Monday, December 26, 2005

PA legislative hearings on ABOR make a nice flashlight 

One of my colleagues sent me a link to the NY Times article yesterday that discusses the Pennsylvania legislature's discussion of the academic bill of rights. These hearings were mandated by a bill that passed the Pennsylvania earlier in 2005. As you would expect, these hearings are meeting great resistance from academia, as the Times article notes:

"Mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them," said Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former chairwoman of the professors association committee on academic freedom, in testimony at the Pennsylvania Legislature's first hearing. "There is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies."

In a debate with Mr. Horowitz last summer, Russell Jacoby, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, portrayed Mr. Horowitz's approach as heavy-handed. "It calls for committees or prosecutors to monitor the lectures and assignments of teachers," he said. "This is a sure-fire way to kill free inquiry and whatever abuses come with it."

The American Association of University Professors is attempting to kill the debate on ABoR. The Pennsylvania bill, however, does exactly what conservative critics of academia want -- get hearings before official committees that can hear of abuses of power. So AAUP says no specific examples have been brought to the hearings, and therefore there's no fire to put out here.

This is a specious argument, since the leftist bias on campus is pervasive and systemic. What AAUP is criticizing is that there isn't specific victim of a specific attack. has some examples from Penn State, however (SCSU readers will remember this fellow as one of our diversity trainers). They could look at Shippensburg State's suppression of student speech rights. Or look at Bucks County CC's loyalty oath to diversity as a job requirement. If AAUP wants to maintain its credibility in criticizing ABoR -- a bill I am not a fan of myself -- it should at least try to get its facts straight. The point Steve Balch and David French have made at the hearings is that there is a culture that suppresses. Were we brought only a few isolated cases, of course AAUP and the legislature would argue that schools should be allowed to their own devices to deal with these 'aberrations'.

More specious still are arguments that conservative students are just the new PC activists who are whining that they can't take hostility from faculty. Most of us have argued the opposite -- Ann Coulter, for example, argues that it is leftist students who are unable to articulate their opposition to conservative views and who resort instead to pie-throwing. The argument for ABoR comes not from a single class where someone, say, draws Venn diagrams suggesting how to show Republicans are stupid, incompetent yes-men, but from a pervasive culture that embraces a leftist political agenda and makes it part of their job description and creates whole departments towards forwarding that view. (Quick, name me a conservative professor of social work!)

If the Pennsylvania hearings are getting play in the NYT, that's all to the good. Even if they are misrepresented by many (and here I'm not criticizing the Times itself, whose reporter does a fair job), the exposure of what happens on campuses will be worthwhile.

(cf. new conservative student networks and their critics -- h/t reader jw.)