pundit on higher education has described our colleges and universities
as islands of oppression in a sea of freedom. While the comment
is humorous, the observation is quite serious. The lack of intellectual
diversity on our college and university campuses is increasingly
troublesome and of profound concern to all of us interested in the
education of our next generation of leaders.
early as 1991, Yale President Benno Schmidt warned that, "The
most serious problems of freedom of expression in our society today
exist on campuses. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of
education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for
wisdom and liberate the mind." In his last report to the Board
of Overseers, retiring Harvard President Derek Bok similarly warned:
"What universities can and must resist are deliberate, overt
attempts to impose orthodoxy and suppress dissent.
years, the threat of orthodoxy has come primarily from within rather
than outside the university."
organization, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, was founded
in 1995 and is a bipartisan network of college and university trustees
and alumni across the country dedicated to academic freedom and
excellence. Since our founding, we have had occasion to evaluate
colleges and universities in terms of academic freedom and academic
offerings. And what we have discovered confirms these eminent university
presidents worst fears.
than fostering intellectual diversity the robust exchange
of ideas traditionally viewed as the very essence of a college education
our colleges and universities are increasingly bastions of
political correctness, hostile to the free exchange of ideas.
I go any further, I want to make one principle perfectly clear.
There is no more important value to the life of the mind than academic
freedom. This is the value that Thomas Jefferson so vividly articulated
in reference to the University of Virginia: "We are not afraid,"
said Jefferson, "to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor
to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
And that means permitting academics of all political stripes
with partisan or ideological commitments counting neither for nor
against them to engage in that exercise.
what is at issue here today is the other side of the equation, the
students right to academic freedom, the students right
to learn and hear both sides of controversial issues of the day.
While there is much thoughtful teaching and superb scholarship across
the country, there are also many examples as I will outline
in the next few minutes of teaching and learning being put
into the service of politics and ideology. As a consequence, our
colleges and universities are failing at their responsibility to
educate the next generation of leaders by rigorous and balanced
exposure to significant theories and thoughtful viewpoints.
to the robust exchange of ideas on our college and university campuses
come in many forms, but typically manifest themselves in the following
of politically incorrect speakers;
of one-sided panels, teach-ins and conferences;
against speakers who fail to follow the politically correct
that is politicized;
elimination of broad-based survey courses in favor of trendy,
and often politicized, courses;
against or intimidation of students who seek to speak their
discrimination in college hiring and retention; and
codes and campus newspaper theft and destruction.
are some examples.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was disinvited by the University
of Texas-Austin president because of threats by a fringe student
group. The hecklers veto reigns.
of California trustee and recognized public figure Ward Connerly
was disinvited by Columbia on the grounds that the university could
not provide adequate security. Again, the protesting few limited
the rights of the majority.
Panels or Teach-Ins
sponsored a teach-in examining the events of September 11 but was
publicly criticized by Professor of Classics Donald Kagan for its
utter failure to include a single spokesman in favor of military
College sponsored a post 9/11 panel without any representatives
of the U.S. or Israeli governments point of view. Professor
Robert David Johnson condemned the panel as one sided, and
as you will learn paid dearly for doing so.
Columbia University, college professors convened a six-hour anti-war
"teach-in." One student, quoted in the campus newspaper,
described the teach-in as nothing more than a "fervid presentation
of an exclusive viewpoint
where professors could express
their viewpoints unopposed."
Against the Politically Incorrect
these cases, professors or students are singled out for punishment
because of the content of their views. In the wake of September
11, a number of professors were sanctioned for being pro-war, while
very few cases arose of professors being taken to task for anti-war
University shut down a faculty members website after he
included an article advocating a vigorous military response
to terrorism. The website was later reinstated, but the professor
must now include a disclaimer that his views do not reflect
the views of the university. Duke has never before required
such a disclaimer.
University of Massachusetts administrator revoked a permit for
a pro-war rally, while allowing an anti-war rally to proceed.
Florida Gulf Coast dean instructed employees to remove "Proud
to be an American" stickers until negative public reaction
prompted her to revoke the decision.
the University of California, a course description for "The
Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" stated that
"conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."
The University called the description a failure of oversight and
announced it would monitor the class to ensure it did not exclude
or discourage points of view. The professor, a leader of the Students
for Justice in Palestine, was not reprimanded.
the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts (along with
at least 30 institutions across the country, including Princeton
and the University of California) students enroll in "whiteness
studies." At Massachusetts, the enrollees are required to participate
in a "privilege walk." According to the Washington
Post, the field is "based on a left-leaning interpretation
of history by scholars who say the concept of race was created by
a rich white European and American elite, and has been used to deny
property, power and status to nonwhite groups for two centuries."
Note: students are not asked to evaluate this thesis but to absorb
the University of South Carolina a professor provided students with
a set of discussion guidelines that asked them to "acknowledge
that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutionalized
forms of oppression exist" and called upon them to "agree
to combat actively the myths and stereotypes about our own groups
and other groups so that we can break down the walls that prohibit
group cooperation and group gain."
Arizona State University, a course on Navajo history restricted
enrollment to American Indian students.
Spanish courses at Florida International University are closed to
Academic Study Survey conducted by Stanley Rothman, Emeritus Professor
of Political Science at Smith College, the results of which are
being released today, finds that half of American professors identify
with the Democrats, a third call themselves independent, while a
tenth of the respondents identify with the Republicans. A much higher
percentage of faculty members surveyed 72% describe
their own ideology as "left," while 15% self-describe
their ideology as "right." Eighty one percent of professors
in the humanities and 75% in the social sciences identify their
views as strongly or moderately left, while only 9% of respondents
in these two fields hold strongly or moderately conservative views.
Even in the science, math, business, and medicine sectors, faculty
who identify themselves as Republican are in the minority.
would not be so bad if professors consistently offered different
points of view. However, the concept of balance appears to be out
of favor with contemporary academicians. This was starkly underscored
this fall when the Faculty Senate at the University of California
adopted a new regulation on academic freedom. This new provision
removed the long-term prohibition against using the classroom "as
a platform for propaganda" on the grounds that in this new
age "academic freedom does not distinguish between interested
and disinterested scholarship." At a time when
postmodernism reigns on our college and university campuses, the
concept of the disinterested search for the truth has been supplanted
by a conception of the world that views every issue in terms of
race, class and gender.
this ideological imbalance would not be fatal if students were given
the knowledge and background that empowers them to think for themselves.
But survey after survey by ACTA and others also show that students
are no longer even being exposed to broad areas of knowledge.
than being introduced to foundational subjects such as history,
natural science, literature, government, and economics, students
are permitted to pick and choose from a smorgasbord of academic
offerings that are often trendy and tendentious. In two studies
conducted by ACTA, Losing Americas Memory and Restoring
Americas Legacy, we discovered that not one of the top
50 require a course in American history of their graduates. Only
five institutions required any history at all. Instead, students
are picking from course offerings ranging from "From Hand to
Mouth: Writing, Eating and the Construction of Gender" at Dartmouth
and "Global Sexualities" at Duke to "Witchcraft,
Sorcery and Magic" at Williams College.
this atmosphere, faced often with only one viewpoint and having
very little or no information on which to make up their own minds,
our next generation is truly being disserved.
many will argue that these are isolated anecdotes, that political
correctness and the lack of intellectual diversity are not really
a problem, that courses are handled fairly and that teachers are
well aware of the need to let students speak their mind.
the fact is there are too many alarms from too many quarters to
ignore what is happening. Whether it is ACTA or FIRE, Nadine Strossen
of the ACLU, or the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan (who
once said, regarding college speech codes, "They ought to just
abolish all of them"), evidence of widespread limitations on
intellectual diversity on our college campuses is now overwhelming.
last weekend, two recent college graduates bewailed the state of
affairs in the Wall Street Journal. And I quote: "One
would not dare question certain truths in the classroom
for fear of being ostracized, vilified or receiving a grade
adjustment. An independent-minded renegade chooses instead
to bite his tongue rather than face the inevitable wrath of his
peers and, worse, his instructor, who ought to be facilitating an
honest, open dialogue."
this substantial evidence, this committee is to be commended for
raising awareness of this most critical academic freedom issue.
"Sunlight," as Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, "is
a great disinfectant." By contrast, to ignore a problem or
to be less than candid about it discourages a remedy.
next question, of course, is what is that remedy ought to be.
American Council of Trustees and Alumni respectfully submits that
the solutions for this problem are not legislative mandates
but instead fall within the purview of college and university
faculty, administrators, and boards of trustees. Statutory edicts
on curricular matters are bound to raise academic freedom problems
of their own. The remedy, as Madison wrote in The Federalist,
would be "worse than the disease." Therefore, ACTA recommends
have a fiduciary obligation to protect the academic quality and
academic freedom of their institutions. They should protect academic
freedom of both faculty and students from internal
as well as external threats. Faculty and administrators likewise
have this obligation but, at many universities, they have clearly
defaulted on this responsibility.
should adopt a statement or resolution that all faculty are
expected to present points of view other than their own in a
balanced way and respect and nurture students ability
to make up their own minds on contentious issues.
should adopt a policy underscoring that the focus of courses
is intellectual development and the acquisition of knowledge
and skills, not the manipulation of attitudes or engaging in
should insist that their institutions offer broad-based survey
courses designed to expose students to the best that has been
done and said.
should insist that speaker programs sponsored by the university
present a range of points of view.
should make clear that they will not tolerate ideological or
political discrimination in the hiring, firing, or promoting
of faculty. Trustees should monitor tenure decisions
both granting and denying on a regular basis.
should direct administrators and faculty to engage in an "intellectual
diversity inventory" to see whether students are exposed
to diverse points of view in classroom readings, speakers series,
etc., and whether partisan or ideological bias is influencing
hiring and retention.
should hold periodic hearings to raise public awareness of this
problem, and should encourage faculty, administrators, and boards
of trustees voluntarily to conduct intellectual diversity reviews
and to make the results public so that students, parents and
taxpayers can see what the facts are.
should target federal grants to promote the study and teaching
of American history, politics and the law. ACTA commends Senator
Gregg for sponsoring S.1515, the Higher Education for Freedom
Act, which focuses on this need.
Anne Neal is the President of the American Council of Trustees and
in Washington, D.C., and presented this testimony before the U.S.
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions in October.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 7, 2003]
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