Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Students, Academic Freedom, and Pennsylvania

A little bit closer to home. . . .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 Chronicle of Higher Education

Pennsylvania Panel Urges Colleges to Protect Students' Academic Freedom but Says Campus Bias Is Rare

A special committee of the Pennsylvania legislature that investigated complaints that liberal professors had treated conservative students unfairly has issued a draft report that stops short of calling for a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights to academic freedom. But the report recommends that Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities review their own policies and ensure that students' rights to free speech are protected.

The report was drafted by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, which plans to vote on it by the end of this month.

The panel was established in July 2005 to investigate claims that professors' ideological views were influencing what they taught and how they treated students whose views clashed with their own (The Chronicle, July 7, 2005). The committee held four public hearings over eight months. While the draft report says the panel was urged to endorse a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights, it says the committee felt such a step was "unnecessary" because violations of students' academic freedom "are rare."

Still, the report says that just as colleges have policies guaranteeing professors' academic freedom, they should have similar policies guaranteeing students' rights. The draft report says colleges should adopt such policies and post them on their Web sites.

Students should be informed, it says, of what to do if they believe that professors have violated their rights, including how to lodge grievances. Students who want to file complaints, says the report, should be able to do so with someone outside their departments. The report also recommends that colleges add questions to course evaluations, asking students whether they feel free to say what they believe during class discussions.

State Rep. Gibson C. Armstrong, a Republican from Lancaster, Pa., introduced the resolution, known as HR 177, that established the House committee. During hearings, according to the report, he said he had received dozens of complaints from students at Temple University who said professors used their classrooms to spread liberal views.

In addition, the committee report quotes the conservative activist David Horowitz, who testified before the panel. He said he had interviewed more than 100 students in the state who complained that their professors "railed against George Bush, the war in Iraq, and the policies and attitudes of Republicans and conservatives."

Mr. Horowitz has encouraged Republican lawmakers in several states to enact a measure, known as the academic bill of rights, that he says will make college campuses more intellectually diverse. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

But Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars -- who criticized the "intellectual one-sidedness of the professoriate" when he testified before the Pennsylvania panel -- said on Tuesday that he was pleased with the draft report.

"The object of the hearings was not to legislate for universities," he said, "but to coax them to come up with appropriate and creative solutions."

1 comment:

Jake M said...

Free Exchange on Campus has a piece up debunking Horowitz's claim to victory...