Were the hearings on academic freedom a “collosal waste of time,” as Rep. Surra has attested?
Not according to Temple University President David Adamany and Robert O’Neil, founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, who were happy to use the hearings to assess and publicize policies around academic freedom and promote the need for self-regulation within campuses.
But, is academic freedom at risk?
While Temple “regularly receives complaints on all manner of things on campus,” Adamany has heard of no “instances in which students have complained about inappropriate intrusion of political advocacy in their courses… [or] improper grading because of their views.”
O’Neil broke it down further, refuting the accusations involved in some of the more heavily publicized national cases at Columbia, U of Colorado or Northwest University School of Engineering. Investigation into each of these has uncovered that even teachers with the most “outrageous views, like leftist activist Ward Churchill or Holocause denier Arthur R. Butz, had kept their politics out of their classrooms.
Adamany and O’Neil both focused instead on the need for self-regulation, not governmental intrusion. “Our students are an assertive group,” stated Adamany. Added O’Neil, “We are a society that relies heavily on the ability [of citizens] to assert their rights. I would not like to be the kind of society that monitors people at random.” Rep. Frankel shared his “belief that the intent [of the hearings] was to make the state government more invasive…” which could diminish the “economic viability and academic reputation” of the state university system.
Rep. Armstrong seemed to think that extensive government oversight was essential. Armstrong, who dominated the questioning on the first day of the hearings, was particularly concerned with a Temple faculty forum called Dissent in America that included speakers critical of HR 177.
Armstrong: Is it appropriate to rally faculty against the government?
Adamany: The university did not rally faculty…The right of people to
assemble is constitutionally guaranteed.
Armstrong: Is it appropriate to present a one-sided discussion at a faculty senate event?
Adamany: The faculty senate has a right to express their views [and] an active citizenry is a protection [against infringement on rights].
Armstrong wanted assurance that there were federal guarantees for a
counter protest and was personally “disappointed, as someone who fought for this
country, that he was not given the opportunity to speak” in favor of the
resolution. Armstrong also focused on the supposed disparity on campuses
between “liberals” and “conservatives.” “How would you explaing the disparity
10:1 or 40:1?” he asked. Others, like Frankel, pointed out to Armstrong that different schools within a university have faculty with differing political viewpoints and that university trustees are predominently conservative.
O’Neil responded: “no one has ever asked me what party I belong to… I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business…”