Good News on Free Speech

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Professors and students have won a few pivotal victories for academic freedom but, while the good news is welcome, the bad news is…well, a good way to describe most of what is happening in education today.

For one thing, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is catching up to reality. “Mercifully, the speech code mania of the late 80s and early 90s has abated,” the AAUP’s Robert M. O’Neil writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Offensive slurs and the like may be no more acceptable these days than ever, but they are less likely to be proscribed by campus rules.”

“Informal constraints do and should exist, including condemnation by senior administrators, but such uncongenial people need not be punished or banished.” With the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) able to devote a whole website to current speech codes, O’Neil’s optimism may be premature but his remarks do break the AAUP’s two-decade silence on the trend.)

And, Brooklyn College has abandoned its plans to investigate history professor K. C. Johnson. Professor Johnson aroused the ire of the powers-that-be at BC, this time, for making statements about the college’s requirement that education students be committed to “social justice.” BC, it seems, dropped its investigation when the FIRE made some inquiries of its own.

Speaking of social justice, School of Social Work candidate Bill Felkner will get to pursue the internship of his choice at Rhode Island College. RIC also defines social justice in a manner that Felkner found problematic in the choice of approved apprenticeships in his field that the college offered him.

At the elementary and secondary school level, a federal judge slapped a ban on the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in some California public schools. William Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights suggests a creative response to this imaginative ruling.

“Now that U. S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton has said he would sign a restraining order banning the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in some California school districts, the time has come for patriotic teachers in those schools to practice civil disobedience,” Donahue said recently. “They need to lead their students in the Pledge, bellowing the dreaded words ‘under God.’”

“But nothing should be done until the television cameras are in place—the sight of teachers being handcuffed by the police would be an invaluable teaching moment.” Yes it would.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.