Monday, December 08, 2008

Censorship at the College of DuPage

Tonight the trustees of the College of DuPage meet to discuss policy changes. This has sparked controversy over the Academic Bill of Rights, but the policies go much further. Here's what I've written to the trustees (

The proposed policy changes reflected in the new Policy Manual for the Board of Trustees of the College of DuPage represent an extraordinary attack on academic freedom, shared governance, and intellectual liberty on campus. This policy manual would make the College of DuPage a national embarrassment because its policies would be the worst of any public college in the state, and among the worst in the entire country.

In particular I object to the following specific items. However, there may be additional objectionable policies which escaped my notice, so it is important for the Board to adopt a new approach and examine each proposed policy carefully rather than engaging in wholesale changes.

5-85: The Board is given "sole authority" to change policy. The process of policy change should include all campus constituencies. This new document reveals the dangers when the trustees alone propose policy changes.

10-115: “The Board of Trustees reserves the right to invite, acknowledge or deny requests for outside speakers or programs as well as the right to control the time, place, and manner of the speaker or the program to be presented.” The Board of Trustees should have no power to ban speakers. Another provision in the policy is also disturbing: “No person shall be required to listen to a speaker or participate in a program that he/she finds objectionable.” It is entirely appropriate for faculty to require students to listen to a speaker or participate in a program related to course content.

10-120: “no direct solicitation of funds or distribution of campaign fund raising literature is permitted on College premises.” This policy proposal is both wrong and unconstitutional. A college cannot ban literature on campus, nor prohibit individuals on their own time from soliciting funds.

10-125: “The Board of Trustees reserves the right to control the place, time, and manner such printed material is to be distributed.” The Board of Trustees cannot exert total control over distribution of printed material. A policy protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press should also be added.

15-25: “No officer or employee shall engage in dishonest or demeaning behavior.” This proposed policy is incredibly vague and threatening to academic freedom. There is no definition of “dishonest” or “demeaning” behavior, nor is there any restriction that it apply to the performance of official duties. This entire provision is unconstitutionally vague and should be eliminated.

15-35: “The Board prohibits the hiring of any applicant or independent contractor who is a related party to any current employee or independent contractor.” This kind of overbroad nepotism policy is both unnecessary and unfair. To say that no one related to any current employee can ever be hired is extraordinary and unprecedented in higher education. Astonishingly, this policy would apply not only to “second cousins” but even people sharing an apartment or house (“people living in the same residence”) would be prohibited from working together at the College of DuPage.

15-45: Background checks, including drug/alcohol checks, are usually unnecessary for campus employees.

15-95: “Full-time employees of the College will not provide teaching, consulting, and/or research services to any entity or individual other than the College of DuPage.” It is entirely appropriate for full-time employees to engage in external part-time work that does not interfere with their campus duties, and they do not need the permission of the trustees to do so, especially since nine-month faculty contracts are included in this restriction.

15-170: “unprofessional conduct” is far too vague a standard for the termination of employees.

15-335: “Faculty members have a duty to present controversial issues in an unbiased manner.” By making it a “duty” for faculty to do this, the policy threatens the employment of an faculty member who might be deemed to be “biased” on any issues that might be considered “controversial.” If a student considers the Holocaust “controversial,” would a faculty be obligated to present the “Holocaust denier” perspective and not be biased by pointing out that it is in error?

20-100: “All College-sponsored or authorized student publications must operate in a professional manner and are expected to follow the standards of professional journalism....The College President will be responsible for overseeing student publications.” It is difficult to expect a non-professional student publication to follow professional standards. The danger is that colleges sometimes use “professional” standards as an excuse to censor campus publications. The Board should create an independent board to oversee student publications, and should provide a clear statement of the right of students to press freedom in accord with the recent state law passed guaranteeing this liberty.

25-85: “The College curriculum will be set by the Board of Trustees.” The curriculum is properly the role of the faculty to determine, with oversight from the administration and the trustees.

25-135. The Academic Bill of Rights. The national AAUP has expressed strong criticism of the Academic Bill of Rights, because of the vague language used (such as a ban on undefined “indoctrination”). I encourage you to read for the details on the AAUP’s objections.

The Board of Trustees should drop its misguided effort to engage in a wholesale, unwarranted revision of the campus policies in this manner, and instead begin a process of working with campus constituencies to revise policies individually that may be flawed. I am happy to work with the College of DuPage faculty, administrators, trustees, and students to ensure that its policies meet the highest possible professional standards.


Ignatius J. Reilly said...

Amazing. This is really beyond the pale. As a former CC instructor, I am appalled that any community college would consider such action. Looking forward to updates on this.

Anonymous said...

The board of trustees might consider conducting a drug test for new employees because it also for the safety of the students, and of the community. It is not against their right but a way of ensuring the school that the people working in there are drug and alcohol free.