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Students for Academic Freedom  Mission and Strategy:

I. Mission Statement p.
II. The Principles Explained p.
III. Campaign Themes p.
IV. How to Implement These Goals p.
V. How to Research Campus Abuses p.
VI. Frequently Asked Questions p.
VII. Academic Bill of Rights p.

I. Mission Statement

Students for Academic Freedom is a national coalition of independent campus groups dedicated to restoring academic freedom and educational values to America’s institutions of higher learning.

Students for Academic Freedom is exclusively dedicated to the following goals:

1. To promote intellectual diversity on campus

2. To defend the right of students to be treated with respect by faculty and administrators, regardless of their political or religious beliefs

3. To promote fairness, civility and inclusion in student affairs

4. To secure the adoption of the “Academic Bill of Rights” as official university policy

II. The Principles Explained

1. To Promote Intellectual Diversity

Universities are institutions of learning not platforms for political parties or intellectual sects. They exist to serve all their students, not just those who share the political or particular beliefs of their professors, especially on matters where reasonable people disagree. They are obligated to make students aware of a broad range of serious intellectual perspectives, not just the perspectives that correspond to the beliefs of their professors. This has been a hallmark view of the academic profession since its beginnings.

In 1915 the American Association of University Professors issued a landmark report on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The premise of this report was that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth; that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge; and that no party or intellectual faction can be assumed to have a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, learning is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech. Indeed, as John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, even truth would become dead and formal if unchallenged by criticism and debate.

Unfortunately the atmosphere that prevails on most college campuses today does not foster intellectual diversity or the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. Liberal Arts faculties at most universities are politically and philosophically one-sided, while partisan propagandizing often intrudes into classroom discourse. It is appropriate for faculty to want open-minded students in their classes, not disciples. Faculty bias is reflected in the curriculum of courses available, in the manner in which they are taught, in readings assigned for classroom study, and in discussions only open to one side of a debate.

It is the goal of Students for Academic Freedom to secure greater representation for under-represented ideas and to promote intellectual fairness and inclusion in all aspects of the curriculum, including the faculty hiring process, the spectrum of courses available, reading materials assigned, and in the decorum of the classroom and the campus public square.

2. To defend students’ right to be treated with respect by faculty and administrators, regardless of their political or religious beliefs

Professors are hired to teach all students, not just students who share their political, religious and philosophical beliefs. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that professors and lecturers not force their opinions about philosophy, politics and other contestable issues on students in the classroom and in all academic environments. This is a cardinal principle of academic freedom laid down by the American Association of University Professors.

In The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the American Association of University Professors declared: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

In a 1970 clarification and re-endorsement of this principle, the AAUP said: “The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is ‘controversial.’ Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry, which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.” (“1970 Interpretative Comments,” endorsed by the 56th annual association meeting as association policy.)

In an academic environment professors are in a unique position of authority vis-à-vis their students. The use of academic incentives and disincentives to advance a partisan or sectarian view creates a environment of indoctrination which is unprofessional and contrary to the educational mission. It is a violation of students’ academic freedom. The creation of closed, political fiefdoms in colleges, programs or departments, is the opposite of academic freedom and is undeserving of public subsidy or private educational support.

The 1915 General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure clearly states that classroom indoctrination is impermissible. It admonishes faculty to avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.”

In 1967, the American Association of University Professors, in conjunction with a number of other higher education organizations, issued a Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students that reinforced and amplified its stance against classroom indoctrination by affirming the inseparability of “the freedom to teach and freedom to learn.” In the words of the report, “Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.”

Related violations of students’ academic freedom are as follows:

  • Politically influenced grading, an abuse common at many universities, is unprofessional and unacceptable, and should not be tolerated by university administrations. It is a violation of the most essential obligations of an educator.
  • When professors gratuitously single out political or religious beliefs for ridicule or express unchallengeable partisan or sectarian passions in the classroom or on campus, they are acting in an unprofessional manner, inappropriate to the teacher-student relationship.
  • When professors hold faculty conferences or “teach-ins” of a one-sided, unchallengeable, partisan or sectarian nature, these are not academic exercises and constitute breaches of professional responsibility. So does the use of departmental funds and facilities for politically partisan or ideologically one-sided events – a routine occurrence on campuses today.

3. To Promote Intellectual Fairness, Civility and Inclusion In Student Affairs

A university is not an arm of any political party. An institution of higher learning should be a place of civil discourse, not political sound bites and partisan smears. An atmosphere of civility and mutual forbearance and respect is indispensable to the serious discussion and consideration of ideas. Therefore, the university should adopt a policy of zero tolerance for the obstruction of speakers and classrooms, and for the destruction of campus publications and bulletins.

Because the university is not the arm of any political party but an institution whose purpose is to promote learning and the exchange of ideas, student programs of a partisan nature should be fair and balanced. The principle of campaign finance reform is recognized in the society at large but is currently absent from campus affairs where the vast preponderance of general student funds is devoted to promoting ideas at one end of the political spectrum. This is unbearable whatever set of partisan agendas should exercise power at any given moment.

Partisan bias and litmus tests in sponsorship and funding of student activities put the university on one side of the political debate. This is inappropriate and serves to create a partisan political atmosphere on campus, which is at odds with the university’s mission to promote the disinterested pursuit of learning and to foster the free and unbiased exchange of ideas. The allocation of student activities funds and the selection of visiting speakers should be conducted in a manner that observes the principles of intellectual fairness and inclusion. Students for Academic Freedom will advocate reforms that make the “public square” of the university a more inclusive and representative marketplace of ideas.

4. To Secure the Adoption of “The Academic Bill of Rights” as University Policy

The achievement of these principles of academic freedom will only be possible if they are adopted as official university policy. Students for Academic Freedom will therefore lobby university officials and trustees to adopt “The Academic Bill of Rights,” which embodies these principles. Students for Academic Freedom clubs at private institutions will appeal to alumni as well. Students for Academic Freedom clubs at public universities will appeal to governors, state legislators, boards of trustees and other appropriate officials and bodies to write The Academic Bill of Rights into educational policy and law.

III. Campaign Themes

This is a campaign to promote intellectual fairness, civility, reasoned intellectual pluralism and inclusion in higher education; to secure more representation for under-represented viewpoints; to end the tyranny of majority or minority viewpoints; and to create a positive learning environment for all students regardless of political or religious beliefs. It is a campaign to ensure that intellectual difference is fairly treated.

To sum up: The campaign is about Intellectual Fairness, Diversity, Civility, Reasoned Intellectual Pluralism, Inclusion and Respect for Intellectual Difference.

IV. How To Implement These Goals

1. Form a Students for Academic Freedom Club at (Your College Name). In forming your club, you may recruit members from all political factions and persuasions, provided they subscribe to the principles of academic freedom.

2. Log on to www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org and register your club with the Students for Academic Freedom Information Center.

3. Get your club authorized by the relevant student activities authorities at your school.

4. Secure financial support for your club from the relevant student activities authorities at your school. Insist on funding parity with similar non-partisan clubs.

5. Approach supportive faculty and alumni to form an advisory board for your club. This board will be a source of financial support and continuity.

6. Invite speakers to address the issue of campus bias. Set up debates between liberals and conservatives on campus bias and other topics. Having more than one perspective represented will illustrate the intellectual diversity principle. Get sponsorship for these debates from both liberal and conservative student clubs.

7. Set up a website for your club to post information about your research, activities, demands etc. Link your site to the Students For Academic Freedom Information Center at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

8. Research political bias and classroom indoctrination on your campus by interviewing students and making a record of specific incidents, including unprofessional faculty behavior in the classroom and on campus, obstruction of campus speakers, and destruction of student literature. Be careful to do this honestly and fairly.

9. Note and object to events that abuse the academic nature of the university. These include one-sided faculty political teach-ins, one-sided faculty conferences and one-sided faculty lecture series that are inappropriately partisan events in an academic setting. Make a list of these events and demand reforms from the appropriate university authorities to ensure representation of diverse viewpoints.

10. Note and object to one-sided reading lists, one-sided speakers programs, and lops-sided funding of student organizations.

11. Note and object to the absence of diversity among faculty in a particular department, in class curricula, and in classes offered. (See Section V, item 1 below)

12. Report these abuses in your college paper, on your college Internet forums, to local media and to www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org. Take the list of these abuses to parents and alumni and solicit funds to advertise your case and alert the campus community to the situation.

13. If possible, create a newsletter or produce a pamphlet that documents the abuses.

14. Go to the President of the University (always go to the highest level possible) with a list of documented abuses. Demand a redress of grievances, including an apology from the offending authority and the promulgation of a policy to correct the abuse. Demand that the university administration adopt “The Academic Bill of Rights” as an official university code.

15. If the University is unwilling to take corrective measures, notify the press, the public, alumni and other Students for Academic Freedom clubs through www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

16. If your academic institution is private, locate the chairman of the trustees’ “Development Committee,” which raises funds for the university, and appeal for help. If it is a public institution, make friends with your elected representatives on the Education Committees of your state Senate or Assembly. Seek help from them in addressing these problems. The maximum pressure point for all academic institutions is the flow of alumni and government funds that support the institution. Focus your activities on these vulnerable points of the university system. Continue the pressure until the authorities adopt and enforce “The Academic Bill of Rights.” Keep in mind that unless rights are enforced they are meaningless.

V. Suggestions For Researching Campus Abuses

1. Research reading lists by finding a sympathetic professor who can provide counsel on titles missing from the lists that would provide intellectual diversity and balance.

2. Interview students about classroom abuses – inappropriate partisan remarks, unprofessional conduct, politically influenced grades. Make a list of these abuses.

3. Research student activities budgets and make a list of the funds allocated to various student groups and campus speakers.

4. Make a list of commencement speakers for the last ten years; make a list of all invited and paid campus speakers for the last five years. Identify any lack of diversity you find on these lists.

VI. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Question: Is there a conflict of interest in appealing to the legislature for help in the case of public universities, since the principles of academic freedom seek to protect the university from political interference?

Answer: There is no conflict. The state legislatures and publicly appointed boards of trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayer-funded institutions and their tax-paying supporters. Among them is to insure that these institutions serve the whole community and not just a partisan political or philosophical faction. If public universities become politically partisan they act to subvert the democratic process, which is not what their creators intended. It is illegal under state patronage laws to use state-funded institutions for partisan purposes. No one has the right to create a closed political fiefdom at public expense. Such exclusionary practices are the very opposite of academic freedom. Most importantly, there is a world of difference between asking the legislature to defend principles of academic freedom, intellectual diversity and student rights, and asking them to interfere with the universities proper academic functions. Defending the non-partisan character of public institutions is a responsibility of legislators.

2. Question: Can a teacher express his or her personal opinions and political views in class? Should professors be denied the right to give their opinions on controversial issues?

Answer: Professors are citizens and have the right to express their opinions like everyone else. However, in the classroom they have a responsibility to stick to the subject matter of the course and to the field of their expertise. Tin the words of The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” Moreover, they have a professional responsibility to teach all their students, not just those students who agree with them politically or who share their views on religion. If gratuitous remarks are made about religious or political belief systems or the symbols of those belief systems, or if a professor expresses partisan opinions with non-scholarly passion, the effect is to create a negative and coercive learning environment for students who do not share these opinions. These are therefore examples of unprofessional conduct.

It is important to keep in mind that there is a difference in the standards of acceptability for discourse depending on who the speaker is. If the discussion is between students who are peers, the standards of acceptability are different than they are between professors and students. The relationship between professors and students is one of inequality. Professors have power over students’ futures. The trust relationship between teachers and students is crucial to the learning process. In order to create an environment in which students feel free to express themselves, professors must observe restraints, or their authority can be abusive. In particular, while there is nothing wrong with faculty members expressing strong individual opinions about the subject matter covered by their courses, they should always treat students with personal courtesy and encourage discussion, including dissents from their own viewpoints.

It is unfortunately not unusual for professors in today’s colleges to declare their political affiliations in inappropriate contexts and to invite students who disagree with them to drop their courses. This is unprofessional. Too many professors say proudly, “My teaching is an extension of my politics.” This is a violation of the professional responsibility of a teacher. Students are not there to be their political disciples.

When students fear they will be graded on the basis of their political or religious opinions, rather than their mastery of a course’s subject matter, or suffer other unspecified consequences, they are in effect being intimidated from expressing those opinions. This is an unacceptable outcome in a learning environment. It is important that students be able to express views during classroom discussions that are different from their professors’ views without fearing adverse consequences. The trust-relationship between teacher and student, which is indispensable to the learning process must be protected. Students for Academic Freedom will do everything possible to ensure that this is the case.

On the other hand, feelings are subjective and can be an unreliable standard of judgment. Feelings alone should not be used as a standard by which to judge professorial conduct. If students feel personally disrespected or abused, it is important for them to disclose their discomfort to the professor. A professor who is honestly presenting his or her subject matter – and not pursuing an agenda of political or religious indoctrination — will be receptive to a discussion of these matters and will take steps to assure students that no personal discourtesy is intended.

The crucial issues are whether the professor stays within his or her subject, and therefore adheres to the guideline principles of the American Associaton of University Professors, invites reasoned discussion, and treats his or her students with personal courtesy.

  • If, for example, a professor strays outside the subject matter of the course to make comments that convey contempt for conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, the religious or the non-religious — that is unacceptable.
  • If a professor remarks in no particular context that the President is a “moron” (as happens more often than one might expect) that sends a powerful message to students who belong to the President’s party that they are unwelcome in this classroom. Such behavior is unprofessional.
  • If a professor grades students using political criteria, or because the student, though understanding the course work, does not agree on a partisan issue, that is unacceptable behavior.
  • If a professor cancels his or her class for a protest, or attempts to recruit students for a political demonstration, that is unacceptable.

In general, while a professor is on campus or in an academic setting, he or she has professional responsibilities that make partisan political action unacceptable.

Here is an analogy. When President Reagan was shot he was taken to the hospital where he was operated on by a team of doctors. Just before the operation he joked, “Are any of you Democrats?” The President trusted the professional commitment of those doctors to heal all their patients, regardless of political persuasion. Students must have a similar trust in those who presume to teach them. Professors can be Democrats or Republicans or anti-war activists outside the university setting or within the restraints suggested above (for example on a panel specifically devoted to political issues that is truly diverse). But within the academic setting any behavior that serves to break the trust between teacher and student is unacceptable.

It is, above all, every professor’s responsibility to create an environment conducive to learning for all students in their charge — regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or political or religious belief.

3. Question: The term “hostile learning environment” has been used by feminists and other supporters of speech codes to infringe free speech and to limit the open exchange of ideas. How can we use similar terminology without encouraging the censors of free speech and free thought on campus? Besides, shouldn’t higher education be a “hostile environment” for everyone’s ideas? Isn’t a university a place where everyone who attends is forced to question their beliefs?

Answer: We have chosen to use the term “negative and coercive learning environment” to avoid the anti-free speech implications of the more familiar term, although it is perhaps best to refer to the positive issues of freedom from indoctrination and respect for intellectually serious ideas. The forces of censorship on campus have used the term “hostile learning environment” to limit free speech. But this is a bad use of the term with the intent to embargo the expression of different viewpoints. Our intent, by contrast, is to expand the arena of free speech by promoting civil discourse and protecting viewpoints that are currently intimidated or suppressed. A university should definitely provide a challenging environment for ideas, but not one that penalizes genuine debate.

A negative and coercive learning environment is not created because individuals disagree with each other. (It is characteristic of the anti-free speech attitudes of those who refer to “hostile learning environments” that they embargo all speech they consider offensive even among peers.) It is created when individuals in authority convey that debate is illegitimate or treat students who disagree with them with personal discourtesy. Teachers are hired to teach all their students not just those who agree with them. The agenda of Students for Academic Freedom is to promote and protect diversity of viewpoints. An environment that encourages vigorous, reasoned and civil debate is by definition non-hostile and positive. The creation of a positive learning environment, which is respectful of serious intellectual diversity, describes our agenda.

VII. Academic Bill of Rights

The Academic Bill of Rights

I. The Mission of the University.

The central purposes of a University are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and general development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large. Free inquiry and free speech within the academic community are indispensable to the achievement of these goals. The freedom to teach and to learn depend upon the creation of appropriate conditions and opportunities on the campus as a whole as well as in the classrooms and lecture halls. These purposes reflect the values — pluralism, diversity, opportunity, critical intelligence, openness and fairness — that are the cornerstones of American society.

II. Academic Freedom

1. The Concept. Academic freedom and intellectual diversity are values indispensable to the American university. From its first formulation in the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, the concept of academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth, that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and that no party or intellectual faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech. In the words of the General Report, it is vital to protect “as the first condition of progress, [a] complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results.”

Because free inquiry and its fruits are crucial to the democratic enterprise itself, academic freedom is a national value as well. In a historic 1967 decision (Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York ) the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a New York State loyalty provision for teachers with these words: “Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, [a] transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned.” In Sweezy v. New Hampshire, (1957) the Court observed that the “essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities [was] almost self-evident.”

2. The Practice. Academic freedom consists in protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself. This means that no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through any other administrative means by the academic institution. Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through its control of the university budget.

This protection includes students. From the first statement on academic freedom, it has been recognized that intellectual independence means the protection of students – as well as faculty – from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature. The 1915 General Report admonished faculty to avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.” In 1967, the AAUP’s Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students reinforced and amplified this injunction by affirming the inseparability of “the freedom to teach and freedom to learn.” In the words of the report, “Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.”

Therefore, to secure the intellectual independence of faculty and students and to protect the principle of intellectual diversity, the following principles and procedures shall be observed.

1. All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure solely on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

2. All tenure, search and hiring committee deliberations will be recorded and made available to appropriately constituted authorities empowered to inquire into the integrity of the process. (The names of committee members may be redacted). No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

3. Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

4. Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences will respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

5. Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

6. Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

7. An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.

8. Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

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