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Academic Rights Bill Wronged

One would think that with the evidence of academic bias stacking up more overwhelmingly by the decade that the higher education establishment would welcome any attempt to introduce a bit of intellectual diversity to their campuses, especially since they claim to be committed to same. Guess again.

“Since the students who hosted me were almost invariably conservative, it was also my custom to ask them how many professors they could identify who were likely to sponsor their group,” author and activist David Horowitz [1] discloses in his latest book. “The question provided me with a rough estimate of the number of conservatives available to counsel and support them.”

“Almost invariably the answer was ‘two or three.’” The dominant faculty Left feels no such constraints.

We’ve usually discovered that they are the source of such inhibitions on an ever diminishing conservative minority. Early in the decade, Horowitz crafted a proposal designed to empower students and “take politics out of the classroom,” an effort he describes in Reforming Our Universities: The Campaign For An Academic Bill Of Rights [2].

Ultimately, his Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR [3]) was a set of recommendations. Chiefly, ABOR recommends that:

1. All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

2. No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

3. Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

4. Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

Five years ago, I noted the startling similarity between ABOR and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) statements on academic freedom. Nonetheless, the AAUP [4] came out foursquare against ABOR, a reflection of the depth of the organization’s actual commitment to academic freedom.

Even more perfidious was the flip flop of Penn State professor Michael Berube [5] who initially okayed ABOR, then trashed it, mostly on behalf of the AAUP, of which he is a prominent member. In Reforming Our Universities, Horowitz features an e-mail Berube sent when the former asked the latter to review a draft copy of ABOR.

Berube did object to one provision. “The Academic Bill of Rights looks fine to me in every respect but one: the taping of all tenure, search, and hiring committee deliberations,” Berube wrote. Horowitz removed the provision.

“I especially like point 4, since I regard all questions in the humanities as unsettled, and have often complained about the academic mode in which people write, ‘as Foucault has shown…,’” Berube claimed in the electronic missive. “After all, this ain’t mathematics, and we don’t deal in proofs.”

“‘As Foucault has argued’ is a better way to proceed, followed by ‘Foucault’s critics contend…’”

Full disclosure: When I started at Accuracy in Academia, AIA’s founder, Reed Irvine [6] himself, buzzed me and aksed for a copy of ABOR. I handed him one. He buzzed me 15 minutes later and said, “We should support this.” We always have.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [7].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [8]