Thursday, February 18, 2010

College of DuPage Proposes Stealth Horowitz Rules Against Academic Freeedom

Today is another meeting of the College of DuPage Board of Trustees, which means that it’s time for them to pass yet another terrible policy that violates the First Amendment. This time, it’s Policy 10-126 on Electronic Communications (pdf, page 109), which gives the administration total power to deny access to informational technology on campus (an essential part of almost anyone’s teaching, research, and voice for free speech) without any due process or appeal procedures.

But the bigger news is what’s on the information agenda for the March meeting. The College of DuPage Board of Trustees is proposing a stealth version of David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights, full of many of the same attempts to restrict political speech, but with slightly different wording. (See the full policy below.)

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing in the policy being proposed is a total ban on bias: faculty “shall present facets of controversial issues in an unbiased manner within the scope of College-approved course objectives.”

The policy would require professors in a German history class to teach the views of Holocaust deniers without “bias” against them. After all, the Holocaust is undeniably a controversial issue, Holocaust deniers are undeniably a facet of that issue, and bias is now forbidden. The same is true of requiring creationism to be taught in biology classes addressing the controversial topic of evolution, and pretty much any other topic. In fact, it’s almost impossible, and often undesirable, for faculty to be “unbiased” about a controversial issue. The key intellectual freedom question is whether they force students to agree with them. Requiring that faculty never reveal their views on any controversial issues is the clearest possible violation of academic freedom that you can imagine.

This rule goes even further in compelling the limits to teaching to “College-approved course objectives.” What does this mean? It could mean that unless the administration thinks that a controversial issue is part of the course objective already approved in the course description, a professor can’t teach it. It could mean that even if you could teach a controversial matter in an “unbiased” way, and even if it was related to the subject of the class, it still could be banned if it wasn’t listed as part of the course objectives.

The proposed educational philosophy also declares, “It is the obligation of faculty members and students to be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, and to show respect for opinions of others.”

This is similar to a rather flawed part of the AAUP’s 1940 statement about professors: “they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others…” But there’s an important difference here. In the AAUP statement, the word is “should” and it is clearly intended as a moral obligation, not something imposed by universities. For the College of DuPage, this becomes an “obligation” imposed by the administration.

Even worse, it becomes an obligation on students. I can’t imagine why the Board of Trustees (and especially the student trustee) wants to have students silenced in the classroom by the order of the administration. Will students be disciplined for writing something inaccurate in a term paper? Will students be brought up on charges of disrespect whenever they dispute something a professor or a fellow student says? No one knows, since no public college has ever imposed such a broad speech code in the classroom on students before.

But the bigger speech code is against faculty in the classroom. Another red flag is the rule requiring materials “pertinent to the subject and level taught.” This provision is likely to contribute to the dumbing down of the College of DuPage. The “level” rule means that the administration can order teachers not to assign difficult readings on the grounds that it is inappropriate for the level of the students. These kind of “level taught” rules are used to justify censorship in elementary school, but until now, I’ve never seen anyone apply it to college students.

This educational philosophy, if ever put into practice, might be stopped by union appeals and lawsuits. And if the US courts still protect the First Amendment on campus (and after the Garcetti case, that’s a big “if”), the rules of a repressive administration might be overturned. But its passage will have an immediate chilling effect on the faculty and students at the College of DuPage. Many faculty members are quiet cowards who want to obey the rules and never raise a peep against the administration for fear of retaliation. These faculty will think twice before assigning controversial materials and will back down at the first complaint from the most hyper-sensitive student offended at hearing a contrary idea. The result will be an intellectual decline at the College of DuPage. Good teachers will avoid taking jobs at a place where their teaching is restricted by a conservative administrative, where have to fight to have controversial ideas in their classes. Good students will search out better colleges where the administration doesn’t try to pass a gag rule on faculty (and on students themselves).

There’s an easy fix to this proposed policy. The first paragraph is a perfectly good statement on academic freedom, as is this line: “Faculty members and students are citizens. When a faculty member or student, speaks, writes, or acts as a citizen, all should be free from institutional censorship and/or discipline.” Just get rid of the phrase “as a citizen” and remove all of the Horowitz-inspired additional sections which restrict free expression, and the College of DuPage will have an excellent statement on educational philosophy.

Or here’s a better idea: if you’re creating an “educational philosophy” for the College, why not listen to the educational experts called professors who know what they’re doing?

Last year, the voters repudiated the Horowitz-style attempts at right-wing thought control over the College of DuPage. Now their elected representatives aren’t listening, and are pushing through the same kinds of unconstitutional limits on academic freedom. David Horowitz would be proud of both the political subterfuge and the severe limits on political speech in the classroom. Now it’s time for the Board of Trustees to decide: do you represent the interests of a right-wing administration, or do you represent the faculty, students, and public of the College of DuPage?

Here's the full policy proposal:

Policy No. 25-135 on “Educational Philosophy” (pdf, page 105)

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good, which depends on the search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and carries with it responsibilities and duties as well as rights. The College of DuPage recognizes that academic freedom in the classroom entails both the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn. The classroom environment is one that is conducive to free discussion, inquiry and expression for all students.

Academic freedom is guaranteed within the discipline subject matter for which faculty members are employed. Academic freedom shall be guaranteed to all faculty members and students, and no arbitrary limitations shall be placed upon study, investigation, presentation and interpretation of facts and ideas concerning humans, societies, the physical and biological world, and other branches of learning. Faculty members shall be free to present instructional materials which are pertinent to the subject and level taught and shall present facets of controversial issues in an unbiased manner within the scope of College-approved course objectives.

Faculty members and students are citizens. When a faculty member or student, speaks, writes, or acts as a citizen, all should be free from institutional censorship and/or discipline. It is the obligation of faculty members and students to be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, and to show respect for opinions of others.


David said...

I don't think this policy will really do that much in changing the classroom. The walls don't have ears (yet). Until they do, I think teachers will close the doors (to keep the noise from the hall out of course) and teach the way they have with the students acting the way they have. I don't know of any student who has ever complained about having a controversial issue come up in a class and after talking to the professor, still being forced to talk about it or sit through it. Its the student organizations where the students are not being aloud to do the work, like the PLR or the News Paper. they put it together in accordance with what the faculty member in charge wants, not by how they want it. I don't believe that the in classroom teaching will change. However the "student run organizations" that are really run by the faculty is what bothers me.

Peter said...

Isn't this amazing? That an administration could stoop that low?
Is there any kind of student movement at this school against the policies?

David said...

There is no student movement. first of all, because most students are there for class and then leave, they don't tend to care about policies or anything else changing and never hear about it. Secondly, Most students that are there, that could do something, have the mind set that they are only there for two years and then they will move on and never look back. This sadly is not true for most of the students who think that. So between the students who don't know and the students who don't care to know, there really isn't anyone who will do anything as a student body about this problem.