Academic Freedom Bills: Be Alarmed. Be Very Alarmed

"Academic Freedom" bills seem to come in two flavors: Those that protect students from the possibility of learning certain things, and those that protect subversive teachers from getting in trouble for being bad teachers. In both cases, they are bills typically introduced into state legislatures by conservative republicans expressing concern with the Liberal Bias. There is a vague institutional connection between the concept of Academic Freedom Bills and the organization founded by conservative David Horowitz, "Students for Academic Freedom." The motto of this organization is "You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story."

The core idea of this form of "Academic Freedom" is this: David Horowitz and his ilk define certain issues, or positions on issues, as legitimate perspectives even if the preponderance of evidence denies this legitimacy. For instance, the reality and importance of global warming as a phenomenon, as an economic problem, and as an ecological crisis is not valid according to the right wing. Global warming is only acceptable as a topic of study in an educational setting if it is taught along side "alternative" views that suggest that it is just as likely, or more likely, that global warming is a left wing conspiracy, or that the evidence for global cooling is just as strong, or that there is widespread verifiable evidence that what some see as global warming is entirely within the range of natural climatic variation. Evolution or Darwinism has never explained the evolution of a single species, nature is too complex to be explained by Natural Selection, and "alternative theories" such as Intelligent Design Creationism are at least as valid as the Theory of Evolution. And so on.

Both of these assertions contain aspects that politicize the issue at hand, and to varying degrees, inject religious belief into the relevant science.

Now, "Academic Freedom" refers to some form of rights to be established for students or teachers. Faculty shall not be hired and fired, tenured or not, etc. on the basis of religious or political belief. From SFAF's academic bill of rights:

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. ... 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.

... and so on.

That is the logic of "Academic Freedom" as defined by the right wing. A student might do poorly on the Intro Human Evolution test because he does not properly answer questions like this:

23) Which of the following is not a technique used by paleoanthropologists to estimate the age of ancient hominid fossils?

a) Radioactive decay methods such as Potassium-Argon dating;
b) Reference to Biblical analyses such as that of Bishop Ussher;
c) Faunal dating that uses presence or absence of key marker species;
d) Stratigraphy;
e) Paleomagnetism

A student who gets this kind of question wrong because they refuse to learn the science of palaeoanthropology, or do learn some of it but chose to be subversive in their activities in the classroom, could not be given a poor grade according to some "Academic Freedom" laws.

The "academic freedom" laws are obviously written with language that can appear to be liberal-minded and helpful to both faculty and students. This is in a sense an implementation of the Wedge Strategy; Standards, policies, or legislation that appear to be protective of good education are introduced, whereby the language of these documents creates very permeable loopholes through which religious instruction or politically motivated ideas can easily pass.

This is of course absurd. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects students from the imposition of religious instruction in public institutions. But the "Academic Freedom" movement insists on conservative, typically evangelical Christian dogma as part of the "spectrum of scholarly viewpoints." Political movements or organizations are prohibited from using certain venues to promote their causes, but the "Academic Freedom" movement defines certain purely political views as being part of the "spectrum of scholarly viewpoints." If every single administrator, teacher, everyone else involved in education, was uninterested in imposing Right-Wing religious or political beliefs on the students, then the wording of the Academic Freedom Bills would be irrelevant. They do not typically insist on any particular viewpoint being covered in the coursework. But any given teacher, administrator, or student who wishes to exploit the wording of these documents to indurate the educational process with Christian Fundamentalism or Right Wing Politics is suddenly, under these rules, allowed to do so. That is the Wedge Strategy.

Academic freedom bills have been introduced in many states over the last several years, and on the national level as well (The Santorum Amendment for the No Child Left Behind law). Currently, there are bills in motion in Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri. "Academic Freedom" bills of rights exist at various colleges and universities as we speak.

I formerly taught the Big Human Evolution class at a large unnamed university (note: I've taught this class at several universities, so you cannot possibly figure out which one I'm referring to). One year I received a very disturbing note from one of my students. It claimed that I had violated his academic freedom, and that something was going to happen because of this. A short time later, a local rep who happened to be from the same town and had the same last name as this student introduced that state's version of the Academic Freedom bill. That bill did not make it to consideration by committee. I guess I should feel proud to have been part of the process.

Related reading:

Teachers Under Fire

Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design

Conservapedia on "Academic Freedom" (includes links to Horotitz and SFAF)

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I like Greg Laden's taxonomy of Horwitzian Academic "Freedom" bills: "Academic Freedom" bills seem to come in two flavors: Those that protect students from the possibility of learning certain things, and those that protect subversive teachers from getting in trouble for being bad teachers.

Actually, Blake, I think it's spelled shite.
I consider myself conservative and I hate that cesspool of misinformation. Maybe I should stop calling myself conservative...

The supposedly even-handed wording of these bills is what causes a lot of people to think they're fair a good idea, and the obvious loopholes for creationism makes them look appealing to evangelicals etc. Would it be helpful to point out that these even-handed, loophole-filled bills would also probably allow the teaching of ideologicaly driven nonsense such as the "scholars" who have seriously studied the lowered mental capacity of blacks, vs. whites, vs. asians in science classes? You can find supposedly "scholarly" work on nearly any ridiculous topic.

I think from now on we're going to have to filter the names Republicans give things to figure out what they mean, because their selected names for their legislation are now obviously more useful as tools for inciting ppositive emotion rather than short, descriptive titles that represent faithfully the ideas within. Just a few recent examples will suffice to show what I mean:

Academic Freedom Laws - return religious influence to academia

Protect America Act - Reduces the amount of due process needed to conduct surveillance on a target "reasonably believed to be outside the US"
** (but as long as they can assert reasonable belief that they could be outside the US, the target can ACTUALLY be in the US)

Patriot Act - Seeks to reduce individuals' civil rights to ease the burden on the government in finding "terrorists" or other threats to the nation

It's as if every day is opposite day for these people. I know they have a low opinion of the intelligence of American voters, but from these titles it truly looks like they think we are utterly stupid.

By brokenSoldier (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

"I know they have a low opinion of the intelligence of American voters, but from these titles it truly looks like they think we are utterly stupid."

They know most Americans are utterly stupid, and they don't have to worry about the few who see through their B.S..

I believe that David Horowitz committed a book called something like "The Professors: The 101 most dangerous Academics in America".

He defames anyone who doesn't agree with his extremely extreme rightwing politics. He is with the extreme right Campus Watch which has engaged in campaigns to deny tenure to professors that disagree with them.

Academic Freedom is a great idea. While it gives students more freedom to question "liberal bias" in the public schools, the concept will not permit the teachers to teach about "liberal bias" per say. It will open the door to show other viewpoints especially with the "global warming" issue and other views that question some of the aspects of Evolution.

This is very upsetting to liberals, atheists, and so as they loose a bit of power in the educational field. Perhaps more upsetting to the ACLU who has ignored Muslim charter schools. Currently this is no Academic Freedom bill passed in Minn...But a religious school is being funded by taxpayer dollars. Perhaps it's the reason why the ACLU is not as concern is because it's not a "Christian" school.

Rather than just showing what is now called; "Climate Change" rather than "Global Warming" as conclusive like "Global Cooling" was in the 1970's. It can show various science that question it. To show the earth has gone through naturally warmed and cooled throughout it's history and can use Greenland as an example. And using primitive data for temperatures from the 1800s to early 1900s could not be as accurate as it is today. Also using assumptions in temperature data where nobody was there monitoring it until later on in history like the North Pole and assume the average temperature of say the late 1800s.

Academic Freedom doesn't allow for one particular view point on questionable issues or issues of debate to have to agree with the liberal establishment. Academic Freedom also is not saying you have to believe in one issue or the other like the liberal establishment would. But liberals are fearful the students would not always believe their side of things or be as knowledgeable about their side if they all the students learned. The problem with that is, students are smart enough to learn both and could give the right answers to evolutionist leaning schools and intelligent design.

I believe creationism can be taught much better in the private schools than the public schools (which also includes home schools) which is influenced by too many special interest groups.

Michael. Are you sure you are not trying to push your particular religion into the classrooms were you are neither teacher or student? Is that not a kind of sin to do that?

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Shouldn't it be "to protect bad teachers from getting in trouble for being bad teachers"?

Just over a couple of years ago, David Horowitz got smacked down by Peter Steinberger (Reed College) in a debate over his proposed academic freedom bill.

The link to download the audio is at the bottom of this page. It's fun! Horowitz is almost reduced to tears.

I hate to be a spoiler, but the other side of the coin is the that ever fearful whitefeminism did great domestic violence to the nation, and 'the family' when it passed bills like VAWA(why does that sound so much like WaA-AaaW-wAAA?) and used newspeak to describe a situation where violence hoaxes (FAIR SuperBowl Sunday) and debunked child abuse scandals defined men, and particularly 'whitemen' as criminals, doubling the rate of white male incarceration in the last decades\

and doubled the prison population in general.

By the real Bobby… (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

What's a "whitemen"? Is it something like a whitefish? Furthermore, what's "whitefeminism"? I didn't realize there was much intersection between Ms. magazine and the Klan.

If you're going to complain about newspeak, maybe you should stop making up nonsensical words.

By Matthew L. (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Matthew L.: I have been wondering that same thing for years! Exactly what is a 'whitman'? But I hear they are responsible for every evil thing that ever happened. G-d d^mned Google only tells me about this guy, who famously asked " A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he."

Then there is this other whitemeat:

whitefeminism however, is a distinct hybrid of various attempts to empower women ( in this case, jaded, Oprafied supermarket capitalists from America and Holland)rather than the women who really,actually suffer great poverty, and oppression ( the worlds other 98% of women).

By the real Bobby… (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Greg, is this the policy you referenced above?

The Board of Regents (Board) of the University of ---------(University) reaffirms
the principles of academic freedom and responsibility. These are rooted in the belief
that the mind is ennobled by the pursuit of understanding and the search for truth, and
the state well served when instruction is available to all at an institution dedicated to
the advancement of learning. These principles are also refreshed by the recollection
that *there is commune vinculum omnibus artibus, a common bond through all the arts.*
Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom,
to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or
write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint. Academic
responsibility implies the faithful performance of academic duties and obligations, the
recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear
that the individual is not speaking for the institution in matters of public interest.

By the real cmf (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Michael said;
"I believe creationism can be taught much better in the private schools than the public schools (which also includes home schools) which is influenced by too many special interest groups."

You can actually write with all seriousness that private schools and home schoolers DON'T have special interests!!
I now know the meaning of selective reality.

By peter garayt (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

CMF: No, I don't think so . The right wingers would not use latin.

Michael -

All of the rest of us Michaels, Mikes and Mickeys have met and decided that it is time for you to change your first name. You are embarrassing us.

Your membership in the International Mikes Club is hereby revoked.


Awww, Bobbyfisherman...You're such a poor pitiful white man. I feel so sad for you. I feel so bad for all the white men everywhere who have been discriminated against and brutalized by those damn blacks, asians, indians (both types), feminists, etc. I mean, we're riding high here with our hard science careers and the expectation that we'll have fruitful careers.
How great you are to stand against the tide of despair which must engulf your existence!

By rokujolady (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

CMF (or Bobby, if you prefer), while I will certainly agree that we're locking too many people up, the stats you link to don't support your position. That chart looks more like a trend toward racial equality than anything else. In fact, the growth in the female prison population has outpaced the growth in the male population:

And if you look at victimization statistics, you'll see a trend toward gender equality there too:

Thanks for the links, though. I appreciate that you're documenting your positions.

By Stephanie Z (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Greg: salient point...then again, that code was enacted before the right wingers infiltrated that particular college and board...

rokujolady: Moshi moshi! Konnichi wa!

Despair not, rukojo, as long as you are in the world whiteness and its enablers( especially the new white meat: 'coloredness' and 'people of color') will thrive! And, no, I am not in despair: I am that other 'white meat,' the one with a dual citizenship; I can always just fly off to Israel when the shit hits the fan of despair here...

I am not the ubiquitous 'whiteman'you are pointing your finger at through the monkeybars. Nor am I a Genji crab, tho I have been known to slink valiantly into the sea to honor a princess or two...

One question tho: are you "riding high" in that career, or "expecting" to ride high in that career? You seem unclear about the career;-)

Stephanie Z: yes, i am aware that women are finally taking their rightful place in American prisons. But I am also aware of a gross discrepancy in defining what is and isn't a crime,as most crimes are defined by first establishing the gender of criminals as "male" and so talking about women in prison is like talking about male rape victims: whereas it is true that men are raped, it has never been a topic that was safe to describe in the dialectic, and so male trauma has been unrecognized, minimized,and under-reported--not to mention unacknowledged in the literature of rape as being partially conceived by womens desires for power over objectified children that they treat as possessions.

So too it goes with women in prison: they don't count, because their numbers are statistically unimportant in comparison to the number of male victims of prison culture, and prison cultures enforcers--white women and their spawn, the police state.

Yes, crime is down, yes, more women are in prison--it seems that the only solution is to lock more people up--or--or wiretap their phones BEFORE they commit crimes, and lock them up for thinking or talking about crimes...oh, wait they are doing that already...

If only we could define child abuse in a more egalitarian fashion, we could have even more of them where they belong--in prison, and not out here creating children that will fill them in their place...

Most unfortunately,it will always be the poor, the uneducated, and the disadvantaged that will fill the cells, instead of those real perpetrators like Eve Ensler, et al;-)

By the real Bobby… (not verified) on 15 Apr 2008 #permalink

Reading Michael, I can't help but be again amazed at how many people who complain about the state of education can't write to save their lives. I mean seriously... let's take apart a paragraph, shall we? I chose the shortest one, because it's slightly more bearable.

I believe creationism can be taught much better in the private schools than the public schools (which also includes home schools) which is influenced by too many special interest groups.

Okay. Our biggest problem is that we've got several sentences all running together. This paragraph would be much better written as three sentences.

First Michael asserts that "[he] believe[s] creationism can be taught much better in the private schools than the public schools". Parsing this part of the sentence literally, it means that he believes that private schools are more effective at teaching creationism than they are at teaching the public schools. I'm not sure what a private school might be expected to teach about public schools... however, only the word "in" is required to give the meaning he wants ("... can be taught much better in the private schools than IN the public schools"), okay, we'll allow that as a typo.

Next we have this parenthetical phrase, "(which also includes home schools)". What's that supposed to mean? "Which" doesn't have a logical antecedent of any kind. The only possible way to parse this is to believe it to include home schools among public schools, which I'm almost certain is the opposite of what Michael intends.

Finally, we have "which is influenced by too many special interest groups." Again, no logical antecedent for "which," so we need to guess. The verb is singular... which nouns in the main sentence are singular? "Creationism"... okay, that's true, creationism is certainly influenced by too many special interest groups, but that seems to run counter to Michael's point, and also doesn't really fit with the sentence structure. In the structure, it seems that this should refer to the "public schools." A plural. Bah.

Finally, we have our friend, the adjective "better". It is an adjective, not an adverb. As such, it can't modify the verb "taught".

One suspects that Michael's intended paragraph would read,

I believe creationism can be taught much more effectively in the private schools (including home schools) than in the public schools, which are influenced by too many special interest groups.

Was that so hard?

Of course, we could go one better and write that sentence in the ACTIVE voice, but the passive here places the emphasis on what's being taught (creationism) rather than who's doing the teaching (various kinds of schools). This use of the passive voice is actually appropriate... I suppose one occasionally gets it right by accident.

If only our friend Michael didn't believe that being wrong, wrong, wrong is his inalienable right, he might communicate so much more effectively. At least he has the courage of his convictions, with all the daily frustration and misunderstanding that must entail.

Grammar. So much more than the wife of Gramper.