Academic rights vs. academic freedom | News Feature | Indy Week
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Academic rights vs. academic freedom 

One of the leaders in the nation's campus culture wars is coming to N.C. State

Guess who's coming to Raleigh? David Horowitz, a former left-wing writer turned right-wing think-tank founder, will speak Oct. 16 at the McKimmon Center at N.C. State. His appearance is part of the "Freedom and the American Campus" conference hosted by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. In recent years, Horowitz's California-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture has become a conservative battering ram against what it claims is the prevailing "liberal bias" in academia. With major funding from national conservative foundations, Horowitz's center has been collecting student complaints and pushing a national "Academic Bill of Rights" aimed at enforcing "the principle of intellectual diversity" on campus.

The bill, the subject of Horowitz's conference talk, has been introduced in the U.S. House by ultraconservative North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones. It was enthusiastically adopted by the Georgia Senate last March, though it flopped in state legislatures in both Colorado and Washington.

While its backers claim the bill would prevent what they view as discrimination against conservatives in hiring and course selection at universities, critics say the real effect would be to undermine the established principle of academic freedom by introducing a "political litmus test," as the Academic Senate of the California State University system put it. Last April, CSU faculty succeeded in keeping a version of the "Academic Bill of Rights" bottled up in a legislative committee.

Faculty in North Carolina are mobilizing, as well. At press time, the Faculty Senate at NCSU was set to vote on a resolution affirming the principle of academic freedom and decrying "attempts, both locally and nationally, to quell discussion of contentious and important topics by trying to legislate a 'balanced approach' in the classroom," as an early draft stated.

Dennis Daley, a political science professor and current chair of N.C. State's faculty, says he expects the resolution will be approved. "We already have requirements that faculty provide balance in their classes," he says. "But that's determined by experts in the field, not by some outside group or upper level administrators."

While the academic rights issue has been presented as one mainly concerning the humanities, Daley says professors in the sciences are just as anxious about the implications of a Horowitz-style bill.

Nina Allen, a professor of botany and chair elect of NCSU's faculty Senate, agrees. "I think we are quite justified in standing up and saying we don't want a minority with extreme views interfering with the academic process," she says. "You think about Galilleo, who was not able to teach the truth. We want people to be able to teach what they think is the truth without outside inteference."

Allen, who was an undergraduate during the repressive years of McCarthyism in the United States, believes existing "checks and balances" in academia are sufficient to maintain a diversity of thought at universities. "This issue of academic freedom is cyclical," she says. "And it's important."

For information on the upcoming Pope Center conference, go to www.popecenter.org. For varying views on the "Academic Bill of Rights," go to www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org and www.aaup.org.

More by Barbara Solow

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