Dupont Circle Diversiphily

Donald A. Downs

Academics are inclined to think of their work as a pure calling.1 But the fact remains that the profession of higher education—like all professions—is embedded in various rules, assumptions, and programs that further the fiduciary obligations of the profession and also protect the rights, agendas, and self-interests of the profession’s members.2 Throned at the organizational peak of academia are a number of professional associations often referred to collectively as “One Dupont Circle,” since many of them are headquartered at that address in Washington, DC. These organizations are dedicated to improving pedagogy and leadership according to their own visions and agendas.

Despite losing a measure of prestige and influence in recent decades, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), founded in 1915, remains the foremost professional association in higher education. Though it deals with an array of higher education issues, the AAUP is most noted for the protection and promotion of academic freedom, which includes free inquiry in teaching and research, due process in discipline cases, and tenure.3 Other major higher education organizations (or interest groups, if you will) include the American Council of Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

It is unlikely that such groups exert much direct influence over individual faculty members, who, by and large, simply pursue their teaching and research according to their own lights, and who probably have not even heard of most of these groups. The real work of the profession takes place in the trenches of teaching and research, so anyone who is serious about education should look first at what transpires in those domains, not at what happens in the ethereal realm of these super-structural entities.

But we should heed such institutions for at least three reasons. First, they nourish ties to administrative units at schools around the country, so they can affect campus climate and work. Second, the values these groups embrace reflect those of many administrative and faculty leaders; therefore, examining how these organizations define their missions tells us something important about the priorities of higher education today. Third, these organizations are powerful lobbyists, and their views are often reflected in the laws that govern higher education, the regulations that are imposed by administrative agencies, and the appointees whose judgment holds sway in many areas of public policy.

Since its inception, the AAUP has made academic freedom a priority. But many credible critics claim that higher education has redefined its central mission since the late 1980s, replacing the historical commitment to the pursuit of truth with the commitment to “diversity.” If “diversity” simply meant inclusive non-discrimination, it would be a principled manifestation of the historically necessary civil rights movement, which originally strove to expand the individualistic principles of the American regime to citizens who had suffered unequal treatment. Unfortunately, the diversity movement has often meant something quite contrary, such as construing personal worth in terms of identity group ideology and defining justice as the proportional representation of identity groups in institutions and social interaction.4

Worse yet, many policies designed to foster diversity—speech codes, harassment codes, sensitivity regimes, and the like—have seriously harmed academic freedom, as they have often been enforced by people with little understanding or appreciation of what academic freedom means and why it matters.5 Since the late 1980s, a complex constellation of diversity programs has proliferated at universities across the land, usually dwarfing the number of programs devoted to academic freedom. And such programs are connected to national programs, foundations, institutes, and commissions, engendering a massive bureaucratic web that Frederick Lynch labeled the “Diversity Machine” in a detailed study of this phenomenon.6 Allied to the idea of diversity is the ideal of global citizenship, which competes with the ideals of national citizenship and patriotism. Internationalism has its worthy aspects in an interconnected world, but it is problematic when it serves as a substitute for knowledge of basic American principles, which place strong emphasis upon free speech and thought.

In this essay, I examine the policy emphases of several higher education associations other than the AAUP. The data used here consists largely of policy-oriented material available on the websites of the organizations discussed, as well as some material obtained in libraries and other sources. I do not pretend to provide a definitive organizational or historical treatment of these institutions, but rather to illustrate what they present as their major policy agendas, and to reflect on what these presentations tell us about their comparative commitments to academic freedom and diversity. The question is one of priorities. We will see that some of the regard for academic freedom is circumstantial: a reaction to the Academic Bill of Rights pushed by the redoubtable provocateur, David Horowitz.

Organizations Not Considered in Depth

Our focus here is on the four organizations that are the most deeply concerned with pedagogy and the balance between academic freedom and diversity: the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the American Council of Education (ACE), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and the Association of American State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). These are major institutions that have dealt more fully with these, as well as other, issues. The remaining entities listed in the previous section have more narrowly defined purposes.

Among the remaining institutions, the Association of American Universities (AAU) has produced statements about academic freedom that tend to be generic, usually following the lead of other organizations; the group also has no specific programs on diversity. However, the AAU did join the ACE and other groups in issuing a joint statement supporting affirmative action before the Supreme Court in 2003, and added its name to a letter written by the ACE and other groups to President George W. Bush in support of the University of Michigan in these cases.7 Its programs for K—16 education concentrate on training teachers and engaging students in science and math. AAU’s public policy focus deals primarily with such matters as grants from major government agencies, student and faculty visas, and the like. The association has taken some meaningful academic freedom stands, most notably in its June 2007 press release strongly opposing the British University and College Union’s call for a boycott of Israeli universities and academicians.8 One document dealing with diversity appeared in 1997 in response to some court decisions limiting quotas and set-asides. The “Diversity Statement on the Importance of Diversity in University Admissions” eschewed set-asides and quotas, while affirming the importance of having students from diverse backgrounds (“including race, ethnicity, and gender”) on campus.9

The Association of Governing Boards of American Colleges and Universities (AGB) is less concerned with academic freedom and diversity than our four major organizations as well. Its 2007 annual report makes no mention of academic freedom, but it does list diversity and inclusion as its second priority. AGB’s “Blueprint” for its “Strategic Plan” for 2006–2011 lists several priorities, all of which involve strengthening the association and the services it provides to member institutions, but mentions neither diversity nor academic freedom.10 Its mission statement declares that AGB “strengthens and protects this country’s unique form of institutional governance through its research, services, and advocacy. AGB is committed to citizen trusteeship of American higher education.”11

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) also does not focus on academic freedom or racial diversity. The three key issues in its “Policy Mission” are student aid, tax policy, and the promotion of “appropriate regulation of private colleges and universities that is sensitive to their diversity and independence while addressing society’s needs.”12 NAICU’s “Special Initiatives” include voting, ecology, accountability (providing parents and students with accurate and relevant information), and the cost of higher education.13

The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) as well does not concern itself overmuch with diversity or academic freedom. Its “Major Initiatives” involve developing partnerships with the Department of Agriculture, online learning, study abroad, math and science instruction, voluntary systems of accountability, and the development of educational links with Africa.14 Access and urban issues in higher education, accountability, diversity, college costs, financial aid, and online learning constitute NASULGC’s “Higher Education Issues.”15 As noted, diversity is a part of but does not dominate NASULGC’s agenda, as it does the agendas of the AACTE, the ACE, the AAC&U, and the AASCU.

Let us now look more closely at these important One Dupont Circle organizations.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is dedicated to furthering the college preparation of teachers in primary and secondary schools. Its major goals are to foster consensus in teacher preparation through the promotion of standards, common college curricula, assessment and accountability, and policymaking; to strengthen teacher preparation programs; and to increase diversity among educators, in student achievement and in curricula. AACTE has no evident interest in academic freedom, but among its standing committees is one on global diversity.

AACTE uses the following bureaucratic language to describe the Committee on Global Diversity’s mission: to “foster the development of quality teaching and professional education practices that promote diversity, equity, and global perspectives that advance the preparation of world-class educators responsive to all learners.”16 Among AACTE’s twelve study groups, at least half deal with diversity-related issues, including “Deans of Color,” “Historically Black Institutions and Other Interested Persons,” “Multicultural Education,” “Race and Racism in Teacher Education,” “Social and Cultural Foundations of Education,” and “Women in the Deanship.”17 In 2004, AACTE established an “Assessment of Diversity in American Teaching Force,” and issued a “Public Statement on Diversity.” These are but a selection of its many diversity programs.

The most troublesome ACCTE program concerns “dispositions theory,” the recent brainchild of an ally, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. In brief, “dispositions theory” requires degree recipients at education schools to pass tests that demonstrate candidates’ knowledge of and commitment to “social justice.” AACTE held a web-conference on dispositions in May 2008 entitled “Dispositions in Practice: Enacting Moral Commitments.” Conference materials remarked, “A major challenge for preparation programs and for beginning educators is to gain understanding and clarity about the role dispositions play in classroom practice and improving the learning of all students.”18 Dispositions theory is discussed in the “social justice” section of AACTE’s website.

The fact that the concept of social justice is notoriously vague and subjective has not deterred the practitioners of dispositions theory from defining it according to a narrow liberal-progressive agenda as sympathy for affirmative action, aggressive notions of diversity, economic redistribution, and the “correct” attitudes about marriage and sex. For example, in 2004–2005, the education school at Washington State University (whose program is linked to AACTE) threatened to terminate Edward Swan because he failed to pass four “professional disposition evaluations.” According to a report by the noted journalist, John Leo, “Swan, a religious man of working-class background, has expressed conservative opinions in class. He opposes affirmative action and doesn’t believe gays should adopt children. His grades are good, and even his critics say he is highly intelligent. One teacher gave Swan a failing PDE after spotting the statement ‘diversity is perversity’ in Swan’s copy of a textbook.”19 Meanwhile, Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson—a well-known critic of political correctness who was once almost hounded out of the college because of his position on merit in hiring decisions—was threatened with an official hearing on his academic integrity in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of dispositions theory at that institution. The college dropped the inquisition after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education entered the fray.20 (Perhaps Brooklyn College administrators should be required to take a course on “inquisitions theory.”)

Dispositions theory is an ominous threat to intellectual freedom and to the intellectual pluralism that is an indispensable hallmark of a meaningful liberal education. That AACTE continues to foster it says something telling about its understanding of liberal education.

The American Council of Education

Founded in 1918, ACE has a diverse membership of more than eighteen hundred colleges, universities, higher education organizations, and corporations. ACE is dedicated to the development of educational leaders, and its ACE Fellows Program has trained hundreds of high-level administrative leaders over the last forty years. The council also conducts policy research and advocacy, and other activities. ACE’s major preoccupations reflect the concerns of college leaders, so it is not surprising to find diversity mentioned time and again on its website.

ACE’s major projects in 2007 and 2008 reflect the concerns of today’s top administrators: leadership; racial, ethnic, and gender diversity; economic hardship; and internationalization/globalization. The council’s statement about its “Core Values, Vision, and Mission,” found at the beginning of the “Strategic Plan” and 2007 annual report, indicates that “ACE values inclusiveness and diversity, recognizes higher education’s responsibility to society, and embraces the belief that widespread access to excellent post-secondary educational opportunities is the cornerstone of a democratic society.”21 Like many other higher education organizations, ACE is paying increased attention to economic diversity and access to higher education for students from the middle and lower classes. This emphasis is consistent with the council’s longstanding commitment to access, and it poses considerably fewer moral and constitutional dilemmas than race-based affirmative action in admissions.

The five commissions under its aegis provide a window to its priorities. Listed alphabetically on the ACE website are the Commission on Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, the Commission on Effective Leadership, the Commission on International Initiatives, the Commission on Lifelong Learning, and the Commission on Women in Higher Education.22 These commissions provide information and guidance to centers run by ACE and to other institutions linked to the council. ACE also maintains a Center for Policy Analysis, whose activities involve improving the readiness of high school students for college, integrating higher education financial aid with educational policy, and ensuring the success of low-income students. “Recent Reports” from this center deal with the nourishment of college leadership, the status of minorities in higher education, international comparisons in higher education, the status of Pell grants in higher education, a report on the “American College President in 2007,” and gender equity issues.23

Concerns for diversity work their way into many areas of the council’s activities; for example, a recent Center for Policy Analysis report, “On the Pathways to the Presidency,” deals with the demographics and personal aspects of individuals who aspire to university presidencies. ACE was also the lead organization in an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s right to engage in race-based affirmative action in undergraduate programs and in its law school. Fifty-three other education groups joined the briefs, including the AACTE, the AAU, the AAUP, and the AASCU.24

A research assistant and I examined material from the past and found nothing specifically devoted to speech codes and related policies during the critical period of 1990 to 2000, when such codes were instituted across the land. But this changed dramatically in the mid-2000s, after David Horowitz launched his attack on higher education with the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR). ABOR is promoted by Students for Academic Freedom, the advocacy group spawned by Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture—now the David Horowitz Freedom Center. ABOR espouses eight principles in support of academic integrity, academic freedom, and ideological neutrality.25 The most provocative aspect of the movement was Horowitz’s effort to persuade state legislatures to take the lead in enforcing ABOR, or in encouraging higher education institutions to adopt ABOR’s principles on their own. I oppose ABOR because of my fear that legislative intervention can harm academic freedom as much as improper movements inside the university can, and because I think some of ABOR’s supporters are more partisan than principled. But I must concede this: it took Horowitz’s threat of state action to arouse the attention of such organizations as ACE in a way that the mountain of works addressing the precarious status of freedom in academia that appeared between 1990 and 2004 had not.

In June 2005, the ACE issued its “Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities,” which received widespread attention.26 The statement was endorsed by twenty-seven other higher education groups, including those treated in this essay. According to Kermit L. Hall, who helped write the statement, it “was a pragmatic response by the higher education establishment to the escalating challenge posed by its neo-conservative critics in general and their most ardent advocate, David Horowitz, in particular.”27 The entire first paragraph of the ACE statement merits quotation:

Intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education. Recently, these issues have captured the attention of the media, political leaders and those in the academy. This is not the first time in the nation’s history that these issues have become public controversies, but the current interest in intellectual discourse on campus suggests that the meaning of these terms, and the rights and responsibilities of individual members of the campus community, should be reiterated.28

The statement went on to affirm that some “central, overarching principles” can be gleaned from the “multiple dimensions” of academic practice today, including tolerance of dissent and civil intellectual pluralism. Eschewing relativism, the statement also decreed that ideas should be assessed by the best academic standards, and that not all ideas have equal merit. In addition, grading and evaluation of faculty members should be based on intellectual criteria, not “on the basis of their political opinions.” Alluding obliquely to Horowitz, the last part of the statement declared that colleges and universities should strive to keep their own houses in order when it comes to academic freedom and standards, for “[g]overnment’s recognition and respect for the independence of colleges and universities is essential for academic and intellectual excellence.” To earn this status, colleges and universities have “a particular obligation to ensure that academic freedom is protected for all members of the campus community and that academic decisions are based on intellectual standards consistent with the mission of each institution.”

Horowitz endorsed ACE’s statement in an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed, posted on June 23, 2005—the same day that ACE released it—suggesting that ACE coordinated its presentation with its nemesis.29 The “Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities” is splendid. However, it took Horowitz’ threat to shake the council into rhetorical action, and there is no evidence that ACE has chosen to buttress its rhetoric with programs or other operational organizational muscle. Like the allocation of money, the existence of operational programs reveals where an institution’s strongest commitments lie.

Association of American Colleges and Universities

A diverse organization with over a thousand member groups that include two- and four-year private and public schools, the AAC&U was founded by a group of college presidents in 1915, the same time as many of its sister organizations. Its stated mission is to improve undergraduate education through the sponsorship and nourishment of liberal education, but this mission is compromised by a coexisting heavy-handed approach to diversity. The AAC&U publishes several journals, including Liberal Education, Peer Review, On Campus with Women, and Diversity and Democracy. It lists five “missions and goals” in its 2008–2012 “Strategic Plan,” entitled “Aim High and Make Excellence Inclusive”: a guiding vision for liberal education; inclusive excellence; intentional and integrative learning; civic, diversity, and global engagement; and authentic evidence.30 Scrutiny of AAC&U materials suggests three overarching areas of concern: strengthening liberal education, assessment of pedagogy, and diversity. One key diversity concern is the status of gender, and AAC&U maintains several programs and publications geared toward women, including “Campus Women Lead”: “an alliance promoting a multicultural women-led agenda for the sustained transformation of higher education for the twenty-first century.”31

In the early 1990s, the AAC&U launched an aggressive diversity agenda, “American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning,” which led to three forty-page reports published in 1995. In an insightful essay, “Diversity and the Abolition of Learning,” Carol Iannone portrayed the ways in which this initiative pushed a heavy-handed diversity agenda riddled with suspicion of traditional liberal principles of freedom. The “new academy” envisioned by the program would be devoted to diversity as an end in itself.32 In a follow-up article, “The Unhappy Difference Diversity Makes,” Iannone analyzed a second AAC&U project, “Understanding the Difference Diversity Makes: Assessing Campus Diversity Initiatives” (1999–2001), which involved several universities.33 This “second wave” of diversity efforts attempted to put “diversity more squarely at the center of educational missions.” It led to publications devoted to strong diversity agendas in teaching (including a civic education component with an emphasis upon diversity and global citizenship, but scant attention paid to the principles of the American regime), research, and the assessment of diversity initiatives on campus.34 As Iannone concluded, the actualization of these ambitious goals would transform the university into an ideological boot camp replete with thought control, de facto if not de jure.

The third stage of AAC&U’s ongoing diversity agenda culminated in a 2005 report entitled Achieving Equitable Educational Outcomes with All Students: The Institution’s Roles and Responsibilities. This initiative, “Making Excellence Inclusive,” consisted of three publications, the first of which was used by the University of Michigan to buttress its constitutional case in the Supreme Court affirmative action cases.35 As with AAC&U’s previous diversity efforts, this initiative was part of a broader national effort enlisting many institutions, including fourteen colleges and universities that agreed to make diversity a central mission and to monitor the results carefully. (Loyola Marymount University and the University of Southern California receive special attention in the report.) The papers in this report stress that true diversity and achievement can be realized only if institutions undertake systematic and all-encompassing initiatives. One senses a kind of desperation over the limited results of the organization’s previous efforts in this domain. Achieving Equitable Educational Outcomes evokes many images of the Diversity Machine, including the advocacy of “Diversity Scorecards,” the formation of “Evidence Teams,” extensive bureaucratic oversight and intervention, and detailed assessment. The mandate calls for “comprehensive organizational change to help campuses achieve Inclusive Excellence,” and for creating a “welcoming community that engages all of its diversity in the service of student and organizational learning.”36

Eliminating the achievement gap between minorities and non-minorities is an important social goal. But Achieving Equitable Educational Outcomes calls for an extensive campus mobilization that can readily have a paralyzing effect on academic and individual freedom, especially given its emphasis upon a “welcoming” community that would inescapably involve discouraging speech that challenged diversity orthodoxies. Unfortunately, the report does not confront the obvious tensions that can arise between the diversity mobilization it envisions and academic freedom, so the matter is left to our informed imaginations.

Despite the significant attention it pays to diversity, the AAC&U has also espoused a commitment to liberal education and intellectual rigor, although its conception of these virtues is tinged (or laden) with the diversity ethos. Its 2008–2012 “Strategic Plan” (cited above) declares that its mission is to make “the aims of liberal learning a vigorous and constant influence on institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” The discussion of “Essential Learning Outcomes” in the plan’s “Guiding Vision” section blends intellectual and diversity criteria in the concept of “inclusive excellence”: “Essential Learning Outcomes” include “Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World,” achieved “through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts.” “Intellectual and Practical Skills” include “inquiry and analysis,” “critical and creative thinking,” “written and oral evaluations,” “quantitative literacy,” “informational literacy,” and “teamwork and problem solving.” “Personal and Social Responsibility” encompass “civic knowledge and engagement” at the local and global levels, “intercultural knowledge and competence,” “ethical reasoning and action,” and “foundations and skills for lifelong learning.”37

AAC&U has espoused a traditional view of the liberal arts curriculum, backed with a ten-year campaign initiated in 2005, “Liberal Education and America’s Promise.”38 In the report College Learning for the New Global Century, the campaign calls for a renewed emphasis on liberal education across the curriculum. This includes a particular emphasis on “Liberal Democracy.” The only mention of diversity in this document is in the “Guide to Effective Educational Practices” appendix, where it mentions courses and programs at schools that offer experiences and immersions in other cultures as part of diversity education.39

Some writers in the AAC&U quarterly Liberal Education have championed academic freedom. The Spring 2006 issue was devoted entirely to the topic and included an AAU&C statement on academic freedom and responsibility. Although the AAU&C statement takes on Horowitz and can, therefore, be seen as a reaction to the Academic Bill of Rights, it also acknowledges that threats to academic freedom have come from the left, especially against speakers who are not sufficiently opposed to the war in Iraq. Like the ACE statement, this one also affirms the importance of intellectual diversity on campus.40 Other issues of Liberal Education have treated academic freedom in a meaningful and balanced manner. A Summer 2004 essay by Thomas Ehrlich and Anne Colby took a firm stand in support of conservative students who challenge liberal orthodoxies on campus; and earlier, in Spring 1999, the distinguished philosopher Alan Ryan explained how the new campus politics of censorship differs from the politics of the McCarthy era. “The novelty of the present situation is that the threat to academic freedom comes, or is widely thought to come, from within the academy and from people who believe themselves to be radicals rather than conservatives.”41

Another interesting essay in Liberal Education examines the role of social justice in liberal education. Writing from a perspective drawn from political philosopher Leo Strauss, James V. Schall, SJ, has a vision of social justice inquiry that differs dramatically from the leaden “dispositions” theory of the AACTE. Downplaying the modern notion of social justice, which posits “social structures” as the predominant causes of injustice, Schall argues that liberal education should embrace more classical approaches to the question of justice:

    But the college or university was to be a place wherein great things could be known and studied in the souls of young men and women so that they could see what was noble, what was delightful, what was true. This wonder at what they beheld is what really prepared them to go into practical things out of which, when they were older, they could return to the issues that were of highest moment to human beings.42

In the end, AAC&U has demonstrated some meaningful commitment to academic freedom via Liberal Education, while also sponsoring a diversity mobilization that poses a serious threat to that very freedom.

The Association of American State Colleges and Universities

The AASCU also joined the academic freedom debate after Horowitz unleashed the Academic Bill of Rights. Founded in 1915 by college presidents, the AASCU is dedicated to the improvement of liberal education. Like ACE, the AASCU has over a thousand member groups consisting of a wide variety of institutions. Its primary focus is the affordability and funding of higher education, but it is also concerned with educational reform, learning in a global environment, civic engagement, and personal and social responsibility. The only large-scale diversity program that AASCU supports is the “Millennium Leadership Initiative,” which is designed to aid members of underrepresented groups achieve leadership positions in higher education. The January 2008 edition of Policy Matters, AASCU’s policy brief series, addressed the top-ten policy issues for higher education for 2008; support for affirmative action programs was number eight on the list.43

At least two of the AASCU’s concerns have direct implications for academic freedom issues: the recent “environmental sustainability agenda” and issues of campus security and privacy. Regarding the latter, AASCU states that the history of “intellectual freedom, openness and public accessibility” at public universities is threatened by increased violence on campus.44

But the “Environmental Sustainability” program, which draws on the thinking and advocacy of former vice president Al Gore, could also directly affect academic freedom. Because the green movement is propelled by a sense of moral urgency and righteousness above and beyond the scientific merit it may possess, it could engender the same problems for academic freedom that the diversity movement has posed. (Indeed, un-self-critical moral urgency and a sense of superiority lie at the heart of virtually all the threats academic freedom has encountered over the years.)45 The AASCU’s policy page on sustainability echoes language that has supported diversity mobilizations. The

“green” movement is continuing to gain widespread exposure in politics, education, business, and everyday life.

    Leadership in this movement is a natural fit for the “public purpose” mission of American state colleges and land-grant institutions. Higher education in the United States is a $300 billion industry with the active audience, intellectual resources, and research-related infrastructure to drive positive change at the local level. Most importantly, institutions of higher education also have the ability to transfer the knowledge, skills, ideas and values needed to usher in a new era of environmental sustainability in the 21st century.46

This said, the AASCU has spent some meaningful time supporting academic freedom and intellectual pluralism in other contexts. For example, AASCU president Constantine Curris has addressed academic freedom issues in a number of speeches dating back to 2000. A Curris speech given at Marshall University in October 2000, for instance, blended the AASCU’s concerns for funding, autonomy, and academic freedom:

In outlining the areas in which I believe we as public universities have a public responsibility, I want to reaffirm again the covenant that binds the public to its universities. That covenant calls upon us to fulfill and to fulfill well our responsibilities. And it calls upon the public, working through its elected officials, to provide 1) the funding necessary for their institutions to fulfill their expectations, 2) the academic freedom to pursue truth in teaching, research and public service, and to express our findings and opinions without fear of intimidation or condemnation, and 3) the necessary autonomy to facilitate our work in a constructive and accountable manner.47

In other speeches, Curris has stressed the importance of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in America’s history, often lamenting the fact that very few people can name all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

The April 2005 Policy Matters, entitled “Reviving the Culture Wars on Campus,” dealt with the Academic Bill of Rights.48 AASCU’s position echoes that of the ACE and the AAUP, and makes similar claims that the Academic Bill of Rights would inappropriately involve states in college curriculum and hiring decisions and that there are already measures in place to deal with issues of bias in the classroom. The essay discussed other flaws with the bill and how to counter it. Unfortunately, the essay did not acknowledge that the bill might actually target a real problem in higher education today. The April 2006 Policy Matters considered the hiring and retention of faculty. AASCU believes that an increased emphasis on part-time, non-tenured faculty has a negative impact on academic freedom because faculty members in these positions do not enjoy the freedom of inquiry they would otherwise have, and are subject to a greater measure of political pressure.49

AASCU’s “2008 Public Policy Agenda” also mentions issues of academic freedom. There is a general statement in support of academic freedom and opposition to any legislation that has adverse consequences, followed by a statement opposing any legislation mandating intellectual diversity or faculty quotas on campus. However, the same document makes a handful of references to issues of diversity, calling for increased funding for diversity programs such as Titles III and IV of the Higher Education Act, and opposing any prohibition of affirmative action or state referendums that would limit the use of diversity in admissions.50

Overall, AASCU has shown a somewhat stronger commitment to academic freedom than ACE or AACTE. AASCU is also concerned with citizenship, and runs an “American Democracy Project,” which includes support for “Constitution Day,” during which colleges and universities present programs that make use of “the opportunity to reflect on our government, our liberties, and our obligations as citizens in this democracy.”51


Of the four organizations discussed here in some depth, the AACTE suffers the least from the conflict between academic freedom and the diversity agenda, for it appears to have simply forsaken academic freedom as a commitment. The ACE, the AAC&U, and the AASCU are awash in diversity agendas, but still cling in their distinctive ways to academic freedom as a principle, depending on the context. AAC&U, for example, displays respect for intellectual freedom and intellectual diversity while simultaneously sponsoring an aggressive diversity agenda that seriously threatens these same principles. As of yet, none of these organizations has thoughtfully analyzed how academic freedom and diversity can coexist in a principled way—or examined whether such coexistence might not be possible. Though these groups have created numerous programs to promote diversity and global citizenship, there is—with the few exceptions noted above—a relative dearth of programs devoted to academic freedom and core American principles (the AASCU’s American Democracy Project being one noteworthy exception). If the current commitment of resources is a sign of an organization’s true priorities, the allocation of programs in a majority of these higher education associations indicates that diversity reigns supreme at One Dupont Circle today.

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