Profs, Liberals Team Up Against 'Academic Bill of Rights'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - A coalition of teachers' unions and liberal advocacy groups has launched a new group that hopes to counteract the academic reform proposals issued by conservative activist David Horowitz.

Free Exchange on Campus (FEOC) is a teaming of teachers' unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) with liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for American Progress and Planned Parenthood, among others, in an effort to "protect the free exchange of ideas on campus," according to its website.

The group states that it is "committed to advocating for the rights of students and faculty to hear and express a full range of ideas unencumbered by political or ideological interference." FEOC referred to Horowitz' idea of an "Academic Bill of Rights" as an "ideological agenda" and said Horowitz is a "radical conservative."

The Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) is a legislative proposal that Horowitz said "recognizes that political partisanship by professors in the classroom is an abuse of students' academic freedom ... and that a learning environment hostile to conservatives is unacceptable."

Horowitz, through his group Students for Academic Freedom, has been largely unsuccessful in getting universities and state legislatures to adopt the ABOR since he introduced it in 2001. Colorado and Ohio schools have adopted similar policies, but the ABOR in its purest form has not been adopted or enacted as legislation.

Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, called the Academic Bill of Rights "silly." He said members of the coalition "think that the government should not be controlling thought on campus."

"Universities should be filled with diverse opinion ... and the textbooks that people use should also have diversity of thought," Horwitz said. "However, to mandate that, gets tricky.

"If you really were going to legislate an end to bias of all sorts," he said, "are you going to require peace studies to be taught in military academies in order to show both sides of the equation? It seems like you could take this to the point of absurdity."

Horwitz said the Academic Bill of Rights is an issue that should upset conservatives "who don't like government control of thought and ideas." He added that he "would not identify [Free Exchange on Campus] as a liberal group," even though most of its ten member groups are liberal.

"We definitely want to do more outreach to conservatives," Horwitz said. He added that there are conservative members of the affiliated groups who have complained about the Academic Bill of Rights.

He said he also disagreed with the characterization that liberals dominate college campuses. "This has been introduced in legislatures all over the country, [but] they're hard-pressed to find students that have any stories to tell that are meaningful," Horwitz said.

Sara Dogan, the national campus director of David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom, accused the new coalition of "entirely distorting what the Academic Bill of Rights is about and what it would do."

She said the document "is based on the academic freedom policy of the American Association of University Professors, which states that professors should take care in not introducing controversial matter in the classroom that's irrelevant to the subject matter of their course."

She said a political science professor would not be restricted from presenting controversial views of the war in Iraq under the Academic Bill of Rights. "The problem comes when you're sitting in an English class and all of sudden they're being bombarded with, 'President Bush is evil' and, 'The war is all about oil' and things like that," she said.

Dogan said that like Free Expression on Campus, Students for Academic Freedom would "prefer not to see it happen through legislation either" and that David Horowitz's original goal was for universities to adopt the policies themselves.

"Unfortunately," Dogan said, "university administrators haven't been willing to do that. They haven't even been willing to admit that there's any kind of problem or take this issue seriously."

She said her group has received "hundreds of complaints" from students who say they've experienced ideological bias, "and that's really only the tip of the iceberg."

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