July 7, 2005

Legislative investigations and academic freedom

Today, Inside Higher Ed reports that the Pennsylvania House approved House Resolution 177, establishing a committee with the power to investigate allegations of bias in public institutions in Pennsylvania. Thus far, this is the only victory of David Horowitz's in any legislature. A few notes:

  • As usual, the resolution observes paeans to academic freedom before getting down to the dirty work.
  • The select committee consists entirely of the Pennsylvania house subcommittee on higher ed, plus two members.
  • Legislative committees did much of the dirty work of McCarthyism in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, modeled on the federal committee started in 1937 by Martin Dies (later known as the House Committee on Un-American Activities or HUAC). Here in Florida, the Johns Committee first targeted the civil rights movement and then, when it couldn't find Communism there, looked first for Communists and then gays and lesbians teaching in Florida schools and universities, including at the University of South Florida.
  • Faculty are given a whopping two days' notice of allegations and a chance to respond. The problem is not the notice but the fact that most faculty will face the dilemma of taking time off to appear before a hostile committee, on the one hand, or being told that they had the chance to respond so any failure to appear must mean the student is correct, on the other.

It is the last item that's the kicker, practically speaking. I suspect that faculty unions in Pennsylvania and non-union chapters of the AAUP will come up with a creative way to respond, and I expect my fellow historian of education William Cutler, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, will give them an earful, as will Michael Bérubé, but this has the potential to be a sordid little committee, cloned in other states, just like the McCarthyite investigating committees.

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Posted in Academic freedom on July 7, 2005 5:36 AM |