Leave academic freedom to the academics
Conservative columnist David Horowitz, who has been trying to push legislation on the national and state levels to protect conservative students from what he calls ?liberal bias,? claimed a victory at the news of the Harrisburg?s decision.
Liberals went on the offensive ? rightly so, but their approach has been ineffectual. Fortunately, the American Council on Education set out in the right direction when instead of lashing out with nonsense, they drafted the ?Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities.?
Horowitz?s ?Academic Bill of Rights? pushes some fairly innocuous ideas into dangerous territory with artful wordplay: curricula ?should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge? by ?providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate.? What you learn in school, the bill states, ?should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.? And, oh yes, speakers should always promote ?intellectual pluralism? as well. No problem.
But then, who decides what is ?appropriate?? What dictates an ?unsettled question?? And why have interesting speakers if they can?t take strong stances on their beliefs? The government should not have a hand in these matters.
However, Horowitz?s bill is not a blatant quota-system mandate. Nowhere does it say that schools should employ as many conservative professors as liberal ones. Nor does it demand that political science classes split equally into blue and red ? though certain interpretations could construe it that way. Too many extremist liberals have flown off the handle and painted Horowitz?s ramblings as quota-pushing, right-wing craziness, without addressing the bill for what it actually says. In doing so, as is too often the case, they?ve opened themselves up for easy conservative criticism.
To fend off state or national intervention in academia, opponents to Horowitz?s bill need to pose intelligent arguments, not exaggerated claims that undercut their credibility.
The ACE?s statement makes several of the same points as Horowitz, but specifically avoids any mandates that could be construed as quota-governing or viewpoint-pushing. It defends intellectual and political freedom openly, without hidden agendas: as it states in its first point, each school shapes its own particular purpose, and that purpose dictates its academic tone. Thirty different educational groups across the nation ? including the American Association of University Professors ? have endorsed the ACE?s statement. This shows that the academic community knows what it needs.
It?s time for politicians to listen up. To conservatives, lay off; academia knows what it needs. And to liberals, rein in your sensationalism and follow the lead of those who know best.