AHA 2007: Resolution to oppose speech codes defeated

Historians in the News

Historians critical of limits on free speech on college campuses had been somewhat hopeful that this year they could persuade their peers at the AHA Annual Convention in Atlanta to approve a resolution at Saturday's Business Meeting opposing "the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom."

But in the end the body approved a weak sister resolution critical only of free speech zones.

This was the second year the subject of speech codes came before the Business Meeting. Last year the measure was rejected because it was linked to another critical of David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" (ABOR). Members felt that the two issues should be treated separately and indicated in various comments that they would welcome a chance to vote on a resolution against speech codes at this year's meeting. But when they were given the chance this past weekend the members declined to go along.

David Beito, a sponsor, produced numerous examples of speech codes that he described as patently offensive. But the members were uncomfortable with a wholesale condemnation of codes that are used by administrators to protect minorities from slights and uncivil attacks.

The resolution was amended to condemn only free speech zones and passed unanimously. David Beito afterward told HNN the vote was a defeat for his cause. Voting to condemn free speech zones, he said, was like voting to uphold motherhood. It was meaningless.

Related Links

  • Ralph Luker: The American Historical Association and Free Speech

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    John R. Maass - 1/10/2007

    What the AHA (which is to say, the men and women who make it up) seems to be saying here is that some speech should not be allowed because it is offensive (and thus speech codes are needed), but profs can say whatever they wish in class without any restrictions at all (and thus there should be no academic "Bill of Rights", or something to that effect.) I an not an advocate of a ABR, but I don't see how the AHA can avoid the charges here of rank hypocrisy by those seeking to oppose the codes. Is there some justification for the AHA's refusal to endorse this?