Two Temple University professors, Dr. Rachel DuPlessis and Dr. Jeff Solow read statements by their colleagues Ellen Schrecker and Jane Evans to the Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom. DuPlessis, reading Schrecker’s statement, said, “Just as in the 1950s, right-wing forces are threatening to impose political tests on the nation’s faculties. This time, however, the threat may be even more serious. For unlike the McCarthy era when professors came under fire for their extracurricular political activities, today it is their core academic functions, their teaching and research that are at issue.”
She also said that the academic freedom is a “professional attribute” not a right as a citizen, so it does not extend to students. Students, DuPlessis explained, have First Amendment rights, but not academic freedom. The statement also said, “If our democratic system is to retain the unfettered debate necessary for its survival, we must preserve the autonomy and the intellectual vitality of the academic community.”
On the second day of the hearings, William Scheuerman of American Federated Teachers and William Cutler of Temple Association of University Professors echoed these statements indicating that indeed, there is no problem at Temple University with infringement of students’ rights and university faculty should be left to police themselves.
Temple University president, David Adamany, testified that no students have complained about bias, irrelevant material and unfair grading in courses during the past five years and said policies are in place to deal with any such complaints.
Adamany was the first to speak before the committee January 9 at Temple University in Philadelphia. This was the third hearing of the committee; they have already heard testimony in Harrisburg and University of Pittsburgh.
It is a teacher’s job to encourage dialogue and free expression and to evaluate students on content not opinion, said Adamany. He also suggested that improvements could be made such as making sure students are informed of grievance and appeal procedures and they should be made less confusing.
“If students were going to complain about this I would know it,” stated Adamany, “I just do not know of any retaliation. I would be upset if intimidation was going on.”
Former university president, current professor of law at University of Virginia and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression Robert M. O’Neil also spoke before the committee. O’Neil detailed what students’ rights include and do not include, said that complaints are few and far between, declared that professorial bias (as evidenced by voting records) is exaggerated and untrue and concluded that universities should be able to continue to regulate themselves without government intervention.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.