Monday, March 16, 2009

Illinois AAUP Letter to the College of DuPage Trustees

The following letter was sent by the AAUP-American Association of University Professors Illinois Council to the Board of Trustees of the College of DuPage. As you know they are considering the adoption of what the controversial polemicist David Horowitz calls an academic bill of rights. Rather it is in our opinion an attack on academic freedom, teaching, and scholarship. Its adoption will put COD outside the mainstream of education in Illinois and the US. More importantly it will diminish the quality of education available to the students at COD. We the Illinois Council of the AAUP hope you will editorialize against the proposed policy changes being considered on the 19th by the Board of Trustees.

Walter J. Kendall
President AAUP Illinois Council

Dear College of DuPage trustees:

The state council of the Illinois conference of the American Association of University Professors wishes to express our deep concern about the proposed policy changes reflected in the new Policy Manual for the Board of Trustees. We believe it represents an extraordinary attack on academic freedom, shared governance, and intellectual liberty on campus. We believe that the changes would put the College of DuPage outside the mainstream of colleges and universities in the state and in the country.

We recognize that the proposed policy manual makes some improvements over the original proposal in areas such as student publications and educational philosophy. However, there are still many serious threats to academic freedom contained in these policies.

The most disturbing proposals give the administration extraordinary power to ban speakers and protests, ban any discrimination based on “viewpoint or opinion,” and prohibit “demeaning” behavior. These policies will most certainly create a litigation nightmare for the College of DuPage as censored speakers or disgruntled students and applicants sue for “opinion discrimination.”

The sheer number of proposed policies that fail to meet AAUP - recommended standards relating to intellectual freedom is a matter of deep concern to us. The Board of Trustees should drop this effort at wholesale, and unfortunately unwarranted, revision of the campus policies in this manner, and instead begin a process of working with campus constituencies, particularly the faculty to revise individual policies. We also encourage the Board to utilize AAUP statements (available at as models for these policies.

Below we list in detail some of the objectionable proposed policies and why we believe that they are flawed. We encourage members of the Board of Trustees to contact us if you have any further questions about this issue, and we would be happy to open a dialogue about the College of DuPage Policy Manual.

Illinois AAUP State Council
by Walter J. Kendall III, President

Specific analysis of College of DuPage proposed policies by the Illinois AAUP:

“Board members and employees of the College are required at all times to perform their duties in such a manner that they present a proper and ethical image to the community and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

Requiring employees to meet an undefined standard of “a proper and ethical image” could easily be abused to punish employees based on “image” alone.

A. 1.
“No Board of Trustee member or employee shall use or permit to be used College equipment, materials, services, or other property for personal convenience, benefit, or profit.”

This policy is far too restrictive, and needs to be brought in line with modified policy 15-25 by adding “while working” and removing “convenience.”

“No Board of Trustee member or employee shall practice dishonest or demeaning behavior.”

This policy is too vague in banning all “demeaning” behavior without defining the term. Certainly, it is not intended to ban satire and humor, even though it can have a bite, so to speak.

“The rights of free speech and lawful assembly do not confer upon those who exercise these rights a license to limit, interfere with, or infringe upon the equal rights of others.”

This confusing and unnecessary policy is extremely vague, and should be eliminated.

“The President and/or his authorized representative reserves the right to invite, acknowledge, or deny requests for assemblage as well as the right to control the time, place and manner of the assemblages.”

Under the Supreme Court rulings about the First Amendment, there can be reasonable regulations of time, place, and manner. But this does not mean a public college has total arbitrary power over the time, place, and manner of assemblies. Nor can the President be given complete authority to deny requests for assemblies. Only in very rare cases, where public safety is immediately endangered, can a public college prohibit an assembly or protest.

“The President and/or his authorized representative 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.”

This repeats the same flawed policy that gave the administration absolute power to ban protests.

“No person shall be required to listen to a speaker or participate in a program that he/she finds objectionable.”

This policy in effect is the antithesis of education. Education is about the wisdom and skills of the ages, and challenging the students to grow and develop in their mastery thereof. See the further comment in 15-10 below. Certainly, faculty members may require members of a class to listen to a particular speaker, just as they can require students to read a particular book, even if a student finds the views objectionable.

“The President may deny a particular speaker or program on campus if it reasonably appears that such speaker or program would advocate:” followed by a long list of reasons, including “violation of any federal, state or local laws.”

Any rule imposing censorship based on guesses about what a speaker might say is a threat to both academic freedom and the First Amendment. The list of historical figures who could be banned under this rule includes all of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It could be used to justify enormous censorship. For example, because waterboarding is a form of torture and therefore illegal, any member of the Bush Administration who defended waterboarding could be banned under this rule. If someone breaks the law in a campus speech, legal authorities can deal with that speaker. But preemptive, speculative censorship is never acceptable.

“Any expense incurred as the result of scheduling a speaker or program on campus will be the responsibility of the sponsoring individual/group.”

This is vague and troublesome in that at other campuses, controversial speakers have effectively been banned by imposing extreme security costs on sponsors. Colleges should not charge student groups for the security required to protect controversial speakers.

“Posting and display of materials on campus shall be governed by the procedures and regulations established by the Office of Student Activities and published in the Student Handbook.”

This rule does not establish the First Amendment rights of the campus community to post and display materials.

“The College will not tolerate discrimination and harassment based on an individual’s viewpoint or opinion.”

The essence of education is discriminating between truth and falsity. Policy 25-135 declares that a central mission of the College is “the pursuit of truth.” But under policy 15-10, a Holocaust denier could sue the College for not being hired as a history professor, and a creationist could sue for not being hired to teach evolutionary theory. A student with the “opinion” that 1+1=3 could sue if a math professor gave that student a failing grade. No college has ever imposed such a doctrine of total relativism.

“No volunteer, officer or employee shall engage in dishonest or demeaning behavior in the workplace.”

This policy is too vague in banning all “demeaning” behavior without defining the term.

Among the list of reasons for termination is the vague category of "unprofessional conduct." This term is vague and not defined.

“Faculty members have a duty to present controversial issues in an unbiased manner which respects their students’ rights to academic freedom to determine for themselves the proper resolution of such issues.”

Faculty members should be evaluated on the basis of competence and professional and disciplinary standards. Many of the revered books of our civilization are “biased”; the great thinkers all had a point of view. This policy, if taken as written, would have prevented Jefferson from teaching our Declaration of Independence at the College. As we all know, in James Madison’s word we are not “angels” and thus, it is almost impossible to be “unbiased.” Further, it would appear that under this policy, a creationist student could assert the right to disagree with the scientific reality of evolution in a biology class. This academic freedom policy also omits several important provisions of the AAUP standards for academic freedom, such as the protection of extramural speech.

“The College will also prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s viewpoint or opinion.”

The danger of adding “viewpoint or opinion” to the list of prohibited acts is that quite obviously there are correct and incorrect opinions about reality. Certainly the Professor’s job is to discriminate between them. Students are in school to learn how to discriminate between them. If they fail to do so, of course they will be “discriminated” against – questioned in class; or get a poor grade, for instance.

“Academic Freedom -The Concept - Academic freedom and intellectual diversity are values indispensable to the American college.”

The inclusion of the term “intellectual diversity” into the discussion of the philosophical, conceptual, and contractual meaning of “academic freedom” is to either add a vague and thus potentially confusing redundancy, as the word “diversity” is used in other places in the document; or to attempt to change the settled meaning and understanding of the term. Neither is warranted, and the words “and intellectual diversity” should be deleted from this policy.

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