It is always nice to report good news. In the long struggle for sanity on college campuses, occasionally schools "do the right thing." In this case, the University of Virginia has eliminated all speech codes and earned a "Green Light" from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). For more on the story, click here. To see where your school stands in FIRE ratings, search here. Sadly, most schools are Red or Yellow. Take action by keeping an eye on your alma mater or local university. Report to your local NAS affiliate and/or contact FIRE.
One of the dangers of bringing academic freedom under judicial authority is that doing so threatens First Amendment rights on campus, writes Steve Balch in a thoughtful new article. The recent efforts by Augusta State U and Eastern Michigan State U to censor Christian counseling students illustrate this. To learn more about these cases, see Alliance Defense Fund's "ADF to appeal ruling that allows Eastern Michigan U. to expel Christian students for holding to beliefs" and "Augusta State Univ. to counseling student: change your beliefs or get out."
This summer has been a pretty rough ride for students and faculty whose religious convictions run counter to campus PC trends concerning homosexuality. We've recently seen the summary dismissal (and subsequent reinstatement) of professor Kenneth Howell at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. This came on the heels of a federal judge's ruling last month upholding Eastern Michigan University's right to drop a student from its counseling program because her religious beliefs prevented her from endorsing the lifestyes of gay clients. Now, a virtually identical ruling has just been handed down by a federal court in favor of Georgia's Augusta State University ( read about it here at Inside Higher Education), where a graduate student in a counseling has been given the option of swallowing her religious convictions or leaving the program. That's what both students ended up doing, since they did not want to attend Gay Pride celebrations as a means of correcting their retrograde views of homosexuality. Here again, the court ruled that the university and its program were simply acting within wholly acceptable bounds of professional standards and non-discriminatory conduct, which did not restrict any student's freedom of conscience. As I noted previously, I can't really believe that an agnostic gay counselor with reservations about Christian evangelicals would be required to attend church or Bible study sessions in hopes of altering his negative perspective. I wonder though: what happens when someone comes along who objects to these Orwellian requirements on purely clinical grounds? It's not likely, I know, but a few such people are out there, and it would be interesting to see how the PC forces that presently monopolize the "helping" professions would handle that one. They'd think of something, I'm sure.
Check out this article by Daphne Patai over at Minding the Campus, in which she discusses the perilous state of free speech on American college campuses. There's been no end of dismal news on that account this week, so it's good to pass along these thoughts of someone who's been fighting the good fight on behalf of free expression for quite a while, and really knows the ropes. If it's getting hard to discuss controversial issues openly at your school because of the administration's reflexive "sensitivity" to selected ideological constituencies, Patai demonstrates that you don't have to sit back and let it happen. If you're familiar with her two important books, Professing Feminism and Heterophobia you'll know that she's walked the walk, as she does again here.
Yesterday, good news, since we were elated to acknowledge FIRE's victory for academic freedom at a California community college. Today, back to the more familiar bad news, since a federal judge has upheld the right of Eastern Michigan University to expel Julea Ward, an evangelical Christian student who was training as a high school guidance counselor. Ward, as we've reported previously, was just shy of graduating from EMU's counseling program when she was mugged by PC ideology. Because of her religious convictions, she could not agree to counsel prospective homosexual clients in the affirmative manner required by EMU's program. Should such a case arise, she said, she'd simply refer gay clients to other counselors able to accomodate their needs. Oh no, said EMU, that's not good enough, not by a mile. Sign this paper, or out you go. I can't, she insisted; you' re gone, they replied. Supported by the Alliance Defense Fund (read the ADF's press release here and an Inside Higher Education article here), she sued the school, contending that her First Amendment rights had been violated. Ordinarily, you'd expect First Amendment claims to weigh especially heavily in a case such as this, but the judge, alas, bought the university's argument about needing latitude in designing its curricula and programs, and the courts have always deferred in such instances, etc., etc. This isn't about thought control, insisted the counseling program's directors, it's simply a matter of recognizing the need to deal with a wide variety of clients, including those with beliefs different from one's own. Who could disagree? Maybe I'm cynical, but I somehow don't think a gay atheist will be required to declare that he's willing to counsel Southern Baptists in a manner that affirms their beliefs. ADF is appealing the case, and we wish them well. Increasingly though, it seems that the acceptable parameters for discussing homosexuality on campus these days are narrowly one-dimensional. And if you don't see the issue that way and you're a faculty member without tenure, or if you're a student and want your degree in counseling or social work, better keep quiet or go elsewhere.
California taxpayers are now on the hook for $100,000, which the San José/Evergreen Community College District (SJCCD) has agreed to pay an adjunct professor in lost earnings in exchange for dismissal of her First Amendment lawsuit. The background of the lawsuit? Sheldon had led a short discussion about the nature/nurture debate regarding sexual orientation in her Human Heredity course. She was then fired due to a student complaint and went to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for assistance. "This welcome settlement demonstrates that colleges cannot get away with punishing a professor for teaching relevant class material, even if a student finds it offensive," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. An aspect of this case worthy of the attention of NAS afficionados is the SJCCD's contention that Sheldon was teaching non-scientific material as science. In any event, congratulations to Sheldon and FIRE for persevering in this good fight. And condolences to CA taxpayers.
Our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education continue their stellar work defending the academic freedom and First Amendment rights of college faculty members - especially untenured adjuncts - who collide with stifiling campus political orthodoxies. This time, they've scored against the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, which will have to pay 100K in lost wages to an adjunct instructor who was terminated in 2007 after a student complained that her brief classroom discussion of the origins of homosexuality was "offensive." The district will have to pick up the tab for legal expenses as well. Too bad for them - and the taxpayers who will carry theses costs - that they didn't simply respect the instructor's academic freedom in the first place. But while I'm glad that FIRE was able to intervene successfully in this case, I also wish that they and other organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) didn't have so much work to do. This is getting to be a depressingly familiar scenario: 1) Instructor in a psychology or ethics course examines homosexuality or sex differences, says something that a student finds "offensive." 2) A complaint is forwarded at the speed of light to the administration, cc to the campus women's center, the dean of multicultural affairs or the LGBT office, who don't necessarily need to interview the instructor, but nevertheless agree that yes, yes, the classroom discussion was indeed "offensive." 3) The administration informs instructor that she's outta here. 4) Board of directors upholds administration, unimpressed by quaint ideas about academic freedom or First Amendment protections. Honestly, I wonder what the worst aspect of cases such as this one is. It's appalling, of course, that such an Orwellian intellectual climate exists on so many campuses, and the examples of outrages such as this one seem to pop up weekly. See Ashley Thorne's recent post detailing the latest incident involving a socal work student whose religious convictions ran afoul of a counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia. But what about boards of trustees, such as the one in the San Jose/Evergreen case? What could they, as the governing bodies at a public institution have been thinking? Apart from the deserved embarassment their school has incurred and the hefty settlement costs they've handed to taxpayers, what does academic freedom or First Amendment protections mean to them? Not much, I have to conclude, since they upheld the administration's outrage, without apparently seeing it as such. Kudos to FIRE once again, which seems to have a much firmer grasp of the academic enterprise and its mission than do many of the people to whom it's been directly entrusted.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Donald Downs (author of Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus) discusses the lawsuit UNC-Wilmington professor Mike Adams has brought against the school, in which he argues that its refusal to promote him was grounded in hostility to his writings and thus an infringement upon his First Amendment rights. Downs doesn't think the case is clearly black or white, but worries that the district court's ruling in favor of UNCW (the case is now on appeal to the Fourth Circuit) represents a further erosion of First Amendment protection for speech by public employees. I don't think this is an easy case either. We have here a collision between the First Amendment (or at least "First Amendment values" of uninhibited speech in the public realm) and another consideration that has, unfortunately, been given short shrift for most of the last century -- freedom of contract. I'm strongly inclined to say that employers and employees, public and private, should be free to enter into whatever contracts as they mutually agree. Professor Adams thought he deserved a promotion (a modification of his contract with the university), but the UNCW administration didn't agree. Should that decision be overridden in the courts because Adams' writings bothered the administrators? Does the First Amendment mean that public employees can never suffer any adverse consequences because of things they've said or written? Suppose we turn this case around so that the professor who wants the promotion is a rabid, hard-left socialist whose posts on, say, The Daily Kos, cause heartburn among the school's administrators. Would it be a blow to free speech if they told him that he won't get a promotion because his outside writings are such an embarrassment? Or would it be a sensible and harmless exercise in freedom of contract?
Those who work in the private sector have long known (right?) that your privacy ends at the steps of the workplace. Plan accordingly. The issue of whether this principle applied to the public sector arose in the case of Ontario v. Quon. The answer: Your public college administrators can read your email, texts, and see who you have called. Melancton Smith has a good blog on the case over at Beacon. It amazes me how few people realize this basic fact. On a college campus, the IT personnel have to be busy sniffing out the bandwidth hogs who are torrenting illegal movies, spreading malware, etc. They are good at monitoring the system -- probably better than most employers. For more on the limits of campus privacy, see my two-part Big Brother and U, Part I: Is Your University Reading your Email?
Several weeks ago, NAS President Peter Wood took note here of the inquiries by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had announced his intention look into the use of reasearch funds granted by the Commonwealth to controversial Penn State climatologist Michale Mann. In light of the so-called "climategate" revelations last Fall, Cuccinelli declared that there were sufficient grounds to justify an investigation of Mann's grant proposal to determine whether or not he had used fraudulent data in applying for public funding to underwrite his research . A firestorm of controversy arose, complete with grim comparisons to the trial of Galileo, the burning of witches and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. When Peter offered tentative and carefully qualified support for Cuccinelli's inquiries, a spirited discussion arose among our regular readers as well. The issue is still very much alive, and Slate carried a piece the other day by its senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger, who argue there that academic freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. We've never bought this position, and have elaborated our view of academic freedom frequently, as Peter did in this explication last year. We continue to believe that the AAUP's 1915 declaration holds up very well: academic freedom certainly covers the right of scholars to defend and advocate positions within their fields, even though these may run counter to the established wisdom, if they believe their research leads them to such conclusions. But academic freedom, in this understanding, does not entitle a scholar to hold court in the classroom on current political trends, the outcome of the world series or his part-time job as a bowling alley repair specialist. If he teaches at a public university, he can step out into the common area where the First Amendment protects his right to declare himself on these matters and just about any others as well. But neither the First Amendment nor academic freedom entitle any researcher, scientific or otherwise, to unscrutinized and unaccountable public funding. We've certainly yielded to no one in our own defense of traditional academic freedom, and we'll continue to stick to our guns. At the moment, though, the issue seems highly confused, and I hope I've been able to at least clarify our position on it.
Should campus groups be able to limit membership only to those who share a set of beliefs? Put it that way and the matter seems pretty innocuous. Ah, but if you state that in a pejorative way -- should they be allowed to discriminate against those who don't share that set of beliefs? -- then alarm bells go off in the academic world because "discrimination" is contrary to the cherished notion that all groups must be "diverse." And if it's a Christian group doing the discriminating, add flashing lights and sirens to the alarm bells. In today's Pope Center piece, I comment on the recently argued case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Even if five members of the Court have swallowed the diversity kool-aid and eventually decide against CLS and its First Amendment arguments, that doesn't mean that universities have to go along with the diversity uber alles approach of Hastings Law School. College officials can and should recognize that there is nothing harmful in letting campus groups set their standards for membership.