Debating Academic Freedom

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Debating Academic Freedom

Ari Armstrong

Some of those pushing colleges to be more open to "conservative" points of view sincerely want to create an atmosphere of open inquiry and intense, rigorous debate. On the other hand, others merely want to reduce the influence of the left and increase the influence of the right. That is, if colleges happened to hire mostly Republicans, I sincerely doubt we'd hear as much complaining from the Republicans (and indeed the left would be on the offensive).

As a libertarian uncommitted to either left or right, I merely sit back in amazement and wonder how so many people can so steadfastly ignore the core issue. Deciding whether colleges should hire more Republicans or more Democrats (or more Libertarians or more Communists or whatever) simply isn't the proper business of government. Indeed, government should have absolutely nothing to do with higher education. If that were the case, the matter of "academic freedom" would not be a political debate.

I must, however, note the overt hypocrisy of the Republicans, who sometimes pay lip service to free markets but who often work to increase the size and scope of the state. I have yet to hear a single Republican publicly propose getting Colorado government out of the higher education business. (John Andrews has expressed support for the notion of separating school from state, but to my knowledge he has not publicly raised that issue relative to the current debate.)

Also, whereas the Republicans often express a concern for "the law of unintended consequences," they seem completely oblivious to how that law might apply in the present case. Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine is not so forgetful. He writes:

Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions. As broad principles, these are solid stuff. As enforced rules, they open the door to, say, a biology student lodging an official complaint because her professor gave short shrift to Creationism, or her boyfriend demanding a higher grade because he's convinced his poorly composed paper on the abortion debate was actually marked down for its political content. Suddenly, "academic freedom" starts to sound like an encroachment on the freedoms of the faculty.

Below, reproduced with permission, are recent comments by John Andrews and Terrance Carroll about the matter. (Carroll covers several other issues as well.) These are two of my favorite legislators, and that fact, coupled with the fact that they're usually considered to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, only demonstrates the absurdity of that spectrum and the potency of the libertarian approach. Their comments are offered in the spirit of open inquiry and intense, rigorous debate. (My previous comments are available elsewhere.)

John Andrews

September 15, www.ColoradoSenate.com -- This is [the] true story about a false report. You could call it the portrait of a panic. Or call it the lifespan of a lie. Was it a deliberate lie, or merely careless reporting? Hard to say.

But this falsehood needs correcting, because it not only smears me personally (that's not new). It also misleads the public about a serious problem -- the problem of dominant ideologies tending to smother dissent on our campuses, at the expense of academic freedom.

This summer I began working on legislation that would protect students and faculty at our state-funded universities against political bias in the key decisions of their academic lives -- hiring and promotion, grades and free expression.

As a result, in the best Orwellian fashion, I now stand accused of trying to force political bias INTO those very decisions. All it took was a couple of distorted news stories, and vested interests on the left did the rest. In a week of wild overreaction, I've been called Hitler, McCarthy, a Nazi and a totalitarian. Really.

It started with a Sept. 6 story in the Rocky Mountain News stating that I wanted to "require Colorado colleges and universities to seek more conservatives in faculty hiring" -- despite my having told the reporter that I support no such requirement. A Denver Post story two days later repeated the allegation, again contrary to what I told that reporter. Both writers apparently felt they could read my mind.

The Post did correctly quote me as saying, "This is about tolerance. It is about a process, not outcomes. It is extremely important that all viewpoints are protected." The process for protecting all viewpoints, to which I was referring and from which my proposed bill is modeled, is called the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Rocky did correctly describe the Academic Bill of Rights, in a midweek editorial, as a document that "defines academic freedom and lays out practices that would protect it while fostering intellectual diversity." And the editors correctly noted that the document is "studiously neutral politically."

But none of this has prevented a loud howl from paranoid pundits and professors who are somehow SURE that Senator Andrews and Governor Owens want to mandate the hiring of fixed numbers of Republicans, that we are affirmative action hypocrites, quota fascists and worse.

You can judge for yourself by reading the full text of the Academic Bill of Rights as originally drafted by author and activist David Horowitz. It's on the web at StudentsforAcademicFreedom.org.

The legislation I'm considering would not use Horowitz's identical language, but it's unapologetically based on his compelling idea that everybody on campus should be able to count on fairness. Shouldn't they?

You promise fair treatment for all, up front, and then you give redress afterward for those who feel unfairly treated. You do NOT, as I tried to tell the Post, mandate outcomes. Any such mandate, whether official or unwritten, is precisely the rigged game that I and other defenders of academic freedom object to.

And a rigged game, consciously or otherwise, is what we've seen on campuses ever since the 1960s. As I told the Rocky in that first story on Sept. 6, there has been an unwritten blacklist "which has excluded conservative thought and voices more and more." To contend that there is no liberal-left dominance of academia is, as the Post editorialized on Sept. 13, "laughable." The professors insult our intelligence when they dismiss such dominance as urban legend.

The only urban legend here is the now-widespread slur that Andrews wants to trample academic freedom with ideological intervention and political quotas. My bill would do just the opposite. It was set for a December release, but opponents sought to gain by publicizing it early and falsely. Here, with the help of the Internet to bypass media filters, I want to set the record straight as follows:

I hold that quotas at our universities are never justified for any reason. Discrimination is always wrong, no matter whether it's based on race, religion, or political beliefs.

It is to PREVENT such discrimination, to provide fairness for students and faculty of whatever political or religious persuasion, that I favor an academic bill of rights on Colorado campuses. Academic freedom is the lifeblood of higher education. To guarantee it, public policy should affirm that:

1. Students have a right to be graded on the merits of their work, without regard to their political or religious beliefs.

2. Students have a right to expect that course content in all fields -- especially those most easily politicized, the humanities and social sciences -- will reflect diverse scholarly viewpoints.

3. Students have a right to expect that speaker invitations, as well as funding for speakers and other student activities, will respect academic freedom and reflect intellectual diversity.

4. Faculty have a right to expect that decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, and tenure will be based on the merits of their work, without regard to their political or religious beliefs.

5. Faculty have a right to expect that there will be intellectual diversity in the makeup of committees that conduct searches, hire applicants, and grant tenure.

That and that alone is my version of the academic bill of rights. Its guarantees could be enacted by governing boards or the legislature. Its remedies could be administrative or judicial. Its wording could be revised and probably improved upon, I'm sure.

But regardless of those details, there can be no doubt that left and right alike, devout and atheist alike, would only benefit from such impartial safeguards as years pass and the ideological pendulum swings. After all, political pluralism, open debate, and tolerance of all viewpoints aren't the property of any party. They are simply the American way.

The academic bill of rights is an expression of freedom, not a repression of it. To suggest otherwise is a vicious lie. What will be the further lifespan of that lie here in Colorado? What's the chance of truth overtaking falsehood in this little firestorm? Is there a journalist somewhere who will help calm the panic, and maybe explore the mentality that fed it? Will policymakers move to protect academic freedom for our faculty and students? Stay tuned.

Yours for self-government,
Senator John Andrews

Terrance Carroll

Rep. Terrance Carroll's E-newsletter, September 17, 2003

Colorado's Prisons: What Can We Do?

Last Friday, I visited the East Canon Correctional Complex in Canon City. This complex is the largest grouping of correctional facilities in Colorado. While there I visited the Colorado Territorial Prison, Colorado State Penitentiary, Colorado Women's Correctional Facility, and the Fremont Correctional Facility.

I came away from my visit with a fresh perspective on Colorado's prisons. Generally, I do not favor building more prisons as an approach to fighting crime. I am firmly committed to that principle. However, prisons are a necessary evil. Colorado has a responsibility to the staff and inmates to ensure that are prisons are humane, safe, and that are inmates have the opportunity to be rehabilitated.

I left the East Canon Complex with a new appreciation for the difficult and dangerous nature of the work done by Colorado's correctional officers. These are jobs most of us would not want to do. I was on a cell block with 3 guards and close to 200 inmates. State budget cuts have forced the Department of Corrections to do more with less. In one facility alone,more than 31 correctional officers were layed off.

Many inmates are double bunked in cells designed for one inmate. In my opinion, this is not an acceptable situation. Between the overcrowding, staff reductions, and cuts in educational and job training programs Colorado's prisons are in a difficult situation.

Our legislature and Governor must make some difficult decisions and rethink its view of criminal justice. I believe that we need to continue to explore alternative sentencing options for non-violent drug offenders and possibly restructure our sentencing classifications. The first step to ensuring safe and humane prisons is rational sentencing policies.

Sen. Andrews & the Academic Bill of Rights

I was disheartened to find that Sen. John Andrews chief concern with Colorado's higher eduction system is the political orientation of the faculty. Although seemingly harmless on the surface, the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" is an attempt to introduce an ideological litmus test into faculty hiring decisions. I think we can all agree that our students deserve a "fair and balanced" educational experience (sorry Fox News), but this is not the way to accomplish that goal.

Sen. Andrews and his supporters in the House and Senate are demonstrating just how far out-of-step they are with the people of Colorado. At a time when 39% of Colorado high school students don't go to college; when tuition at state colleges and universities is soaring; and when a recent Manhattan Institute study shows that at 68% Colorado's high school graduation rates ranks 35th nationally to be focused on the political affliation of college faculty shows skewed priorities and little concern for the people of Colorado.

Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, passing through Denver on September 26th, is a national mobilization to focus public attention on workers rights and the injustices of current immigration policies. Buses filled with immigrant workers and their allies will cross the United States from our major border cities, carrying a message to Washington and the American public that freedom should be a right, not a privilege, in our country.

The goal of the campaign is to demonstrate wide national support for meaningful reform of immigration laws as we encourage civic participation by new and future citizens. The IWFR will educate the public and elected officials about three key issues:

1) the need to provide a “road to citizenship” for all immigrant workers;

2) the need to allow immigrant workers to reunite their families;

3) the need to protect the rights of immigrants in the workplace.

The IWFR is being planned and carried out by a coalition of unions, immigrant and civil rights groups, religious institutions, student and community organizations, elected officials and others.

A community reception is being planned the evening of September 26th, at St. Joseph's Church - 6th Ave. & Galapago, starting at 5:30pm with dinner, music, and a chance to share the good work that is happening in Colorado and across the country in support of justice for all.

Amendment 33 and Referendum A

I am opposed to both of these upcoming ballot initiatives.

Amendment 33 is being misidentified as a effort to increase tourism in Colorado. In reality, this initiative expands gambling in Colorado by allowing dog tracks to set up video slot terminals on-site. Currently, this type of gaming device is limited to the casions in Colorado's mountain communities. If Colorado's viability as a tourist location depends on this initiative, then we are in some serious trouble. The only people this initiative benefits are the huge corporate gaming interests.

Referendum A is the water bond initiative. This initiative is based on the faulty premise that Colorado's drought was worsened by lack of adequate water storage. This is not true. Our drought was worsened by conservation efforts; rapid growth; and an outdated water laws. Referendum A would hurt the Western Slope and is illconceived with no clear purpose or need.

Auto Insurance Town Hall Meetings

Just a quick reminder that the town hall meetings I am hosting on Colorado's new auto insurance law start next week. Please attend and get straight talk on what the tort systems means for you.

Sept. 23 (Tuesday), 6:45-8:45pm, @ the Park Hill Branch of the Denver Public Libraries -The Park Hill Branch is located at 4705 Montview Blvd., Denver 80207. The phone number of the library is 303-331-4063. The meeting will take place in the community room in the basement.

Sept. 30 (Tuesday), 6:00-8:00pm, @ the Schlessman Family Branch of the DPL -The Schlessman Family Branch is located at 100 Poplar St., at the corner of 1st and Quebec. The phone number for the library is 720-865-0000. The meeting will be held in the large community room.

Oct. 9 (Thursday), 6:00-8:00pm, @ the Montbello Branch of the DPL -The Montbello Branch is located at 12955 Albrook Dr., Denver 80239. The phone number for the library is 303-373-0767. The meeting will be held in room 1 on the first floor directly ahead of the library entrance.

Oct. 23 (Thursday), 6:00-8:00pm, @ Dian Callaghan's home -The Callaghan home is at 119 Crameria St., Denver 80220. The phone number is 303-388-5104 in case you have trouble finding the house.

State Representative Terrance Carroll
PMB 134
4860 Chambers Road
Denver, CO 80239
Phone: 303-866-2909
Fax: 303-576-8667
Web site: www.terrancecarroll.com
E-mail: terrance@terrancecarroll.com

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.freecolorado.com