Free speech seems to be ever more unpopular on college campuses these days, where it’s increasingly regarded as an unwelcome nuisance. The administration at Drake University have decided that the public expression of individual students’ private political opinions is something that can’t be permitted on campus. So they’ve created a “free speech zone” nearby where – for the time being, at least – you can stump for your favorite candidate. I wonder if there’s a sign posted that reads “Restricted Area: Free Speech Allowed.”
Video of David Horowitz's presentation at Brooklyn College is here. Horowitz writes an extensive article about his talk at Brooklyn College on Frontpagemag, which appeared Friday. I attempted to serve as a moderator but was only moderately successful. The Brooklyn College Palestinian club's protests were aggressive.
University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs (author of the excellent book Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus) has an essay on Minding the Campus in which he discusses the battle taking place in Madison. Do college professors ever use their courses to propagandize on political issues? That's just a right-wing myth, say many defenders of the higher education establishment. Read the essay and you'll learn that quite a few of Downs' UW colleagues could not resist the temptation.
The Chronicle reports on the settlement the Naval Academy has been forced to make with the English professor it retaliated against after he criticized its "affirmative action" program. To call this an "embarrassment" is putting it mildly. The decision to go for a "diverse" student body rather than the best qualified is bad enough; to retaliate against a professor for speaking out is worse yet. After all of this, though, will the Naval Academy change anything?
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."
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.
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.
FIRE president Greg Lukianoff has an article in the Huffington Post about Yale' s qualms over a t-shirt with an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "I think of all Harvard men as sissies." Lukianoff wrote:
Unfortunately--and is it any surprise these days?--a couple of Yale administrators decided that the word "sissies" was too offensive because some people interpreted it as a slur against gay men. This was news to the Yale freshmen who, like me, see "sissies" as being funny primarily because it is such a ridiculous, silly, old-fashioned put down, somewhere between "cad" and "toots" as far as insults go. Besides, in context, Fitzgerald actually wrote, "I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be." Does anyone really think Fitzgerald was coming out as a success story of the ex-gay movement, or was he simply calling Harvard men, well, a bunch of sissies (modern translation: wusses, wimps, etc.)? The administrators were gearing up to ban the T-shirt, but the students backed down and changed the design.
From the student newspaper of the University of Massachusetts is an article by Thomas Moore (the student, not the Utopian) about the new policy for U Mass RAs: Don't call it the "holiday season"; call it the "winter season." I had a hard enough time as it is finding a card to send to extended family that actually read "Merry Christmas" on the front. Most said "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" or "Ho, Ho, Ho!" I thought things were bad enough. Now U Mass will try to erase even the concept of a holiday season in the name of political correctness. Moore encourages the RAs to disregard the policy in the name of liberty and free expression of their beliefs. Let's hope that if they do disregard it, the university does not try to discipline them.
Jeff Wiesenfeld, trustee of the City University of New York, has written a letter to the New York Post concerning an alleged terrorist's appearing as a speaker at Queens College (h/t Sharad Karkhanis). The Post reports that the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) invited "an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing" to speak. James Girdusky, vice president of Queens's College Republicans, has called for an end to funding of the MSA. Queens College argues that this is a free speech issue. Trustee Wiesenfeld writes that while free speech must be protected, the CUNY community ought to speak out. I wrote an email to President James Muyskens:
I am writing a blog for the National Association of Scholars concerning Trustee Wiesenfeld's recent letter to the New York Post concerning the spat between the QC Republican Club and the MSA. The article writes that Queens has taken the position that this is a free speech issue. First, if this is a free speech issue, do you apply free speech standards to "words that wound" other groups as well as Jews? Second, if a student applies for funding of a campus Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazi club, would you fund that as you fund the MSA, which has stimulated anti-Semitic feeling similar to what might be feared from a KKK-type group? Third, do you see a distinction between allowing the members of the MSA to speak and providing them with funding and campus support such as student center meeting rooms?
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has published a guide to help administrators craft school policies in such a way as to protect First Amendment rights on campus. "Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies" (download PDF) details the problems - bias reporting sites, free speech zones, undefined terminology in harassment policies, mandatory university values - that FIRE frequently encounters among institutional policies. NAS of course has also dealt with these problems. Our statement Sexual Harassment and Academic Freedom showed how the rights of individuals can be violated by misguided efforts to combat sexual harassment. In Tolerance, Diversity, Respect, OR ELSE, Williams Chokes Up, and Snitch Studies at Cal Poly, we highlighted freedom-threatening bias reporting systems at William & Mary, Williams College, and Cal Poly, respectively. And this spring, in a series of articles (beginning with Free to Agree), NAS exposed Virginia Tech's faculty promotion and tenure policy that included a commitment-to-diversity litmus test. We are welcome FIRE's new guide for protecting individual rights on campus, and we hope to see more and more college administrators heeding the counsel therein.
One day last April, most of the copies of the UNC conservative publication Carolina Journal were stolen. Who dunnit? No evidence was at hand and the matter was forgotten -- until the school's SDS chapter posted some photos on its Facebook page showing beyond doubt where the copies of Carolina Journal had gone. They were on the floor of the house of the SDS chapter's president, evidently service as a dropcloth during painting. Here is the post about the incident, with the pictures (since taken down from the SDS page, I understand). Maybe the SDS punks don't mind this at all. It might help them land jobs in the Obama regime's dissent-suppression (oops--"fairness") initiative.
Over at NAS.org, we've got a nice debate going between NAS and University of Alaska Professor Richard Steiner. After I wrote about him in "Sustainability Skepticism Has Arrived," I contacted Professor Steiner to let him know about the article. He subsequently wrote to the University's president Mark Hamilton to challenge him to a debate over academic freedom:
President Hamilton – Given recent circumstances, I would like to invite you to debate with me, openly and publicly, re: the issue of academic freedom, and the influence of corporate donations to the university. You have said many things in support of academic freedom over the years, but when push came to shove in my case, you made a decision in opposition to free speech. In 2002, you received an award for your support of academic freedom from a group calling itself the “National Association of Scholars”, who it turns out, actually opposes sustainability movements on today’s college campuses. They say that sustainability is “deceptive, coercive, closed-minded, a pseudo-religion, distorts higher education, shrinks freedom, programs people, is anti-rational, by-passes faculty, and is wasteful.” This group apparently supports free speech only when they agree with what is spoken, and opposes it when they disagree with what is spoken. Apparently this is your position as well. That you chose to accept an award fro this group calls into serious question the progressive character of the University of Alaska. All of this is an extremely serious transgression of the very role a university is supposed to fulfill in civil society. I look forward to your reply, and to debating this issue publicly and honestly. Sincerely, Rick Steiner, Professor
His challenge to President Hamilton, as well as his response to NAS which we posted unedited on our website, called into question our dedication to academic freedom. NAS president Peter Wood responded here. He wrote:
And, yes, we support the right of Professor Steiner to speak his mind about sustainability, but his academic freedom gives him no follow-on right to accept public funding under false pretenses. Sometimes we have to make choices. Taking money for scientific investigation and then using it to fund political advocacy isn’t an exercise in academic freedom. It is, at best, an act of deviousness. It sounds to me like a form of academic dishonesty, not an act of academic freedom. But let me hold that criticism in abeyance. If Professor Steiner can defend his actions without twisting the terms of academic freedom into self-serving knots, let him do so.
We hope this exchange will open up the doors of debate over the role of advocacy in higher education and the true meaning of academic freedom.
At the national NAS conference in January, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spoke on the state of free speech and civil liberties on campus. Here is the text of his speech, rich in links and civil liberties cases, where he correlates the rise of the speech code to the rise of college administrators.