Free Exchanges

, Julia A. Seymour, Leave a comment

Arriving at the Bolger Conference Center on Millersville University’s campus to listen to Pennsylvania state House committee hearings on academic freedom, I spotted yellow papers on windshields across the parking lot.

When I picked one up it read, “Stop the Academic Bill of Restrictions. Free Exchange on Campus. Do you want free speech? Make sure the legislature hears your opposition to the Academic Bill of Restrictions.”

During the hearings, Free Exchange on Campus had a couple of people lined up to testify as well as several people to speak during the public comment portion.

My question however was, “what is Free Exchange on Campus?” The information packet they provided me with told me what I needed to know.

“Free Exchange on Campus Coalition (FEOC) is a broad coalition of organizations that believes the free exchange of ideas on a college or university campus is central to the learning process. Today, this freedom is being threatened by ideological agendas, like the so-called “Academic Bill of Rights” initiatives. Free Exchange on Campus is committed to advocating for the rights of students and faculty to hear and express a full range of ideas unencumbered by political or ideological interference,” said the press kit.

A closer examination of the organizations in the FEOC reveals an interesting pattern. Members include a who’s who of teachers’ unions and left-wing groups typically hostile and oppressive to conservative viewpoints: American Association of University Professors (AAUP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Campus Progress/ Center for American Progress, Center for Campus Free Speech, National Association of State PIRGs, National Education Association and NEA student program, People for the American Way Foundation, Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, and the United States Student Association.

FEOC claims to be interested in open dialogue, yet they went into the Millersville hearings either intentionally or unintentionally using misinformation. One of their witnesses, Mr. Scot Celley of Lancaster Couny, spent several minutes railing against, a bill that passed the previous summer that did nothing other than set up the very committee he was testifying before. Celley, under the impression that HR 177 had not yet passed, attacked it saying that it would limit academic freedom and cause a chill to “spread over this Commonwealth like the glaciers of an ice age.”

The facts are that the committee formed through the passage of HR 177 is an investigative committee which is trying to determine the state of higher education in Pennsylvania in schools that are funded in turn with taxpayer money. I have not seen any evidence that the professors of Pennsylvania are afraid to speak their mind since the passage of HR 177.

While I can understand Mr. Celley’s misunderstanding, as he has not been the only one confused about what is going on, I wonder why didn’t the FEOC correct him before he testified? I believe representatives of the coalition were present at the Temple hearings two months earlier and knew the general format and stated intent of the legislative committee.

I know Jamie Horwitz of the AFT was at Temple University because he introduced himself to me and gave me his business card. This is the same Jamie Horwitz whose contact information is on an FEOC press release I received at Millersville. And according to Temple student Marlene Kowal who spoke at the first annual conference on Academic Freedom in Washington, D.C. in April, Megan Fitzgerald of Center for Campus Free Speech and the FEOC was speaking against the House Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Temple University classes.

Why haven’t groups like the FEOC allowed for an open dialogue to the legislative committee and allowed them to honestly discern the truth? I can only conclude that it is not the FEOC’s wish to foster debate on campuses, but rather to continue to deny that any problem exists and to stifle any honest look into the matter by helping spread misinformation because it is in their best interest to have no government oversight in Pennsylvania state colleges and universities. Or perhaps it is just that without misinformation they have no argument to make.

Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.