Blogs > Liberty and Power > Academic Freedom, the War, and Liberty and Power at the AHA Meeting

Jan 3, 2006 4:47 pm


Academic Freedom, the War, and Liberty and Power at the AHA Meeting



If you can make any part of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Philadelphia, please come on Saturday, January 7. The day will be filled with events of interest for readers of Liberty and Power, defenders of academic freedom, and antiwar libertarians and conservatives.

I will represent Liberty and Power on a discussion roundtable, “Were All the World a Blog: History and History Blogging” which will begin at 9:30 a.m. The other panelists will include blogging superstar Juan R.I. Cole of Informed Comment , Ralph Luker of Cliopatria, and Rick Shenkman of POTUS.

Historians against the War will meet at 2:45 p.m. for the election of a steering committee. The only qualification for membership is to sign the HAW online statement against the war. Those of you who are antiwar should give this serious thought.

The highlight of the day will be the AHA Business Meeting at 4:45 where two resolutions will be considered. The first , and weakest in my view, opposes David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights but is silent on other threats to academic freedom, especially campus speech codes. The second substitute resolution, sponsored by Luker, Robert K.C. Johnson (also of Cliopatria), and myself,(for an explanation see here) condemns both the Academic and Student Bill of Rights and the campus speech codes. Here is the wording of the substitute:

Whereas, Free and open discourse is essential to the success of research and learning on campus; and

Whereas, Faculty and students face threats to academic freedom from multiple sources which include government agencies and campus administrators; and

Whereas, The so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights and campus speech codes represent the two leading threats to academic freedom today; and

Whereas, Administrators, politicians, and others have used speech codes and the Academic and Student Bill of Rights to improperly restrict faculty choices on curriculum, course content, and personnel decisions; and

Whereas, The so-called Academic and Student Bill of Rights and speech codes violate academic freedom and undermine professional standards by imposing political criteria in areas of educational policy that individual faculty members normally and rightly control; and

Whereas, These measures have restricted free and open discourse for students and faculty alike through such methods as"free speech zones;" therefore be it

Resolved, That the American Historical Association opposes the passage of the Academic and Student Bills of Rights, the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom, and all similar attempts to limit free and open discourse on campus.


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Ronald James Wieck - 6/1/2006

A student should NEVER be compelled to drop a course because the teacher has stated, in so many words, that Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives--individualists of all stripes-- are not welcome. That sort of behavior is as unprofessional as it gets.

Anyone who contends that the ABOR would stifle academic freedom simply has not read it. It is impossible to misconstrue its meaning and intent.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2006

No kidding (though your definition of drivel and mine probably differ).

But that's why most schools allow students to add/drop classes with no penalty, and also have department chairs and other avenues for grievances. I still don't see why ABOR is the solution to this problem.... because it isn't.


Ronald James Wieck - 5/31/2006

When a student signs up for a Great Books class and it turns out that the reading list consists of Marxist analysis of Shakespeare's plays and assorted drivel by third-world revolutionaries, the difference between honest and dishonest controversy is damn hard to miss.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2006

An honest teacher such as yourself has nothing to fear from the ABOR.

I get so tired of that refrain, honestly. It comes up every time someone principled objects to the ABOR -- and it seems that most of the opponents of the ABOR "have nothing to fear" -- but it assumes that there are scads of "dishonest" teachers out there who are going to effectively be muzzled by this initiative and that students really can tell the difference between "honest" and "dishonest" controversy.


Ronald James Wieck - 5/30/2006

An honest teacher such as yourself has nothing to fear from the ABOR. Comparing Bush's Mideast policies to, say, McKinley's Philippine policy is perfectly acceptable practice for a course in American history or International Relations(somewhat less appropriate for a calculus course). What is inappropriate is for the teacher to insist that Marxist theory provides the definitive account of American imperialism, which explains our relations with the rest of the world, and no alternate interpretations are possible or will be entertained.


David T. Beito - 5/30/2006

It is to Horowitz's credit that he defended Churchill's outside of class comments. Where I part ways with Horowitz is that (as I understand it) he *would* sanction Churchill for making those comments in class.

Now as to you other point. In a course on the turn-of-century American history, a critique (or defense) of George Bush's Iraq policy might provide a useful comparison to McKinley's Philippine policy.

Who decides whether that would constitute a "rant" or legitimate a comparison? Would you leave this decision up to a Dean who hasn't published in twenty years or been in the inside of classroom in just as long. That is the crux of the problem with the ABOR.


Ronald James Wieck - 5/28/2006

You would do well to read the ABOR and come to terms with its actual contents before continuing your attack on a straw man. If Horowitz is an enemy of free speech, you need to explain why he has fought to <prevent> Leonard Jeffries and Ward Churchill from being fired for their idiotic comments. The important distinction here is between a professor's right to free speech AS A CITIZEN and his or her professional obligations AS AN EDUCATOR. Outside the classroom, anything goes. Inside, there are codes of conduct, now openly flouted, that ought to be observed. Your doctor can express an opinion on any subject under the sun--on his or her own time. When you seek treatment for an illness, the doctor's responsibilities <as a doctor> require that your medical complaints be addressed. Wasting your time by raving about George Bush, whether pro or con, violates the code of conduct that should govern the medical profession.




David T. Beito - 5/25/2006

I'm afraid we have different concepts of education. I think it is great to have universities where people, including professors, can feel free to express their views including "rants." Free speech is what America is all about after all. Why should be so afraid of people being made to feel "uncomfortable" because somebody might disagree with them?

Unfortunately, this view of the university has been under constant assault by the political left via speech codes, and now by Horowitz.

The example of the geology professor is a diversion and doesn't describe the norm. Horowitz would not limit the ABOR to professors in the hard sciences who go off half cocked about Bush. It would also "shut up" those in history, poltitical science, etc. After all, most of his "dangerous professors" teach in the liberal arts.

As to your first point, I don't buy it. Nobody, but nobody, wants the hassle of dealing with the campus bureucracy of the complaint process you endorse.

The actual result of this process is to ncrease the growing power of administrators on campus, who have been most responsible since the 1960s for dumbing down standards and creating bogus programs such as Women's Studies as well as most mandatory diversity training. Again, the comparison with the Fairness Doctrine is instructive. Once the doctrine was in place, broadcasts and owners chose to play it safe rather than suffer complaints, frivilous or otherwise. Faculty, most of whom lack any courage, and administrators will do the same under an ABOR, just like they have done already with speech codes.

The ABOR would be a dream come true for deans and college presidents who would use it (like they use speech codes) as yet another club to quash debate and increase their turf. They would have even more power to increase study boyd count via grade inflation or dragoon students and faculty into diversity training. Of course, it is increasingly the case that deans and presidents at public universities have not inside of a classroom for decades.


Ronald James Wieck - 5/25/2006

You could not be more wrong. If the student is making frivolous claims that fail to stand up to scrutiny, the professor is vindicated and similar baseless claims are discouraged. If, on the other hand, the student is exposing unprofessional conduct, an abuse of authority, then the redress process has worked.

If a professor of <geology> is forced to omit his customary fifteen-minute mindless rant on George Bush, well, so much the better. His opinion of Bush is irrelevant. He ought to concentrate on the job he's paid to do.


David T. Beito - 5/24/2006

If a student has the power to file a complaint with an administrator on the grounds that a professor has offended him or "lacks balance," the result is to undermine academic freedom, much like the old fairness doctrine undermined free speech. The most likely response by a professor faced with such a complaint is to sanitize his classroom from controversy and play it safe and dull.


Ronald James Wieck - 5/23/2006

As a newcomer, I'm unfamiliar with certain conventions here. Should I be expected to understand why, exactly, the Academic Bill of Rights violates academic freedom? Manifestly, it doesn't, you know.


David T. Beito - 1/3/2006

Oh, well that's what you get for doing a blog at midnight.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/3/2006

Juan Cole's blog is Informed Comment; and K. C. Johnson is not scheduled to appear on the history blogging panel. Manan Ahmed of Chapati Mystery and Sharon Howard of Early Modern Notes will appear with Beito, Cole, Luker, and Shenkman.