Thursday, December 30, 2004

Blowing a wrong note 

In yet another article on how conservative students are making liberal faculty lives harder, I find these paragraphs:
Once, it was liberal campus activists who cited the importance of "diversity" in pressing their agendas for curriculum change. Now, conservatives have adopted much of the same language in calling for a greater openness to their viewpoints.

Similarly, academic freedom guidelines have traditionally been cited to protect left-leaning students from punishment for disagreeing with teachers about such issues as American neutrality before World War II and U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Now, those same guidelines are being invoked by conservative students who support the war in Iraq.

To many professors, there's a new and deeply troubling aspect to this latest chapter in the debate over academic freedom: students trying to dictate what they don't want to be taught.

"Even the most contentious or disaffected of students in the '60s or early '70s never really pressed this kind of issue," said Robert O'Neil, former president of the University of Virginia and now director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

That seems wrong to me. Many Vietnam-era protests were directed against ROTC programs on campuses, which is "trying to dictate what they don't want to be taught." Those protests were "really pressed" on many campuses by taking over buildings and staging sit-ins.

Nor do I really understand the difference between asking for balanced treatment of the issue of American involvement in Vietnam and asking for balanced treatment of the issue in Iraq.

Articles like this one conflate an image with reality. David Horowitz and the Academic Bill of Rights carries an image that the MSM and liberal critics encourage of trying to silence anti-American speech. The article uses this case from Students for Academic Freedom and says the facts are in dispute. But there is little dispute that a faculty member in the music department is teaching "peace studies" and talking about economics and political science. That explains, for example, the cover of this pamphlet. The school is supporting this faculty member without addressing that concern. (They only say he has a doctorate in "higher education" and that he's taught "peace studies" before.)

It's not really a question of academic freedom. The questions here should not be viewed as legalistic, which to me is a continuing problem with ABOR. It is a question of whether the professional ethics of a faculty member should include an attempt to provide balance in the classroom. What conservative faculty are calling for is a re-assertion of those ethics.

It isn't the right that is calling for speech codes. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education owes its existence not to calls for suppression of free speech but to its encouragement.

(Hat tip: Scholar Jim.)