Monday, April 04, 2005

Academic Bill of Rights for MN finally filed 

The bill is called officially "The Free Speech for Faculty and Students Bill of Rights", S. 1988 for those of you who follow these things. It would be binding only on MnSCU institutions; the University of Minnesota would be requested to follow it, but its functional independence from the Legislature makes the latter unable to force the U of M to follow it.

There are some significant differences in this bill from those proposed in Colorado or Ohio; it more hews to the model legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Local campus response has been of course negative. The lobbyist for our union continues to bring up the canard of it requiring biologists to take a "neutral view on evolution versus creation." It does no such thing:

Faculty and instructors have a right to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate and the critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

I don't think creationism is a serious scholarly viewpoint, and I don't think the bill's authors would argue that point. The lobbyist also asks if controversial speakers would have to be balanced with offsetting speakers. It doesn't say that, either. It does provide guidance, however:
The institution shall distribute student fee funds on a fair and equitable basis and shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious disagreements, differences, and opinions. The selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers' programs, and other student activities shall observe the principles of academic freedom and promote the presentation of a diversity of opinions on intellectual matters. Except as provided by law, the institution shall not permit the obstruction of invited campus speakers or the destruction of student newspapers or campus literature promoting campus events.

The middle sentence, which I think is unique to the MN bill (I've checked about six of these, including the ALEC model) seems to invite criticism of the sort the lobbyist suggests. I don't think it is necessary; I do think the last sentence is quite necessary.

I still dislike this bill, and I hope that we get the same outcome that Colorado got -- getting the student portion (3.a-d) entered into student handbooks; given the collective bargaining agreement for faculty, I don't give us a snowball's chance of getting the faculty protections in S. 1988 even if they were codified -- but we will get nothing without some pressure brought to bear. Miss Median sent around a copy of Stanley Fish's latest pissiness about ABoR, which included this Monument to Disingenuity:
The only thing you would get were you to enforce a political balance of persons hired or promoted would be a politicized university.

Scholar Jack asks, "And what, do you suppose, he thinks we have now?"

UPDATE: Not exactly on the same subject, but see Stephen's notes on the difference between tenure and academic freedom, with effective quotes from John Silber.