A Call For Academic Freedom

Susan Page
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Wednesday - April 27, 2005
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What if your college freshman daughter told you that in her biology class the day before the 2004 general election her professor showed students the George Bush-bashing Michael Moore movie Fahrenheit 9-11? Even if you were a Kerry supporter, wouldn’t you question that movie’s relevance to the study of plants and animals?

If you’re shocked that a university professor would try to politically indoctrinate your child to left leaning ideas, you’re the one that needs a course: Reality 101. College campuses are now — and have been for some 30 years — bastions of the political left. And this wouldn’t be so objectionable if true diversity of thought was honored.

For example, if the recent highly controversial visit to the UH campus by Ward Churchill (Colorado professor who compared 9-11 victims to Nazis who deserved their fiery fate) had included a debate with a political conservative like perhaps William Kristol or Ann Coulter, it might’ve been viewed it as stirring the intellectual pot, true freedom of ideas, real advancement of critical thinking.

Didn’t happen, and likely never will unless parents and students demand that one-sided political rhetoric stays out of classrooms — especially in biology class.

The good news is that students are actually finding their voice, which fear of retribution has often silenced, through a movement on campuses across the country called Students for Academic Freedom (SAF, www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org), whose slogan is “You can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story.”

This effort is spearheaded by SAF founder and chairman David Horowitz, nationally known author, political commentator, longtime civil rights activist and former affiliate of the radical Black Panther Party of the 1970s. He was in Honolulu last week to introduce the SAF mission to the governor and the University of Hawaii campus.

His highly public break from the political left in the 1980s has made him a pariah on college campuses. He’s been both banned and, then, when he has spoken, harassed and even physically attacked. But, in truth, he hasn’t veered from his lifelong fight for fairness and defending the rights of those under attack, whether it is Jews, Muslims, Christians, white males, black women or students being denied freedom of expression on campus. He believes “political indoctrination is going on everywhere” and that colleges and universities have become “training programs in leftist ideology.”

“Partisan ideologies have no place in education at any level,” says Horowitz. “Parents and Students for Academic Freedom will remind school administrators that they must treat all children with fairness and equality, and show respect for the values that their parents have chosen to teach them.”

The movement has a handbook that spells out the mission, principles, themes and the Academic Bill of Rights, which borrows from the 1915 General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure admonishing faculty to avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity to fairly examine other opinions upon the matters …”

And it subscribes to the 1967 American Association of University Professors’ Joint Statement: “Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study to reserve judgement about matters of opinion.”

Horowitz has been effective in lobbying legislatures in 30 states so far to consider — and, in some cases, pass — the Academic Bill of Rights inspired Higher Education Reauthorization Act, a move the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers oppose, claiming it would “create an ideological litmus test for faculty.” Horowitz calls this an “outright falsehood,” saying the bill “forbids the consideration of political or ideological views in hiring and tenure process.”

Even the liberal-leaning New York Times rails against campus bias in an article (April 7, 2005) titled “Intimidation at Columbia” that criticizes Columbia University for not addressing a deluge of student complaints about biased teaching and personal abuses in the Middle Eastern studies program.

Students for Academic Freedom believe that “universities are institutions of learning, not platforms for political parties or intellectual sects. They exist to serve all their students, not just those who share the political or particular beliefs of their professors, especially on matters where reasonable people disagree.”

In George Orwell’s 1984, government is depicted as one that usurps the freedom to dissent or be different and to stifle political opposition. Is 1984 alive in a high school or college near you? If you have experienced academic indoctrination, bias or grading to enforce conformity, check out the websites www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org and www.noindoctrination.org.

Also, let me know.

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