In a step that reflects the growing influence of the academic freedom campaign, the administration of the City University of New York has proposed that the university’s board adopt new policies for vetting student complaints of mistreatment in the classroom.
While CUNY’s administrators insist that there is no connection between their efforts and the Academic Bill of Rights, the similarity between this measure and the recent policy changes at Penn State and Temple University which were sparked by SAF’s efforts are hard to miss.
The two Pennsylvania universities recently became the first in the nation to adopt student-specific policies on academic freedom, giving students the right to protest if their professors use the classroom as an ideological soapbox and created grievance procedures for students to follow if their rights are abused. This much needed change in policy was inspired by the academic freedom hearings conducted by a select committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature during 2005-2006.
Apparently faculty leaders see the similarity between CUNY’s proposed policy changes and the academic freedom revolution in Pennsylvania too, as they are already expressing concern that the new policy will be seen as a victory for David Horowitz and SAF.
In an article in InsideHigherEd.com, union president Barbara Bowen, states that it’s difficult to ignore “the political context” that this policy change is taking place in and expressing concern that “this would be a win for whatever groups want to politicize the classroom and intimidate and silence faculty”—a fallacious description of SAF commonly used by teachers’ union officials.
When questioned by InsideHigherEd.com on the reasons for the proposed policy change, CUNY’s General Counsel Frederick Schaffer responded by echoing the language of the Academic Bill of Rights. “Professors are entitled to have a point of view, to express a point of view, and to teach as they see fit as a teacher,” he said. “On the other hand, occasionally, professors’ conduct could spill over into something that could be thought of as abusive or discriminatory.”
CUNY’s public image has suffered from several well-publicized cases of academic freedom violations over the past several years. In the Fall of 2004, the administration of Brooklyn College disbanded its student government just as the body was about to vote on the Academic Bill of Rights. The administration eventually relented due to public protests and the involvement of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In 2005, professor K.C. Johnson was threatened with an “Integrity Committee” investigation after he openly criticized Brooklyn College’s litmus test for education students whereby students are evaluated on their commitment to “social justice.”
“CUNY’s proposed policy change is very important because it indicates that campus administrators are seeing the wisdom in acting now to protect students’ academic rights rather than waiting for media exposure of abuses to create a damaging public backlash,” commented David Horowitz, Chairman of Students for Academic Freedom. “As we continue to make our case, and build momentum behind the academic freedom movement, more and more administrations will take steps to correct the abuses occurring on their campuses.”
Sara Dogan has served as the director of Students for Academic Freedom.