Tuesday #9 (Independence Day edition)

The day off from teaching and the holiday activity threw me off my schedule so much that I forgot it was Tuesday until a few minutes ago. So for your Independence Day perusal, this week I submit a Bill of Rights:

The Academic Bill of Rights

This is the outgrowth of David Horowitz‘s involvement with higher education, and in case you didn’t know, it’s somewhat controversial.

Academic types hate Horowitz; go to any article at and you will find at least one reference to “Horowitz and his ilk” or some such in either the article or the comments. But like most reactionaries, those who rail against the ABR have rarely, if ever, stopped and actually read the thing itself. So, here it is. Read it and ask yourself, “What makes this such an inflammatory document?”

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.

2. No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

3. Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

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.

5. Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

6. Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

7. An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.

8. Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. […] [A]cademic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

I think this entire document could be summed up in two points:

  • Keep it real in your teaching and scholarship. Nobody has a corner on the truth, so keep your own political and religious leanings deliberately in perspective.
  • The most important part of your job will be the long-term best interests of your students, and the biggest issue will be whether your teaching and scholarship makes it more likely or less likely to become free, independent thinkers who can weigh evidence and draw their own conclusions.

Despite the noisy protests to the contrary, this document does not abridge anybody’s academic freedom — it in fact affirms and supports the academic freedom of the student, who is just as much a part of the academy as anybody else — nor does it mandate that patently false viewpoints be presented in classes. It simply insists that the academy stay true to its reason for existence — the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and the development of the intellect.

It seems to me that the health of my country is mirrored in the health of my country’s colleges and universities. America, possibly more than any other country on the planet, is qualified to nurture institutions of learning that promote independent thinking, tough-minded analysis of facts, free expression of creativity, and the enjoyment that comes from developing one’s mind. I think the ABR, when taken on its own terms, points the academy back to perhaps what it should be.

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