note 26]
[A leitmotif of this report is the AAUP's numerous references to lapses of academic freedom in earlier epochs. We join the AAUP in lamenting those lapses. Unlike the AAUP, however, we see little in them that reminds us of current circumstances on campus. No one is attempting to purge the political Left from today's campuses. Our asking that college instructors comport themselves in the classroom in a manner that fits the dignities and responsibilities of their positions is a legitimate call to return to the AAUP principles of the past.]
Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of "balance," "diversity," and "respect." We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.
[It would be well if the AAUP had also learned from history that university faculties won the fight for academic freedom by invoking the authority of science and the rigorous search for truth. Academic freedom was not born out of society's desire to create a precinct where privileged individuals could use their classrooms to enunciate political opinions. The doctrine of academic freedom gradually expanded to include a protection of political speech (under certain conditions), but this expansion was never absolute. Moreover the doctrine of academic freedom does not exist as of "natural right" or by way of firmly-grounded Constitutional provision.
In 1957, Justice Warren writing in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, in a decision supporting academic freedom, commented that "Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust." We note the echo of Warren's words in the AAUP report's closing sentence, but we see quite a different resonance in those words. Suspicion and distrust arise for a reason. Academic freedom is not immune from challenge if society comes to believe it has been trivialized into an excuse for shabby and unethical behavior. Academic freedom could be trimmed back; it could be revoked. The NAS views those possibilities with dismay, but seemingly with greater clarity than the AAUP.
The issue is that academic freedom requires academic responsibility. The AAUP firmly declared this in its original 1915 statement on academic freedom, and it remains true to this day. Neglect or abandonment of those responsibilities -- to seek the truth, to refrain from using the authority of an academic position to advocate on issues outside one's professional competence -- could lead to disaster. Unfortunately, the AAUP today seems intent on courting exactly that.]
MATTHEW W. FINKIN (Law), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, chair
ROBERT C. POST (Law), Yale University
CARY NELSON (English), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
ERNST BENJAMIN (Political Science), Washington, D.C.
ERIC COMBEST, staff
1. Missouri House Bill No. 213 (introduced January 3, 2007) would have done both. It would have required each public institution of higher education to "ensure diversity," defined as "the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious, and other perspectives, when such perspectives relate to the subject matter being taught or issues being discussed." It would also have required institutions to ensure that "conflicts between personal beliefs and classroom assignments that may contradict such beliefs can be resolved in a manner that achieves educational objectives without requiring a student to act against his or her conscience." Back to text.
2. Committee A has endorsed what it calls the "nonindoctrination principle." See its 2003 statement, Academic Bill of Rights. See also the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure and Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, in AAUP's Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed. (Washington, D.C.: AAUP, 2006). Back to text.
3. John Dewey, "Academic Freedom," Educational Review 23 (1902): 4. Back to text.
4. Ibid., 6 (emphasis added). Back to text.
5. Ibid., 4 (emphasis added), quoting William Rainey Harper's 1900 presidential address at the University of Chicago. Back to text.
6. 1915 "Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure," in AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 297. Back to text.
7. "Committee on Academic Freedom: Statement on the case of Professor Louis Levine of the University of Montana," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 5 (1919): 22. Back to text.
8. Josiah Royce, "The Freedom of Teaching," Overland Monthly 2 (September 1883): 237. Back to text.
9. For a defense of advocacy on pedagogical grounds, see Ernst Benjamin, "Some Implications of the Faculty's Obligation to Encourage Student Academic Freedom for Faculty Advocacy in the Classroom," in Advocacy in the Classroom: Problems and Possibilities, ed. Patricia Meyer Spacks (New York: St. Martin's, 1996), 302-14. Back to text.
10. Some contemporary attacks on academic freedom center less on the claim of the instructor's bias than on the tendentiousness of the curriculum itself. See, for example, Lynne V. Cheney, Academic Freedom (Ashland, Ohio: John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, 1992). This wholesale assault on the freedom of the institution to construct the curriculum is beyond the scope of this report. Back to text.
11. Edward C. Kirkland, "Academic Freedom in the Community," in Freedom and the University, ed. Robert D. Calkins and others (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1950), 115, 119. Back to text.
12. See, for example, http://www.fixedearth.com (accessed February 19, 2007). Back to text.
13. This is discussed in "Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of South Florida," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 50 (March1964): 44-57. See also Mark Taylor, "The Devoted Student," New York Times, December 21, 2006. Back to text.
14. See, for example, Lawrence J. Nelson, Rumors of Indiscretion: The University of Missouri "Sex Questionnaire" Scandal in the Jazz Age (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003). Back to text.
15. See "Is Your Professor Using the Classroom as a Platform for Political Agendas?" http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/images/professor%20platform%20ad%20IN.pdf (accessed June 11, 2007). Back to text.
16. Conrad Russell, Academic Freedom (London: Routledge, 1993), 89. Back to text.
17. "Academic Freedom and Tenure: Evansville College," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 35 (Spring 1949): 91-92. Back to text.
18. Nicholas Kristof, "Et Tu George?" New York Times, January 23, 2007. Back to text.
19. "Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of Pittsburgh," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 21 (March 1935): 247. Back to text.
20. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, rev. 2nd ed., ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 237:
The Instruction of the people, dependeth wholly, on the right teaching of Youth in the Universities. But are not (may some men say) the Universities of England learned enough already to do that? or is it you will undertake to teach the Universities? Hard questions. Yet to the first, I doubt not to answer; that till towards the later end of Henry the Eighth, the Power of the Pope, was alwayes upheld against the Power of the Common-wealth, principally by the Universities; and that the doctrines maintained by so many Preachers, against the Soveraign Power of the King, and by so many Lawyers, and others, that had their education there, is a sufficient argument, that though the Universities were not authors of those false doctrines, yet they knew not how to plant the true. For in such a contradiction of Opinions, it is most certain, that they have not been sufficiently instructed; and 'tis no wonder, if they yet retain a relish of that subtile liquor, wherever they were first seasoned, against the Civill Authority
Back to text.
21. John Braxton and Alan Bayer, Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 54, table 4.5, 46, table 4.2. Back to text.
22. A Pennsylvania legislative committee held four public meetings throughout the state on this issue. Its investigation developed only one allegation of abuse -- that a biology professor allegedly showed the film Fahrenheit 9/11 to his class, an event that, the committee learned, occurred off campus. Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Report of the Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education Pursuant to House Resolution 177, November 21, 2006. Back to text.
23. The Missouri bill referred to at the outset (see note 1) was introduced because a student at Missouri State University complained of having been required as part of a class exercise in social work to sign a letter -- by one press account to the state legislature, by another to a congressman -- advocating the right of homosexuals to adopt children, a position with which she disagreed on religious grounds. "Missouri State U. Settles Lawsuit Filed by Student," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 9, 2006;"Diversity and Academe," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January30, 2007. According to other students in the class, those who objected to signing the letter could opt for an alternative assignment. There has been no hearing on the matter. Erik Vance, "President at Missouri State U. Threatens to Shut Social-Work School after Scathing Report," Chronicle of Higher Education, April 20, 2007. The Missouri episode only underlines the importance of due process and a consequent suspension of judgment until the facts are found
Back to text.
24. 1915 "Declaration of Principles," in AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 297. Back to text.
25. Walter Gellhorn, "A General View," in The States and Subversion, ed. Walter Gellhorn (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1952), 358, 377. Back to text.
26. Ibid., 379. Back to text.
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