April 30, 2005

Failure rates

The St Pete Times story on high-school graduation-test failures in Pinellas County (which includes St. Petersburg) reports that approximately 10 percent of seniors in the county have failed their last-chance try at the high-school graduation test in Florida. They will be receiving "certificates of completion" rather than a standard diploma—an exit document that is useless to adults.

It is important to keep in mind that the 10 percent failure rate is not for all students but just those who have stuck it out through their senior year. The research is murky on whether graduation tests add a serious obstacle beyond course requirements for graduation (e.g., the requirement that students pass an algebra class to receive a standard diploma), but if so, the greatest effect would probably be encouraging students to drop out well before they are seniors. The best measure available, which is Florida's state official graduation rate, is longitudinal rather than calculated year by year, so it's difficult to track what happens over time.

Yes, this is one of the motivations for my starting up the dropout research again.

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Posted in Education policy at 7:08 AM (Permalink) |

Psychologizing as the exception now

I just finished reading a student paper that distorted most of the cited class readings, turning them into an explanation of where juvenile delinquents became psychologically abnormal. This is evidence that the student had not quite learned the message I've been pounding for the entire semester: this course isn't psychology. It's humanities and social-science perspectives on schooling. So I've failed in some way with this student, or the student failed to grasp the point, or the student's failure to come to class for the last third of the semester may have led the student to forget some of the key things about the course.

Fortunately, this type of failure-to-grasp-the-key-concepts is now an exception, and most students focus on the central issues in this course. So I see progress in my campaign against the tendency of students to look at everything in schooling through a developmental-psych perspective. I am very fond of my developmental-psych colleagues in the department, but they don't get to rule our students' minds without competition.

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Posted in Teaching at 6:51 AM (Permalink) |

April 29, 2005

Joke complaint at Students for Academic Freedom

Thanks to my colleague Gregory McColm for finding and pointing out the joke complaint about Bob Jones University at Students for Academic Freedom. So much for careful vetting!

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:10 AM (Permalink) |

April 28, 2005

Slowly, slowly...

Over the weekend, I distributed the last of January's Education Policy Analysis Archives manuscripts to reviewers. That still leaves a backlog from February on, but I'm feeling much better, and there's a reasonable chance that I can clear the backlog by the end of June, leaving me free to respond to manuscripts as they come in, instead of at the end of a queue. Much of this comes from having finished the reviewing of grad-student editorial-board applications and having made the final selections.

Electronic journals should be fast, but that's not how I feel right now. I'll get there, though, ...

On privacy when traveling

One last entry tonight, and on a personal note (though not about the sad and mysterious disappearance of Lucius, my daughter's fire-bellied toad): I recently purchased an electric viola from the Electric Violin Shop and am currently waiting for a case for it and a bow. I played viola for 12 years as a child and picked it up again 20 years later when my daughter started with violin. It's been one of my sanity savers since the fall of 2003 and through a very hard 2004. (As I've told colleagues, If you misbehave, I'm going to open the case and use what's inside. I know—is my choice of instrument consistent with my self-image as someone who contributes to the greater harmony but is not really destined to be a star of anything? Sure, he says with a twisted grin.) But as I was traveling last month, I realized that I didn't feel very comfortable bringing my viola on trips where it might get banged up, and I didn't want to disturb other guests in a hotel. So this is a solution that lets me practice. It's very well made, almost as light as a real viola, and cool in many ways. I'll be bringing it on my next meeting at the end of next week. And to my guilty personal pleasures, the occasional SF convention. So I suppose I did engage in some retail therapy at the end of this semester.

Only there's very little sensual pleasure from playing this. Or at least not the same pleasure from having a vibrating wooden box under your chin. Oh, well. The compromises we make in work, travel, and pleasure ...

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Posted in Personal at 8:20 PM (Permalink) |

Paulo Freire and the chic cultural capital of academe

I'm on the committee of a graduate student just getting into Paulo Freire's work, and that brings back memories. I remember reading Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) when I was sixteen, and it was an early, "Oh, I can read that" experience.

I was visiting my sister's intro women's studies class at UC Santa Cruz (Eileen called it her baby-feminism class), and the lecturer was discussing the sociology of knowledge (though she didn't call it that) and mentioned Freire's book. Cool, I thought, and when my mother and I hit a bookstore later that day, I convinced her to buy a copy for me to check out. Then, over the next few days, I waded through it (and those who have read the book know what I mean!). I was fairly sure I got the gist of his repressive-education-as-banking theory, though I did have the sense that he could have explained it more clearly and in about a quarter of the length. This was lesson #17 in the Socialization of an Academic: you, too, can read dense obfuscatory prose using the Force and the confidence that you can grasp the central concept with enough concentration—assuming, of course, that there is a central concept.

That confidence stood me in great stead in graduate school and since, but it was somehow disillusioning. Was there nothing to this work (whatever the work was) except a fairly simple central idea camouflaged by a few dozen thousand words of verbage? The generally dense style of postmodernist/poststructuralist/deconstructionist writers was not the only thing that made me wonder what made a work famous. There was also the wild-eyed tone of some authors (Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky) who were minor bestsellers at the independent bookstore House of Our Own Books where I spent a few hundred hours behind the cash register. And then the pre-Civil War reading seminar where the prof casually explained why certain books won awards ("oh, shoot, the paperback of this omitted all the color prints; that's really why Bailyn won the Bancroft Award"). So I'm occasionally cynical about effusive praise of Big Men/Women on a Campus (and positively scared for the world when anyone treats me as if I have gravitas).

So when this student writes several adulatory paragraphs on Freire, I'm tempted to shout, "But don't you realize that Freire is now just chic cultural capital for Leftist academics??!!" But if I did, I'd be denying the student the chance to come to an independent judgment. Our committee needs to clue this student into the thoughtful criticisms of Freire's work but subtly.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:55 PM (Permalink) |

More on the AUT council vote on the Israeli-university boycott

I've joined the ENGAGE blog's list of academics opposed to the AUT council vote attempting to impose an academic boycott on two Israeli institutions. Much cool stuff over there on efforts to overturn the hasty motion as well as solid explanations of why an academic boycott makes no sense. Go there. Read.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:09 PM (Permalink) |

Trouble at Southern Illinois University

On April 11, the student newspaper for Southern Illinois University, the Daily Egyptian, printed a letter from six history faculty condemning one reading distributed by colleague Jonathan Bean, a source that Bean had taken from David Horowitz's Front Page online rag (which has no real rag content, so maybe we need to find a different term for online yellow journalism). I haven't read what Bean distributed, but it doesn't really matter. Sending an open letter to blast a colleague is simply unprofessional intimidation. What ever happened to walking down the hall and talking with a colleague?

And then the administration went further—the dean cancelled his classes for a week and told his TAs that they needn't work with him for the rest of the semester. Fortunately, there are sane heads on the campus, including a few colleagues, one of whom blasted the school's response as a back-door speech code to suppress offensive speech in the class, as well as individual students and the Daily Egyptian editorial board. Eventually, Bean was assigned other graduate students—a recovery of some decorum, but sheesh—talk about making a dungheap out of a molehill.

According to one newspaper account, Bean was first called into his chair's office, who harangued him because two of the graduate students were upset with the material. Apparently, the TAs didn't talk to Bean directly or think about providing their own materials to help students think about the article. And neither the department chair nor other faculty thought of mentoring the TAs to assert their own academic freedom in providing an example of thoughtful dissent. All around, it looks like there was insufficient thought on the affair until far too late.

Let's take a more extreme example, for argument's sake—what should faculty do if, as SIU English professor Tony Williams asks in his defense of the college's censorship, a colleague distributes something like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as if it were truthful? If, after talking with a colleague and providing some material to educate her or him, and if the faculty member then still claims something that is factually untrue in a matter of substantive weight in the course or program, then faculty have an obligation to go through a more formal process of saying, "No, you're wrong." Usually this process doesn't begin in a fruitful way with a broadside to the student newspaper. It's the academic equivalent of calling the cops the first time your neighbor's guests park in your driveway.

And administrators who reward this behavior are even more foolish. It's their job to break the walls of any echo chambers and do their best to turn a potentially explosive situation into a learning opportunity. Despite my discomfort with the fuzzy phrase teachable moment, that is how one should view controversies in classes.

Thanks to Ralph Luker for pointing this out. (My apologies to him in forgetting to credit his blog earlier.) Update (4/29/05): See Inside Higher Ed's article, which generally overlaps the other accounts except for a memo from the dean's office asking faculty to "exercise restraint and reason." As Ralph Luker pointed out late last night, maybe she should have thought of that a wee bit earlier?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:20 AM (Permalink) |

April 25, 2005

Bravo, Graham

Graham Larkin's column today in Inside Higher Ed is just a wonderfully incisive piece about David Horowitz with a whole lot of documentation in the links. His column uses the internet powerfully and is highly recommended.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:32 AM (Permalink) |

April 24, 2005

Boycott of Israeli universities

The Association of University Teachers (in England) voted on Friday to boycott Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University, both Israeli institutions. The Crooked Timber entry on the subject reflects what should be a clear response from academics: this is a violation of academic freedom. Period.

Three years ago, my campus chapter of the United Faculty of Florida made the following statement about an earlier action by journal editor Mona Baker, and it should stand as a clear repudiation of the AUT action as well:

The USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida opposes on principle the barring of individual academics from any intellectual forum on the basis of nationality or institutional affiliation, and we condemn the actions of Mona Baker of University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology in removing Gideon Toury from the advisory board of the Translator and Miriam Shlesinger from the editorial board of Translation Studies Abstracts. (August 9, 2002, minutes)
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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:44 AM (Permalink) |

April 22, 2005

Baxley/Horowitz bill dead

The consistent story out of the Tallahassee Democrat, Palm Beach Post, and the St. Petersburg Times is that the Baxley/Horowitz bill is dead and that the university presidents made no promises in their meeting with him. There may have been a gentler reception of him at the Board of Governors meeting in the afternoon (the articles didn't provide much detail on that meeting), but the university presidents apparently took the approach that Baxley was accusing them of incompetence. University presidents don't like to be accused of incompetence, and several Florida university presidents are politicians with their own ways of rounding up support.

Howard Rock, a good union member and former head of the faculty senate at Florida Atlantic, pressed Baxley after the morning meeting, and United Faculty of Florida president Tom Auxter responded astutely to the student complaints. Go Howard and Tom!

(Addendum, 9 am: Baxley should be happy that the bill's dead if Daniel Ruth's column today is any indication. Columnists have noted that he sponsored three of the most-ridiculed bills in this legislative session.)

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Posted in Academic freedom at 4:49 AM (Permalink) |

April 20, 2005

HB837/SB2126 update (Florida legislature)

While the Baxley/Horowitz bill is effectively dead in the state legislature (though the House may pass it in a symbolic move late in the session), Baxley will try the Colorado gambit: asking university presidents to recreate the bill's provisions in administrative form. I am less convinced of any immediate threat, since the university-system faculty have union contracts that protect academic freedom, than of the possibility that this is a first act in a long-term strategy. Since this maneuver is similar to Colorado's resolution of the Horowitz bill last year in that state, I'm wondering if there's further coordination. There need not be, since it's fairly common for administrators to lobby legislators and make various promises about behavior and priorities in return for appropriations. But there's also been some quick work in the United Faculty of Florida to ask for e-mails before tomorrow's meeting between bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Baxley and the state university presidents. Personally, I suspect university presidents already are expert at demurring, but reinforcing the clear faculty opposition to anything like Baxley/Horowitz can't hurt.

Sources: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, the student-run Florida Alligator, Orlando Sentinel, Gainesville Sun, and the Ocala Star-Banner. (Thanks go to United Faculty of Florida staff for collecting these clippings and distributing them to elected union officers.)

In the next few days, I'll try to carve out time for a few notes about Cary Nelson and Stephen Watt's Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy (Routledge, 2004)

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:18 PM (Permalink) |

April 17, 2005

Al-Arian semi-retrospective

The St. Petersburg Times today printed a retrospective of sorts on the long-term influence of the Al-Arian imbroglio on the campus of USF. On the whole, David Ballingrud has it about right in terms of the fallout thus far, where he discusses it: faculty activism pushed back against efforts to give administrators wholesale discretion to dismiss faculty for a variety of vague concerns, prompting the administration and chair of our Board of Trustees to reverse the emergency rules and apologize in a very limited way in early 2003 for their mishandling of affairs. Since then, the administration approved a second Faculty Senate proposal to create a pre-dismissal hearing process for faculty (after the firing of Al-Arian) and agreed to better academic-freedom language. That has been solidified with a collective bargaining agreement concluded in the fall that I think is better than anywhere else in the state at the moment. Much of the credit for that collective bargaining agreement goes to the cooperation between the Faculty Senate and the United Faculty of Florida (our union) in making sure that there was no chance that divide-and-conquer tactics could succeed.

There are several exceptions to this reasonably good outcome:

  1. For at least a good portion of the faculty, our institutional memory of the Al-Arian affair still leaves a considerable discomfort about the way that the administration and trustees have not been held accountable for their handling of issues (I suppose this is residual bitterness I hear from a few colleagues) as well as some concerns that the way the administration ignored due process can reappear at any point.
  2. It is not sure whether the academic-freedom provisions guaranteed faculty would extend to graduate students and adjuncts, if push came to shove. Given the extensive reliance on contingent faculty in our and other universities, this is troubling. Several years ago, the state's risk-management bureau pushed the university to settle a lawsuit by a disguntled student upset that a graduate student had shown nude photographs in a class (after he had made clear that students could leave for that class and not be penalized).
  3. As Ballingrud notes, many Muslim students feel far more vulnerable than any faculty member.
  4. In expending energy to address the academic-freedom crisis (and a challenge to the faculty union, which I won't get into here), my colleagues have had little chance to address some of the long-term structural issues with our university. Part of that is a matter of time, but the lingering friction between a number of faculty and the administration writ large (though not all top administrators) means that there is a large reservoir of distrust that might interfere with working together. That's more a concern rather than an inevitable barrier, and in some ways the growth of faculty activism might promote some structural improvements. I don't know.

And I'm sure I'm not hitting half of the consequences (let alone the subtle ways this will reverberate over the years)...

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Posted in Academic freedom at 2:17 PM (Permalink) |

April 15, 2005

HB837/SB2126 update (Florida legislature)

It looks like the bill wasn't considered in the Florida Senate Education Committee meeting this week and is probably effectively dead with the face-saving maneuver for Rep. Dennis Baxley (the House sponsor) that the universities promise to better publicize the grievance procedures that currently exist (and are published in the catalog).

The Florida Senate staff analysis is scathing, including the following:

The bill elevates student expectations in academic instruction to the level of an academic freedom protected by the courts. Arguably, this academic freedom of students has not been recognized as a constitutional right. However, the bill appears to create a cause of action for students to litigate against the public postsecondary education institution in which they are enrolled. This cause of action could produce some unintended consequences. For example, in a course on study of the bible, a student could file suit demanding that the professor discuss evolution. ...

The bill does not define serious scholarly viewpoints. Accordingly, this provision invites student complaints as to the proper pedagogical method employed by the faculty. Moreover, the lack of a definitive standard would place the courts in a Hobson’s position of denying a cause of action based on a lack of standards by which to measure the complaint, thereby rendering this provision meaningless, or creating a standard by which to measure serious scholarly viewpoints thereby arguably intruding upon separation of powers concerns.

This language and other parts of the analysis mirror the arguments taken by the United Faculty of Florida and the Florida Conference of the AAUP. My thanks goes to the hard work of everyone in lobbying the Senate to kill this bill.

(Update, 8:27: A few subject-verb disagreements this morning—one in the early version of this entry and two others in letters to several senators—remind me that I probably should sit on drafts of anything that I write this early in the morning. How embarrassing...

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:00 AM (Permalink) |

April 14, 2005

More coverage of HB 837/SB 2126

New coverage in the Baxley/Horowitz bill comes from the Florida Alligator, a Palm Beach Post column satirizing the bill, and a Tallahassee Demcorat op-ed from a conservative FSU student criticizing the bill.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:26 AM (Permalink) |

April 12, 2005

American Educational Research Association meeting

I'm in Montreal this week for the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, and it will be one of the odder conference visits I've ever had. I won't attend a single paper session....

I arrived yesterday, spent a few hours getting through customs, to my hotel, and checking in for the conference itself. Then I tried to attend a roundtable session with an overflow crowd and realized it was not to be, so I attended the annual lecture of the John Dewey Society by Herbert Kliebard and then the business meeting of the Communication of Research SIG, where we honored Gene Glass's service as founding editor of the Education Policy Analysis Archives. This morning I had breakfast with 9 members of the editorial boards for the journal and spent the morning walking through the exhibit hall buying far too many books and talking with editors about my plans for Academic Citizen. Nine or ten business cards later, it was time for lunch with an editor and some colleagues to talk about an edited book manuscript we sent and for me to sit back and listen to my colleagues pitch another book idea. Then time to go back to the hotel, swap the book load for my laptop, and head back to the exhibit hall, where I'm currently ensconsed in the internet cafe (one corner of the exhibit hall), trying to catch up on some things and prepare to work on my laptop sans connection while traveling tomorrow. In a little, I'll head to the business meeting of one of my divisions, and then run my class chat, and then head back to my hotel. And I leave tomorrow.

My major embarrassment is mixing up the day I'm supposed to be available as a journal editor to all comers at a roundtable of meet-the-editors. I was sure it was today, set my travel plans accordingly (returning tomorrow), and then realized the problem. Yikes!

Montreal itself is absolutely gorgeous in the spring. The sky was this pure azure yesterday right after the son set, and the Mont-Royal (that's the hill just north of McGill U., if I recall correctly) was silhouetted with the cross at the eastern end against the sky. I vaguely recall it as the setting for several scenes from Jesus of Montreal, but that may be my definitely fickle memory. Walking to breakfast this morning in the brisk air was wonderful, and the distance (a bit over a mile from my hotel) was perfect for exercise. So right now I'm nicely exhausted from the day's walks and strolls.

Tonight I find the hotspots in this hotel where I can run the class chat or go to the cafe on McGill College (the street, not the campus) where I can get online. In either case, a good run. Still, weird that I haven't attended any sessions, but I really, really needed to do the editors' walk this morning. Chatting with them gave me some ideas on how to organize the book or, at least, reinforced some ideas I had had already.

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Posted in Random comments at 3:28 PM (Permalink) |

April 8, 2005

The subtleties of research ethics with children

Today comes the news that California Senator Barbara Boxer and Florida Senator Bill Nelson are holding up Stephen Johnson's nomination as EPA chief because of the EPA's Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study in Jacksonville. Designed as a study of the effects of normal pesticide use on young children, it may now be used to miseducate the public about research ethics. I'm not a medical or environmental research, but the politicizing of this concerns me.

From what I understand, the study had very poorly-written materials to inform parents about the study, problems which violate one of the basic principles of research ethics coming from the Belmont Report (1979): respect for persons, operationalized as informed consent. But Boxer's statements yesterday (you'll have to listen to the audio) implied that there should never be research about dangerous substances involving children, and that's also indefensible. The third Belmont principal is justice, or making sure that research includes appropriate populations. Years ago, publicly funded health studies generally studied men and ignored women. For years, drug companies failed to conduct pharmacological studies on children that really should have been required by off-label uses.

Research with children and other vulnerable populations requires special safeguards, but we still need such studies or we just won't have information about the effects of drugs or pollution on children.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:12 PM (Permalink) |

Venal and mortal sins in the defense of academic freedom

I wrote a few days ago that I hadn't known of any Florida administrator who had openly opposed Baxley's bill. That's not correct. Florida's higher-ed Chancellor Debra Austin has written (though I haven't heard it reported that she's spoken publicly), "We do not believe this legislation is necessary since the AAUP professional guidelines for faculty are widely used nationally and protect against these same concerns," as reported by the USF Oracle earlier this week. I wish the opposition were more open, as quiet lobbying may end the life of a particular bill but does nothing to educate the public about higher ed. But I'm glad she's on the right side of this at all.

On the wrong side is whoever threw a pie at David Horowitz this week. That's simply unethical, illegal, and stupid. You can't defend academic freedom by interfering with a speech.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 12:57 PM (Permalink) |

In print on HB 837

Plenty of stories in the last two days in Florida have focused on the hearing Tuesday at the House Education Council in the University of Florida student newspaper, the Alligator, the Palm Beach Post, the Tallahassee Democrat, and several papers using the Associated Press feed. The most interesting is a piece in the St. Pete Times that one of the professors accused of bias in Tuesday's hearing says it's a lie (The point is not that I automatically believe the faculty member but that Horowitz and his allies automatically believe student complaints.) Several stories (in the Gainesville Sun on April 6 and April 7, among other places) suggest the bill would never pass the Senate, may not even pass the House, and would get vetoed by Governor Bush. David Horowitz's online outlet boasted that the governor called Horowitz a freedom fighter. Ah, well—if a very conservative governor won't do your bidding, at least point out the kudos. Baxley will debate University of Florida graduate student Charles Grapski on a Gainesville talk-radio station this afternoon. Editorials appeared in the St Pete Times, the USF student newspaper, The Oracle, and even the Rutgers U. student Daily Targum.

On the satirical side, there's the North Florida Flat Earth Society's award to bill sponsor Dennis Baxley as well as a letter to the U. Florida student newspaper thanking Baxley and other conservatives and Howard Troxler's April 7 column in the St. Petersburg Times.

And I have my piece that appeared in the Palm Beach Post this morning (and in the Lakeland Ledger over the weekend, though it's not online there—thanks to Jim Cebulski for letting me know it was printed there).

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Posted in Academic freedom at 8:00 AM (Permalink) |

April 6, 2005

Debate on Florida Horowitz bill

Today, my colleague Roy Weatherford debated Dennis Baxley on Democracy Now for about 10 minutes. It was cordial, and Roy acquitted himself well (he was positively sparkling when on The O'Reilly Factor in 2001).

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Posted in Academic freedom at 10:34 AM (Permalink) |

April 5, 2005

HB837/SB2126 update (Florida legislature)

It's now the end of the Education Council meeting, which I've been listening to on-line. Horowitz got an hour of airtime. One student from Florida State University Students for Academic Freedom said that he received ten complaints in the last week—which he wouldn't detail, of course. United Faculty of Florida President Tom Auxter had about 2 or 3 minutes to give the only comments in opposition to the bill, and then public comment was shut down to give bill sponsor Dennis Baxley a platform at the end.

So much for listening to a variety of views from the public.

Update (7:45 pm EDT) I now have the full text of the written statement of Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida:

The so-called “academic bill of rights” drafted by self-proclaimed “conservative” activist David Horowitz is a template for legislation that attacks free inquiry and endangers academic freedom in the name of defending academic freedom in universities and colleges. It steals the language academic organizations have used for decades to articulate and defend academic freedom and uses this language to mask an attack on intellectual freedom that holds the potential for limiting what can legitimately be discussed in the classroom and mandating what must be discussed. In Florida two legislators, Rep. Dennis Baxley and Sen. Stephen Wise, have used this template as the text for HB 837 and SB 2126 (“An act relating to student and faculty academic freedom in postsecondary education”).

The right-wing forces behind this legislation want the world to see life the way they see it—where everything is right vs. left, and power should be shifted their way on every occasion. They need to use language deceptively to make their agenda seem palatable.

But inside the shiny apple they are handing to us are three razor blades that will cut into free speech if we bite on their proposal. These dangerous provisions have to do with controversial issues in the classroom, the requirement of “balance,” and litigation over grievances.

1. Controversial issues need to be discussed in classrooms, and it is dangerous to draw boundaries in the law over how and when they should be introduced. The Legislature should not become involved in defining or shaping what is controversial, or for that matter whether it should be heard or how it should be handled. This violates constitutional rights and undermines one of the main functions of the academy, namely, to explore and investigate freely and make public the results -- without political sanctions limiting what is permissible.

2. The “balance” requirement, which demands opposing sides of every controversial issue in the classroom be heard and given equal time, reduces all discussion of controversial issues to a debate over stereotypical versions of extreme alternatives, a debate required and enforced by the Legislature. This will, if written into law, cause a dumbing down of the mental life of students to the cartoon version of intelligence we find on right-wing talk shows where everything controversial is broken into categories such as conservative vs. liberal, religious vs. secular humanist, or American vs. communist. It forces classrooms to waste time giving equal time to aberrant opinions when there could be a developed discussion of alternatives that are viable from an academic point of view. The legislation has the effect of undermining mature discussion; in other words, it has the effect of undermining academic freedom while claiming to promote academic freedom.

3. Insisting that the legislature use its powers to make rules for academic freedom is a serious mistake. The effect of this legislation, with its requirement of a grievance procedure that enforces a laundry list of expectations of what life will be like for the student, is that litigation proliferates. A mandated grievance procedure at each institution will become enforceable by appeal to state courts. This will create enormous expense and aggravation at the same time that it has a chilling effect on speech by faculty in the classroom. Previously each institution had its own mission and way of handling student complaints about unfair behavior in grading or in the way discussions are conducted. Now a crude requirement from a centralized source, defined in state law and enforced by courts, simultaneously politicizes higher education and introduces a one-size-fits-all approach – to be tested and developed in the courts and to be amplified and expanded upon by future legislatures. Approaches already in existence at the university and college level allow us to handle problems discreetly and subtly—without the collateral damage inflicted on academic freedom by this legislation.

I am glad to see this legislation is not making much headway in other states. At the same time I am not glad to see that the Florida House has been moving it forward and that this alien invasion into academic life actually has a chance of becoming a reality here.

This legislation jeopardizes all that faculty have done in recruiting efforts to build their universities and colleges into viable institutions. This political clampdown on intellectual freedom will kill our recruiting efforts, accelerate the exodus of faculty that is already occurring due to salary conditions, and destroy the quality of academic life in our state.

Tom Auxter
United Faculty of Florida

If there's a video archive of this or other committee meetings about this bill, I'll post the link(s) in later entries.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 2:58 PM (Permalink) |

April 4, 2005

Florida's HB 837/SB 2126 news

In the Florida House tomorrow, the Education Council will be hearing from David Horowitz as a witness, invited by Council chair Dennis Bexley (R-Ocala), who is also the sponsor of HB 837. But I expect that Bexley will be politic enough to let several faculty representatives speak, including the head of the AAUP Florida Conference (whose name I don't know—used to be David Kerr at St. Petersburg College, but I don't think David is still an officer), Florida Education Association Higher Ed Director Roy Weatherford (University of South Florida), and United Faculty of Florida President Tom Auxter (University of Florida). I assume that the council of state faculty senate presidents is also opposing the bill, though I don't know if they're sending a representative tomorrow. Unfortunately, I do not know of any college or university administration that is openly opposing the bill. Technically, it's a forum rather than a debate over the bill. But I expect some media coverage (though it may be swallowed up by the pope's funeral preparations in Rome).

The meeting materials have the typical slew of articles selected by Horowitz and committee staff, with only one piece in opposition (a newspaper editorial). But there will be plenty of argumentation against it. The United Faculty of Florida Senate officially declared its opposition over the weekend (I was happy to be the main sponsor), and even the staff analysis in the House suggests its effects: $4.2 million in lawyers' salaries, because each campus will have to hire one extra lawyer just to deal with the consequences of a bill that puts the phrase "rights" into state law, or legal standing to sue over the content of what's taught in a classroom (as opposed to the standing to sue over discriminatory treatment, something already existing in Florida law). My friend Greg McColm calls it the lawyers' welfare bill (at the same time that many legislators are calling for tort reform).

Some of the things that students might demand and that, according to the plain reading of the law, could be required to be presented:

  1. Flat-earth views in a physics class
  2. Creationism in a biology class
  3. Holocaust denial in a 20th-century European history class
  4. NAMBLA materials in a social-work class

One of the more whimsical arguments I heard over the weekend is that the consequence of this bill could be the following: if a biologist is required to present creationism theory, then he or she is teaching religion, outside his or her area of expertise. That violates accreditation standards.

If you live outside Florida, you can help us by making two contacts, e-mailing Florida House Speaker Allen Bense (or calling his House office at 850.488.1450) and Tom Lee (Senate office 850.487.5229). As usual with legislators, be polite and explain the reputational problems this would cause for recruiting faculty and the competitive disadvantage in addition to the core issue of academic freedom.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:03 PM (Permalink) |