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January 18, 2005

legislating an academic bill of rights

Don Herzog: January 18, 2005

A while ago, David V. posted a piece on the Academic Bill of Rights.  That was the first I'd heard of it.  (Yes, I need to get out more.)  Here I want to say something about what's troubling in legislatures adopting the bill of rights -- assuming, that is, they really mean to assign legal rights and legal remedies to aggrieved parties.

A straightforward question about policy is, what's the right rule?  And the ideals of the academic bill of rights are mostly admirable.  My own views differ in part:  for instance, I wouldn't require that each and every course cover all competing views.  But rather than pick away at what might be objectionable about the substantive policies the bill recommends, I want to focus on another question, or set of questions, which we sometimes underplay.  Who should decide?  Who should be permitted to revisit the initial decision?  What considerations would justify overriding it?  Here we need to think about institutional competence, incentives, and downside risk.

I don't doubt that many professors brandish "academic freedom" as a club, to oppose more or less anything they dislike.  But it's a dreadful idea to have legislatures or bureaucrats enforce the academic bill of rights; it's a classic invasion of academic freedom, understood as the right of academic institutions to govern themselves.  If there's a controversy in or about a biology class or a comparative literature seminar, I don't trust even well-intentioned legislators or functionaries to get it right.  I worry that legislators aren't competent to assess the issues in biology or literature.  I worry too about the incentives of legislators.  Even as they pay lip service to the ideals of enquiry, they will be tempted to grandstand for their constituents by finding targets to pillory and others to applaud for illicitly political reasons of their own.  And so I really worry about the downside risks.  If you want a community of academics and students to be able to follow arguments wherever they may lead, to be willing to explore dangerous and forbidden ground, you don't want state functionaries peering over their shoulders.  The mere existence of a legal charter in the background would chill free speech.

David Horowitz misses the point in responding to a query about teaching evolution.  He says, rightly, that if religious students are offended, "that's their problem."  But he goes on to say,

What is the harm in mentioning the design theorists, particularly the works of scientists like Behe challenging evolutionary theory?  In fact, this would be quite educational and would not impact the professor's ability to teach evolutionary theory just as he had before.

The question is not just, is it a good idea to teach intelligent design or creationism in biology?  The question is also, who gets to decide?  Suppose the biologists think it's a bad idea.  (They usually do.)  That may be for good reasons:  with their expert knowledge of biology, they may think intelligent design is a hopeless theory, or that it departs so far from the criteria for scientific explanation that it doesn't even qualify as biology.  That may be for bad reasons:  they may be atheists hellbent on propagandizing their students.  Yes, I can imagine the possible world in which the biologists act for bad reasons and the legislators, somehow more discerning about biology, force them to reverse the call and get it right.  But it seems extravagantly unlikely, and again adopting the rules that would enable that would license abuse and chill discussion.  In comments on a bill discussed in Colorado, the American Association of University Professors sees the point clearly.  (Here's a response from Horowitz, who has also repeatedly disavowed any interest in having outside authorities enforce the provisions of the bill.)

But couldn't legislatures adopt the bill without grabbing powers to enforce it?  Sure.  They could even act without adopting it:  they could hold hearings and listen to complaints, as the Colorado legislature recently did.  Sunshine and publicity?  Maybe -- though I like those principles better when the public is scrutinizing the government than when the government is scrutinizing us -- but also the veiled threat of action:  no surprise that the sponsor of the legislation agreed to drop it once universities agreed to sign a "memorandum of understanding" apparently worked out in negotiations with the state.  The memo, signed by university presidents and a state representative, says, "While the State of Colorado has a legitimate oversight role in state-sponsored higher education, the individual institutions and their governing bodies are in the best position to implement policies to respect the rights of students and faculty."  It also says, " We will have future discussions to share ideas and perspectives on a range of issues to ensure the campus environment is open and inviting to students of all political viewpoints."  This sort of thing could go well or badly; time will tell.  But you don't have to be paranoid to be concerned.

Or legislatures could tinker with budget allocations to public universities.  (And most private universities collect plenty of government grants, too.)  On 9/6/02, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on various legislative efforts.  Three excerpts:

Last month, members of the Appropriations Committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives voted to use the power of the state budget to block the assignment of a book to all freshmen and transfer students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations (White Cloud Press, 1999), by Michael Sells, a professor of religion at Haverford College.  Denying public funds to the reading program unless "all other known religions were offered in an equal or incremental way," they stipulated that their prohibition "is not intended to interfere with academic freedom, but to ensure that all religions are taught in a nondiscriminatory fashion."

lawmakers in Minnesota and Missouri responded to pedophilia scandals by taking swipes at university budgets.  In April, a Minnesota legislator proposed removing financial support from the University of Minnesota Press for its publication of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, by Judith Levine.

More recently, the University of Missouri System's appropriation was docked some $150,000 in reaction to the decision by the director of the public-television station on the Columbia campus to prevent personnel from wearing flag pins on camera, and in reaction to the work of Harris Mirkin, a professor on the Kansas City campus.  In a letter to the University of Missouri's president, Manuel Pacheco, the instigating legislator worried about Professor Mirkin's "thought patterns" in writing "The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality, and Pedophilia."

Again, the question is not just whether UNC or the University of Minnesota Press or the public TV director or Mirkin did something sensible.  (If I thought UNC was proselytizing for Islam, or for that matter ridiculing it, I'd be opposed.  But that's awfully hard to imagine.  I suppose they were asking their students to learn something about Islam, to be better positioned to understand competing interpretations of jihad and the like, and that's all to the good.  I don't know anything about the other examples.)  The question is who's properly entitled to review the decision.  When budgets are tight, it's worrisome for the government to open and close the purse strings in response to particular acts.  It's not that universities are magically entitled to suck away at the public fisc.  It's that if we've already decided to allocate them funds, this is an illicit ground on which to restrict them.  It's just another way of invading the autonomy of the university to make intellectual decisions.

A version of the Academic Bill of Rights, with minor editorial changes and a suitably solemn sprinkling of Whereases, was introduced into the US House of Representatives and sent off to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on 10/30/'03.  As far as I know it still languishes in committee.  Happily, the version incorporated this language from the academic bill of rights:  "nor should the legislature impose any ... orthodoxy through its control of the university budget."  Yeah, but what about imposing their own version of diversity?

He who pays the piper calls the tune?  If that means the state is entitled to attach whatever conditions it likes, it sounds like the market fundamentalism I vigorously reject.  (Constitutional law rejects it too, though the issues surrounding unconstitutional conditions and subsidies in first amendment jurisprudence are difficult.)  There's lots more going on here than a contractual exchange and purchase of services.  (Students pay tuition, but they can't buy good grades.  We don't judge how good scholarship is by seeing how many copies it sells, either.)  If it means that inevitably the state will end up doing whatever it likes, I don't believe it.  There's a real political battle, and so far Horowitz is mostly losing.  And even though I insist on one state/society distinction after another on this blog, despite being told repeatedly by commenters that the left never does that, on this issue it's (part of) the right that wants the state to cross over the state/society line and restructure things.

Finally, legislatures could simply adopt resolutions exhorting universities to respect the principles of academic freedom.  Legislatures adopt such resolutions all the time.  (I don't know if there's an official National Pickle Week, but there might as well be.)  Indeed, the same day the House referred the resolution on the Academic Bill of Rights to committee, they also referred one congratulating my old dean on becoming the president of Cornell.  Given how ordinary such legislative exhortation is, I'm not inclined to fret too much about it as long as it's toothless.  Make that, as long as it's gummy and slobbering.

As I stated last week, there are problems with the universities.  But asking legislatures to intervene is about as sensible as asking them to respond to allegations of medical malpractice by overseeing the neurosurgeons.  "No, Doctor, pass that laser over to me, please."  Gulp.


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Posted by: Dallas

Freedom - including the academic form - entails responsibility. Abuse of freedom leads inexorably to a loss of freedom.

Thus, the academy faces a choice.

Posted by: Dallas | Jan 18, 2005 8:06:46 AM

Posted by: Mona

Don Herzog writes: But it's a dreadful idea to have legislatures or bureaucrats enforce the academic bill of rights; it's a classic invasion of academic freedom, understood as the right of academic institutions to govern themselves.

Yes. Your entire post gets it just about right. This measure is literally a cure that would likely be worse than the disease.

But there is a diseased state throughout much of the academic world. If this proposed remedy spotlights that and induces a large public discussion of the issue, it will have served a salutary purpose. But it would be worrisome if it ever seemed likely to actually be adopted.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 18, 2005 8:27:23 AM

Posted by: S. Weasel

Affirmative Action for conservatives? Brrrr...no, thanks.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 18, 2005 8:46:20 AM

Posted by: sierra

Don says legislators "will be tempted to grandstand for their constituents by finding targets to pillory and others to applaud for illicitly political reasons of their own." Maybe so, but I find this observation rather funny. We've witnessed the rise of balkanized, insular curriculum such as various Grievance-Group Studies along with many unpunished leftist outrages precisely because academia has pandered so cravenly to its constituents.

I don't carry any water for the Academic Bill of Rights, but I'm with Dallas on this. If you can't police yourselves, the police will do it for you. At the very least, expect to be the target of continued ridicule of the Pat Robertson variety (or even my own). I've been watching the issue of PC & warped curriculum pretty closely since its heyday 15 years ago, albeit as an outsider. I don't think it's nearly as bad as it was then, and there are certainly encouraging signs here and there: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the National Association of Scholars, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, etc. Still, I've totally lost patience waiting for any substantial change from within academia itself.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 18, 2005 10:19:14 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Easy solution: (1) Privitize all state universities, (2) Cease all federal and state grant funding of all universities, (3) call a truce – the legislatures keep their noses out of the academies and the academies keep their noses out of legislation.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 18, 2005 10:24:08 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Oh, by the way, Mr. Herzog writes "Students pay tuition, but they can't buy good grades. We don't judge how good scholarship is by seeing how many copies it sells, either."

In fact, student do buy good grades; that's what grade inflation is all about. And scholarship is judged by seeing how many copies it sells in the sense of (a) publication success and (b) citation or reference by other scholars. It's still a market out there.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 18, 2005 10:32:16 AM

Posted by: Paul Shields

I am suspicious of the Academic Bill of Rights for most of the reasons already mentioned. But I do not think it would be a bad idea for parents to start asking admissions people “How are more conservative students treated on your campus?”, “Do you have many conservative faculty?”, etc.

Posted by: Paul Shields | Jan 18, 2005 11:12:22 AM

Posted by: Simon

What cabins the faculties' decisions? And who makes /that/ decision?

To take an easy example: /who/ teaches is as much a part of academic freedom, traditionally understood, as /what/ they teach, but that doesn't mean that we won't brush aside faculty perogatives if we become convinced that decisions are being made on impermissible grounds.

I'm not challenging the idea that lines must be drawn, nor am I saying that drawing the line consistent with Don's post would be a bad thing, i.e., curricular decisions vested solely with faculty but hiring decisions subject to outside review, but I'd like to hear a little more about why the line is where it is.

Posted by: Simon | Jan 18, 2005 11:24:52 AM

Posted by: John T. Kennedy

"He who pays the piper calls the tune?"

You're a piper, right? Yeah I can see how it would be nice to not have to answer to the folks putting up your salary. But it sort of sucks for those forced to pay your salary, especially when they don't like your playing, don't you think?

"If that means the state is entitled to attach whatever conditions it likes, it sounds like the market fundamentalism I vigorously reject."

Vigorously enough to find voluntary patrons?

Posted by: John T. Kennedy | Jan 18, 2005 11:32:16 AM

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf

In fact, student do buy good grades; that's what grade inflation is all about.
I hope this was meant as comedy! I and my fellow teaching assistants would be a lot wealthier if you could buy good grades.

Grade inflation, just to be sure, does not refer to an increase in the bribes necessary to get an A.

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | Jan 18, 2005 12:06:37 PM

Posted by: John T

I agree with the essence of Mr Herzog's post while having strong empathy with those who disagree. Universities stretch out their grubby hand for all sorts of public money not the least of which is the indirect subsidy of tuition aid. Yet what is the greater evil? I reject the strings attached theory. Either give money with no strings or don't give it at all. See how quickly the tentacles of obtrusive gov't retract. I think part of the answer lies with the students, There is a growing reaction and movement on their self awareness as being consumers,anathema naturally to the acadamy. Perhaps the customer/seller relationship is the answer,in whole or in part. That and also the kind of debate that's taking place here and in the media. In the meantime conservatives and libertarians,like myself, should try and remember not to use the power that we complain about so much. From personal experience I know that's difficult.

Posted by: John T | Jan 18, 2005 12:20:45 PM

Posted by: djw

In the Missouri case, IIRC, the paper in question was comparing the public discourses surrounding feminism in the late 19th century, homosexuality in the mid-20th, and pedophilia in the late 20th, and noting the similar trends. Legislators demanded the author of the paper be fired, or the university would be defunded by the amount of his salary. The paper was an academic one with no normative argument, but in the eyes of some legislators, not explicitly writing that pedophilia is bad was a firing crime. I must say if I were a referee I'd have recommended removing any such language as obvious and unnecessary.

I recall an incident from my college days when a local troglodytic state senator proposed a bill to defund my University. Our crime? Displaying a senior art student's project that included images of nude women. I almost think many right-wing legislators would be dissapointed if they had an academic bill of rights to work with in these cases; they could be reasonably expected to follow up on their grandstanding. The arrangement now works fine, for the most part--Universities have academic freedom, more or less, and right-wing legislators are free to mine them for some red meat to throw to the base, without any reasonable expectation of follow-up.

Posted by: djw | Jan 18, 2005 12:46:24 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Shields, as a parent who recently did the college admissions circuit I can testify that it is probably easier to get a straight answer out of a politician than an admissions officer. The closest thing to a negative attribute I could pry out of any of them was a somewhat sheepish acknowledgement that on-campus parking was a bit of a problem.

Ethical Werewolf, it wasn't comedy but neither was it intended to suggest that teachers or TAs literally sell grades. Whenever they are given options, students will weigh costs and benefits and opt for the greatest reward at the least cost. No doubt some do take challenging courses from strict graders, but faculty spaces, funding, etc. are driven in no small measure by student demand, and students collectively demand high grades. Teachers (especially untenured faculty) respond to that market pressure as a matter of self preservation. They essentially 'lower prices' by offering fewer exams and papers, shorter reading lists and higher grades. Doubtlessly there are many exceptions. You may be one of them. But that's how grade inflation works.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 18, 2005 12:59:38 PM

Posted by: Terrier

I don't want to distract too much from this endless discussion but I must confess that the whole subject is ridiculous to me. Far more serious than the political leanings of the faculty at the local college is the political leanings of the professional officer class of the military. Ask the Pakistanis, the Chileans, the Filipinos, the Argentines, the Libyans, the Turks, the Sudanese, the... I have almost zero concern that the authors of this blog will take to streets in tanks and enforce martial law on the populace but the current military elite seems more out of contact with the citizenry than at any point in our history. What proposals will deal with this problem?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 18, 2005 1:13:35 PM

Posted by: CW

"I do not think it would be a bad idea for parents to start asking admissions people “How are more conservative students treated on your campus?”, “Do you have many conservative faculty?”, etc."

in reading the various discussions re academic bias and freedom, something has been bothering me and I think this comment encapsulates much of the source of that discomfort.

first, why is it assumed that parents (or more generally, anyone other than the student) should be asking such questions? entering college students hopefully have a well developed sense of self (or at least did when I was that age - being older and childless, I have limited contemporary experience, but even that limited experience together with common sense suggest that it's still true). the student may not want to be in an inhospitable environment, but is it a foregone conclusion that the parents (or anyone) should function as the student's protectors? the entering student can (or will soon be able to) drive potentially lethal vehicles, consume potentially deadly substances, volunteer to potentially die at the direction of people for whom they may not have voted, but they can't deal with hurt feelings - or at least minimize the likelihood of experiencing them - on their own?

in any event, is the student really so impressionable and without philosophical grounding that they are vulnerable to brainwashing? having been reared in segregated Texas where racism and religious orthodoxy were broadly (though, I hasten to add, not universally, eg, not in my family) not only acceptable but assumed, it strikes me as highly unlikely that if the parents have done their job for the first 18 years, a student will be corrupted by a rogue prof or two during the next four.

and finally, the comment (and others, of course) suggest not only a degree of politicization of the ivied halls but also an interest on the part of a student in this supposed politicization that I find very hard to accept. I went to a fine university (Rice - thereby "suck[ing] off the teat" of philanthropy; insufficiently nourished, I later moved to the "public teat") , entered with a clear major objective, was highly motivated by the desire to escape my "middle class" economic status (which at that time meant you were only a notch or two above "poor") - and yet spent such free time as the brutally demanding engineering curriculum allowed trying to get hold of beer (limited success) and girls (no success). do contemporary students really find the the whole issue of politics - nevermind political bias - all that important? or is the extreme politicization that should really concern us in the greater society?

Posted by: CW | Jan 18, 2005 1:20:16 PM

Posted by: sierra

John T: I look at this issue the same way as I do federal education policy. As a fairweather libertarian I would prefer we get the federal government out of education altogether, but that's simply not going to happen in my lifetime. The next best option is to institute policies such as Bush's that insist on standards. As ham-handed as federal standards no doubt are, I think they're helping to make quantitative measurement and accountability possible. I also think no-strings-attached funding is undesirable, being literally irresponsible.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 18, 2005 1:32:30 PM

Posted by: Nick


If it's a concern of yours, please join us (military officers) and encourage your friends to join. If the Left feels they are under-represented in the armed forces and especially the officer corps, there are few (mostly age/medical related) barriers and it may go a long way toward having a better appreciation of what the U.S. military does.

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Jan 18, 2005 1:54:37 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Terrier, the American military officers I've known are extraordinary professionals with keenly developed senses of the differences between their political stances and their jobs. And the people I've known who've done teaching gigs on subjects like just war theory at military academies invariably come away hugely impressed by how serious and intelligent the students are.

That aside, sure, the topic of this thread isn't all that hugely important in the greater scheme of things. But that's true of many many things.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 18, 2005 2:48:13 PM

Posted by: Terrier

Nick, my father (35 years) insisted that I not serve (4 brothers did) and now it is too late for me. Most people these days have very little contact with or knowledge of the military and this is true for both the left and the right. I agree that all citizens need a better appreciation of what the U.S. military does but shouldn't the government take steps to ensure that that military actually represents the citizenry that it serves? What is being done by the military to ensure a more politically diverse officer class? This should be of far greater concern than whether a particular professor butters his toast butter side up or butter side down.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 18, 2005 2:50:22 PM

Posted by: Nick

As a volunteer organization, how can the government 'ensure' the armed forces is politically diverse? There are enough problems already with trying to make it more ethnically diverse. Trying and failing, for the most part.

The only sure way to have an armed force be representative of the nation is to have forced service - something that I doubt you will find many people will support, especially those currently in the armed forces.

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Jan 18, 2005 3:13:02 PM

Posted by: Nick


To answer your question, "What proposals will deal with this problem?" (regarding political polarization in the officer corps), I think the answer is the left embracing guns. It's really a topic for another post, but to protect yourself from a hostile army - be it foreign or domestic - you should be comfortable with, and capable of, shooting a gun.

The left could also regain some lost political ground if it would drop it's silly (to me) fear of guns/gun owners and attempts to erode the 2nd amendment. Just my 2 cents. :)

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Jan 18, 2005 3:21:54 PM

Posted by: John T

Sierra, I agree whole heartedly with your point about getting the federal government out of education altogether. We seem to have existed fairly well until 1979 when the Dept. of Education was created. Coincidentally or otherwise we also seemed to have a better educational system. However I also believe in incrementalism,how could it be otherwise in a mass democracy. As to grants,no strings attached,if there are no strings there is less power,at least in Washinton. This is still a federalist system,however weakened and I do believe the crowd in D.C. would think twice. In any case it's a thought against sending the money to a central gov't so they can send it back to us.

Posted by: John T | Jan 18, 2005 3:37:22 PM

Posted by: Jeff Licquia

If the choice is between freedom and regulation by the legislature, then yes, freedom is better.

But this is, I think, a question of "which regulation". The evidence suggests that there is a problem with academics abandoning high-minded notions of dissent in favor of conformity, and using their power as educators to enforce it. (Obviously, this is a broad brush, and I accuse no one in particular here.)

Given that we must choose between unelected, tenured regulators and elected, untenured ones, I will pick elected regulators every time, with all the warts such a choice implies.

Thus, those people who don't want regulation from legislatures need to consider how guarantees of true academic freedom--unfettered by either government or academic agents--can be made in the absence of such regulation.

Posted by: Jeff Licquia | Jan 18, 2005 4:24:32 PM

Posted by: Josh

I have mixed feelings on this subject. As a conservative, I resent and try to combat the creeping infringement of government in our everyday lives. As such, the idea of the government asserting itself either through direct involvement or through budgetary pressure in higher education is repugnant to me. I think we are too quick as conservatives to decry government involvement only until it serves our needs. Then, we embrace it with open arms.

However, I am forced to a difficult conclusion by remembering that government has already asserted itself into higher education by offering funding to colleges. Even private universities take funds from the government in one form or another. My ideal solution of course would be to remove all education funding provided by the national government, and let each state decide on their own policy. Something tells me that this isn't a realistic policy goal. As it stands right now, students cannot exert the economic pressures they would have available to them in a normal free-market environment because in most cases, they don't pay the lion's share of their tuition, which is in many cases dependent on them choosing a specific college. Since the government has effectively removed this ability by assuming the financial burden, I see little alternative to allowing them to shoulder the regulatory burden as well.

As to the many examples of politicians attacking "radical" things like nude art exhibits, in this case, that is a straw man. No one is suggesting that content be regulated in any way other than allowing multiple viewpoints. In fact, the language of the "bill of rights" would make it less, not more, likely that government officials would suppress ideas they didn't like.

Posted by: Josh | Jan 18, 2005 5:12:20 PM

Posted by: Josh

In order for that to be considered a legitimate threat requiring a solution, you would have to cite at least one example of an officer in the US military disobeying orders based on their political beliefs. I know of instances where orders have been disobeyed due to cowardice or illegality, but never because someone didn't like the result of an election, or the political leanings of a commander. At least in the case of leftist domination of the university system, there are concrete examples of professors being fired/punished and students being bullied for their beliefs.

Posted by: Josh | Jan 18, 2005 5:18:06 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Terrier, one thing the military does is try to recruit on college campuses. Unfortunately, many such campuses are hostile toward such attempts to broaden its base. Guess why?

Generally, active duty officer are very reluctant to discuss their political views, whatever those views may be, with anyone other than their closest friends. The fact is, however, that the officer corps is not overwhelmingly conservative. Moreover, it is really difficult to say what the politics of most soldiers, sailors, etc. actually are. Disparaging remarks about the Commander In Chief (any CoC) or overtly questioning or criticizing military policy or any other conduct which might be not conducive to morale and discipline, etc. are punishable offenses. There is good reason for this.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 18, 2005 5:36:00 PM

Posted by: Terrier

Think just about the contrast I've drawn! Note that personally I'm not rabidly anti-gun but I assume most of you don't want your neighbors armed with bazookas. Thus your existing guns are going to be a pretty poor protection against any government arriving at your compound in a tank. Now, pray tell, what is available to defend you from the liberal academics polluting your cherished alma mater? Your intelligence, your home training, your self-esteem? If humanity valued itself then dedicated teachers (whether they taught liberal philosophy or cobbling) would be valued most of all. Critics, on the other hand, are bulk-purchased.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 18, 2005 6:09:24 PM

Posted by: Nick


If teachers are so important, and I agree they are, then haven't you just explained why it's important to care about "...whether a particular professor butters his toast butter side up or butter side down." Dedicated teachers have a hand in shaping future generations and how they are doing that SHOULD be worth talking about.

I'll save bazooka, rifle, and tank discussions for another post.

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Jan 18, 2005 7:23:06 PM

Posted by: CDC

Waaayyy off topic post.

Terrier: Soldiers aren't robots. They are us. On my list of worries the mil comes in way behind the health of my cat's urinary tract. And I don't have a cat.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 18, 2005 7:26:44 PM

Posted by: Nick


Posted by: Nick | Jan 18, 2005 7:34:17 PM

Posted by: Josh

"Think just about the contrast I've drawn!"
The problem is you've drawn a false contrast. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the conclusion that the military shows any potential to attempt asserting their political views on anyone. Were you to show some credible evidence of such, there would be potential for serious debate on the issue.

There is also no evidence to support the conclusion that the military is actively attempting to undermine the hiring of liberals. In fact, as previous posters have suggested, any hostility is on the part of the left towards the military.

Therefore, the two basic premises that lead to the suggestion of a "Bill of Rights" are not present in this situation. If the same conditions don't exist, it would be ludicrous to reflexively claim the same solution is necessary.

Posted by: Josh | Jan 18, 2005 7:49:47 PM

Posted by: HereIsAThought

Why don't we scrap the worthless "modern" university system altogether, going back instead to the environments of learning/engagement that they were meant to become centuries ago when they emerged?

Posted by: HereIsAThought | Jan 18, 2005 8:36:17 PM

Posted by: tom perkins

From the blog Marginal Revolution:
Why I worry about essays for the new SAT
Tyler Cowen
An essay that does little more than restate the question gets a 1. An essay that compares humans to squirrels -- if a squirrel told other squirrels about its food store, it would die, therefore secrecy is necessary for survival -- merits a 5 [a good score]. Brian A. Bremen, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that the writer provides only one real example. Nevertheless, he says, the writer displays "a clear chain of thought" and should be rewarded, "despite his Republican tendencies."

Very intersting.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: tom perkins | Jan 18, 2005 9:02:20 PM

Posted by: Ted

CW wrote above:

"[I]t strikes me as highly unlikely that if the parents have done their job for the first 18 years, a student will be corrupted by a rogue prof or two during the next four."

This is exactly right. I can hardly persuade my students to come to class and read the books (mostly the sort of canonical texts that the conservatives would want me to be teaching). I end up with about forty total hours per class of classroom instruction; I don't believe for a minute that I can undermine twenty years of parenting, religious instruction, etc. in forty hours.

Also, given the rightward shift the country has been undergoing for the last quarter century, if we're trying to indoctrinate the students into liberalism we're obviously doing a really crappy job of it and the last thing conservatives should want to do is rock the boat.... :-)

Posted by: Ted | Jan 18, 2005 9:08:04 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I will say that I've read about some classrooms where it might be a good idea to give bazookas to the teachers.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 18, 2005 9:08:26 PM

Posted by: Steven Horwitz

Paul Shields writes:

I am suspicious of the Academic Bill of Rights for most of the reasons already mentioned. But I do not think it would be a bad idea for parents to start asking admissions people “How are more conservative students treated on your campus?”, “Do you have many conservative faculty?”, etc.

Yup. The Academic Bill of Rights is indeed a bad idea, but that doesn't mean there's not an issue here to some degree. And as someone who works extensively with first-year students, including prior to their arrival on campus, I HAVE had parents, though just a few, ask this or related questions during the admissions process. I think it's a legit question for parents and prospective students to ask.

At private liberal arts schools like mine, where there's always a need to recruit bright, wealthy students to cross-subsidize the rest and where such students are more likely to be from conservative parents, this will continue to be an issue during the admissions process.

Posted by: Steven Horwitz | Jan 18, 2005 9:11:40 PM

Posted by: Steven Horwitz

One other quick comment:

Those of you who dream of students unchained from their parents, making college decisions on their own, are living in a different world than I am. :) My biggest complaint these days is the over-involvement of my students' parents in their lives, both before they arrive and after. Parents are making decisions, filling out forms, picking classes, etc.. It's horrific.

I can't imagine ever even *asking* my parents for advice on what courses to take in college (and my father is a retired prof!), much less asking them to intervene in a situation with a faculty member or something in a residence hall.

It sucks, but "helicopter parents" hovering over their kids is the reality.

Posted by: Steven Horwitz | Jan 18, 2005 9:17:35 PM

Posted by: Will

Great Post. I'm a conservative and (like many others posting comments here) I find the idea of government intrusions into a college classroom both repugnant and a little scary.
Alas, Universities open themselves up to this by accepting government funds. The solution is complete privitization of (higher) education -- let the market decide what colleges or universities provides the best education.
If liberals still want to subsidize higher education, it would be better done on the demand side (through pell grants, etc. that would be independent of the student's choice of institution).

Posted by: Will | Jan 18, 2005 10:03:17 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

The AAUP response to the Academic Bill of Rights (ABR for short) is here. The link is in one of the comments in the Horowitz dialog linked in Don's post. In reading the actual text of the ABR, it seems like most of it is pretty much mom and apple pie. It also seems overly verbose, compared to the actual Bill of Rights.

Among the numbered items in the ABR, I'm leery mainly of two of them, #1 and #4. Even here, they seem to leave plenty of wiggle room.


1.  All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.
Does anyone object to the second sentence? I don't. In the first sentence, "fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives" is the problem. There is some synergistic benefit to putting people taking similar approaches together, and some departments, especially small ones, are prestigious for their depth in one specialization instead of covering everything. As long as the faculty keep up with the broader field for their teaching, who cares what methods they use in their research/scholarship/writing?
4.  Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.
"where appropriate" makes this toothless, depending on who decides when it's appropriate. I don't think the ABR dictates that - did I miss it? Still, this is what critics are reading as making them include stuff they don't want to include in their courses., and I think it can be read that way.

Note also that the ABR singles out humanities and social sciences in both of these items, rendering the evolution/ID issue technically moot (so it can be deferred to a different debate).

Do opponents of ABR object to the other clauses?

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 19, 2005 5:23:06 AM

Posted by: bakho

The University system works. We have people from all over the world clamoring to get into US univeristies. This is a clash of the university mission devoted to critical thinking, challenging all authority and ideology versus the current political environment of repressive elements trying to squash all criticism of those in power. If Universities can stave off this attack for a little while, the political tide will turn.

Posted by: bakho | Jan 19, 2005 8:25:24 AM

Posted by: Terrier

"There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the conclusion that the " academy "shows any potential to attempt asserting their political views on anyone." <- exactly! As someone pointed out, many rightists around here are fond of touting the right-wing bent of the younger generation, so I see no evidence that Stalinist professors are breeding new obedient young comrades for my local cell. I think we should be more worried about attracting dedicated teachers (officers!) to the profession (military!) instead of trying to legislate their political philosophies. Teachers are important and successful to the extent that they awaken someone's desire to know - any truly educated person is self-educated.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 19, 2005 9:06:58 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I agree with Terrier at least to this extent, if there are teachers attempting to impose their political (or religious or whatever) views on their students (and I think there are, both intentionally and unintentionally), it doesn’t tend to work well. I don’t think the issue is so much one of the effectiveness of such behavior as it is of what the Enduring Grievances crowd calls a “hostile environment.” Also, I think students are shortchanged if they do not have the opportunity to be exposed to a wider range of opinion than may be the case in many colleges, and I would make (and have made) that point about conservative schools, too.

The talk of the military, however, seems to me entirely misplaced. I have some fairly long term (vicarious) experience about this, and I have never heard so much as a murmur of disagreement with Goldwater-Nichols or the principle of civilian control of the military from anyone in uniform. To the extent the senior uniformed leadership of the armed services ever acts ‘politically,’ it is for self-interested reasons much the same as any identity-politics type group would.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 19, 2005 9:27:38 AM

Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Let's distinguish two things here, one of which concerns me, the other doesn't. There's a big difference between the kinds of readings and teaching methods faculty use or the degree to which they include their own perspective in the classroom and bias in evaluation of student work, or uncivil treatment in the classroom.

It's perfectly within a faculty member's rights to construct a reading list that reflects her understanding of the subject matter. I might argue that one-sided reading lists are a bad idea, but it's not a matter of administrative concern. It's also perfectly within a faculty member's rights to put her point of view on the table in the classroom (preferably about subjects related to the content of the course). We are, after all, professors; we should be able to "profess."

What's NOT okay is to evaluate students on the basis of their agreement with your views, or to build into a course assignments/activities that take for granted that students have a particular politics that agrees with the faculty member's. What's also NOT okay is to go beyond intellectually challenging students who disagree with you to insulting them, demeaning them or the things they believe in, suggesting they need psychological counseling, or otherwise claiming that they are arguing in bad faith simply on the basis of their political views per se with no other evidence to support it. (Of course some students really might be sexists or racists, but just because they raise *intellectual* objections to, say, affirmative action, doesn't make that automatically the case.)

When conservative or libertarian students complain about the first thing, they're whining and I don't care. And I also don't care if they are whining about faculty challenging their views vigorously, as long as it's about ideas and remains civil. (The biggest problem at my campus is that said students don't want to invest the time in doing the reading to be able to argue back, which is what they *should* be doing! I wish I had the internet when I was an undergrad... I would have made Herzog's life even more miserable. ;) )

If and when, and it's not very often, they can show that they were treated in the second manner, i.e., graded "ideologically" or treated in insulting/demeaning ways that are more than the prof saying "you have no evidence for that argument," then they've got a legit complaint.

And yes, I recognize that the line between these two is sometimes fuzzy, but that doesn't mean the distinction isn't a real one.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 19, 2005 10:53:39 AM

Posted by: Ted H.

A remark on grade inflation:

Grade inflation reflects a school's underlying academic culture. At Kenyon College, where I taught for a few years, some of the most popular profs were very strict graders, and students seemed to view strict grading as a sign of pedagogical seriousness. Grade-grubbing was nearly non-existent at Kenyon, and it was rare at the two other liberal arts colleges at which I've taught.

At the large and not very distinguished state university where I now teach grade-grubbing is the currency of faculty-student interaction. Any professor who graded strictly would quickly lose his or her precious enrollments, and the temptation to inflate is therefore quite hard to resist.

This surprised me, since at Kenyon and the other liberal arts colleges (both ranked in the top 15 in US News), students 'need' the grades for competitive grad-school admissions, etc., whereas the futures of my current students are not as grade-determined.

I think what makes the difference is that the quality of undergraduate education at the liberal arts colleges was so tremendously higher. Where I now teach (in my second year), undergraduate education is a race to the bottom. Undergraduate culture seems intellectually barren. Grades, alas, are all these kids have. At the liberal arts colleges, by contrast, it was not naive to view many of my students as simply interested in learning.

This theory doesn't explain Harvard (or does it?). But it does capture something I've noticed and haven't seen otherwise explained.

Posted by: Ted H. | Jan 19, 2005 11:14:53 AM

Posted by: Jim Hu

Ted H., interesting observation (and nice blog too; I skimmed a bit and need to go back and read diachronic agency more carefully; while I suspect we disagree on a lot of issues I like the thoughtfulness of your posts. I liked the Andrew Sullivan award even though I do admire Andrew for much of his writing). But I digress.

I think you are onto something, but it may just mean that quality of undergrad education is overrated at Harvard. Schools like Kenyon place undergrad education more centrally in their world view, no? To be clear, I am not one of the folks at my place who argue that undergrad teaching should be "rewarded" more to provide parity with the rewards of success in research. I just think doing both well is part of the job description. Some of my best teachers were research stars, and the synergy between research and teaching can be great. But, those research stars who want to use grant funds to "buy out" of their teaching don't belong at a university, IMHO...that's what research institutes are for.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 19, 2005 12:09:30 PM

Posted by: TravelOutsideAmericaOnceInAWhile

"We have people from all over the world clamoring to get into US univeristies."

I've attended universities in both Canada and the US, so I can say that American universities are second-rate in comparison.

Posted by: TravelOutsideAmericaOnceInAWhile | Jan 19, 2005 6:15:04 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Though not, one must presume, based on what you studied about statistically representative samples.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 19, 2005 7:25:30 PM

Posted by: Perseus

Don Herzog:

To answer your burning question: there is no National Pickle Week, but there is INTERNATIONAL Pickle Week, which will be celebrated May 20-30 of this year. I guess one week of celebration isn't enough. (http://www.mtolivepickles.com/News/Event05.html)

Posted by: Perseus | Jan 20, 2005 5:05:49 AM

Posted by: exguru

"Students pay tuition, but they can't buy good grades."

I disagree with this proposition--not in the crass sense, but more subtly.

Many years ago it was parents who paid most of the college tuition, but today it is the students themselves, armed with government loans, plus scholarships and grants. You don't have to be Milton Friedman to recognize there is a certain relationship between vendor and customer, and you don't have to be Livy to know parents were much happier with the college catalogs and product of years ago than they are with the college catalogs and product of today. Rampant "grade inflation" is probably involved here, too.

Posted by: exguru | Jan 20, 2005 8:32:46 PM

Posted by: Acton

Mr. Horwitz writes,

"If and when, and it's not very often, they can show that they were treated in the second manner, i.e., graded "ideologically" or treated in insulting/demeaning ways that are more than the prof saying "you have no evidence for that argument," then they've got a legit complaint."

Does anyone here disagree with this distinction? I certainly don't, and it isn't clear that anything in the ABR as written makes distinctions between acceptable or unacceptable behavior in the classroom that is any more intrusive or controversial than the distinction you made.

The problem is that even if we can agree that a students treated in the second way has a grievance, the student's recourse within the university system isn't always clear. To whom should the student appeal for redress? The horror stories about professors who brazenly cross the line (the Kuwaiti student who was told to seek psychological help for writing a paper in support of the Constitution, the Jewish students at Columbia University who are asked by a professor in class how many Palestinians they have murdered, etc.) are compelling because there was no obvious effective recourse for these students within the university itself.

Fine. Most of us can agree that a legislative solution is ripe for abuse. But until the universities are prepared to make and protect distinctions between political pluralism and ideologial abuse in the classroom, my sympathies are with the ABR crowd.


Posted by: Acton | Jan 21, 2005 9:30:24 AM

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