Listening to testifiers at the Harrisburg Area Community College speak to the committee on academic freedom was like listening to a broken record with the same few measures of music being played over and over again.
Nearly everyone condemned the idea of legislative oversight of state-funded higher education and continued to say that there is no problem with academic freedom in Pennsylvania.
These final hearings of the Pennsylvania State House Select Committee on Academic Freedom featured testimony from a number of people including the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, but most of it was more of the same.
“We [PACCC] believe that higher education’s excellence depends on the autonomy and freedom of our institutions from government control of such activities as the hiring of faculty and the evaluation of students. However, we also have an obligation to responsibly maintain this freedom by having policies in place to ensure that students and faculty are not intimidated from expressing their views in a civil way. If these policies are violated, then violations must be addressed by the leadership of the institution—not by the legislature,” said Dr. Dustin Swanger, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Luzerne County Community College (LCCC).
Swanger said that the premise of academic freedom discussions going on in several states is that campuses are dominated by liberals who seek to brainwash their students.
“Are college campuses overwhelmingly liberal? I believe that many of the faculty on my campus would identify more closely with conservatives than liberals. Additionally, a recent UCLA Higher Education Research Institute study found that while 54 percent of public university professors consider themselves liberal or far left, 14 percent consider themselves to be conservative or far right and 31 percent consider themselves to be ‘middle of the road’. While the statistics would imply that there are more liberals than conservatives on campuses, when you factor in those that have identified themselves as conservatives or middle of the road, the ideological composition of our campuses is much more balanced than one might think,” said Swanger.
Who is Swanger kidding? The study he references has nothing to do with his college, which may have a more conservative makeup, but there is no research to prove it.
Swanger apparently thinks a 54 percent liberal composition of faculty is supposedly made up for by throwing the conservatives and the “middle of the road” [read fence-straddlers and people who ignore politics completely] faculty together. Even if it did they are still a minority with 46 percent.
Not to mention, the study Swanger references is mentioned in Patrick Kerkstra’s July 17, 2005 article, “Shaking the Core of Academic Speech,” but is not what most people would consider recent. Rather, Kerkstra correctly identifies this as a study from 2001, but Swanger did not mention the year in his testimony.
There are other studies, however, including one done by three political scientists: Stanley Rothman of Smith College, S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University and Neil Nevitte of University of Toronto. This study, based on 1999 data, was released in 2005 and covered by the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed among other publications.
This study found that based on the self-identification of faculty, 72 percent are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, leaving only 13 percent in the middle. When Rothman, Lichter and Nevitte broke down their numbers by discipline they found large gaps between liberals and conservatives [liberals held the majority] in English literature, performing arts, psychology, fine arts, and political science and a narrower gap [but still a liberal majority] in education, economics, nursing, engineering and business, according to InsideHigherEd.com.
Neither the study conducted by Daniel Klein of Santa Clara University, nor studies released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) indicating overwhelming liberal faculty, were mentioned by Swanger. But it wouldn’t have mattered, because Swanger concluded that even if there are many liberals in the academy that doesn’t mean it affects their teaching.
“As an administrator responsible for the academic programs on a college campus, I say with confidence that this [faculty espousing political views and students being unfairly graded for their politics] is not a problem,” testified Swanger.
Swanger said at LCCC he has never received a complaint from a student for unfair grading or being humiliated by a teacher because of their politics, and only once at a previous institution did he hear a complaint because a professor was speaking against the war in Iraq. He spoke to the professor and the comments were stopped.
“Because we take the issue seriously, every campus has an Academic Grievance Process designed to provide any students the ability to challenge a grade given by a faculty member,” explained Swanger.
In Swanger’s opinion, this is enough.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.