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The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.

AAUP Issues Statement on UC-Boulder Ideology Survey

Henry Reichman, chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, issued the following statement on July 1, 2013.

On June 20, the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted unanimously to conduct a survey to determine whether political or ideological discrimination exists on its Boulder campus.  The survey, to be conducted this fall, will be designed to “establish a baseline on how well we respect diversity in all its forms.”

While objective “campus-climate” surveys can sometimes be useful tools of university governance, it appears from news reports that the board’s motivation was not solely the search for greater knowledge.  Regents Sue Sharkey and Jim Geddes, who sponsored the resolution along with a defeated companion resolution that would have banned discrimination based on political affiliation or philosophy, made clear that they believe the Boulder campus is inhospitable to conservatives and dominated by liberal orthodoxy.

Professor Paul Chinowsky, professor of engineering and incoming chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, questioned that assumption.  “I’ve been here for twelve years and I don’t think the issue they’re bringing up is the problem they’re characterizing it to be,” he said. “And I don’t think the average faculty member thinks it is. . . . Is this a result of someone’s agenda?”  Descriptions of Boulder’s large faculty body as sharing one belief system are “just plain wrong,” he continued. “If you look across campus, it’s actually a very diverse campus.”

The Colorado board has a history of injecting political ideology into the academy.  In March, the university announced that Steven Hayward would be its first visiting professor of conservative thought and policy, occupying a position funded by conservative donors. Limiting occupants of an academic position to those holding favored political positions is troubling, at the least.  As AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum wrote of this and similar appointments, “Arrangements involving earmarked donations like these present a clear threat to academic freedom. Higher education should be a place where both students and teachers are free to investigate and to pursue various ideas. The academic freedom to pursue open inquiry lies at the center of the academic enterprise.”

As the AAUP’s Statement on Professional Ethics makes clear, professors’ “primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it. . .  . They accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge. They practice intellectual honesty.”  It is a violation of professional ethics for faculty members to impose their personal political or religious views on their students.  However, the notion that somehow the political leanings of the faculty as a whole or of members of a single department, be they liberal or conservative, must inevitably result in such imposition is fundamentally flawed.

To date, charges that an alleged “liberal bias” among university faculty has chilled free inquiry and expression among either students or other faculty have not been supported by data.  To be sure, in some disciplines in the humanities, for instance, most faculty may consider themselves moderate to liberal.  But in other disciplines, for instance, business, economics, or engineering, faculty views tend to be much more conservative.  Political litmus tests, whether utilized in individual hiring decisions or in assessments of entire faculties or campus climates, are clear violations of the principles of academic freedom.

It remains to be seen whether or not this survey will lead to the adoption of such a litmus test.  We are encouraged by reports that faculty representatives will participate in the design and implementation of this survey.  And we can only second the sentiments of Professor Chinowsky, who warned, “Let’s be very clear about what we’re going to do with the findings so that everyone is in agreement about what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Let’s prevent any misuse of data, or we’re going to create a very confrontational situation.”  Indeed, there is a danger that the survey itself could have a chilling effect on the willingness of faculty to address controversial issues or voice opinions that might challenge the board’s sentiments.

We strongly urge the Colorado Regents to work with faculty representatives to ensure that this survey does not directly or indirectly threaten the academic freedom of faculty or introduce into faculty hiring or assessment inappropriate political criteria.  We shall continue to monitor the situation.

7 comments on “AAUP Issues Statement on UC-Boulder Ideology Survey

  1. John K. Wilson
    July 2, 2013

    It’s alarming to me that the University of Colorado board seems to think that you prove discrimination against conservatives simply by taking a survey of how many professors vote a certain way. In reality, political discrimination is proven by comparing the pool of qualified applicants to the final hiring offers, something that is almost impossible to measure (and which I suspect the board will never attempt to do). If the board tries to push for the hiring of more conservatives, as it appears, then it is not stopping political discrimination, but engaging in political discrimination.

  2. If at all possible, I’d either not answer–since participation CANNOT be “mandatory”–or I’d lie my ass off, and encourage everybody else to do the same, to corrupt the data…

  3. Steve Harris
    July 3, 2013

    This reeks of political discrimination, of imposition of political doctrine.

    Is a “professor of conservative thought and philosophy” one who researches and critiques this variety of political thought, irrespective of the researcher’s own personal politics; or one who is expected to advocate that specific variety in lecture and address? The source of funding strongly suggests an answer. I intend no disrespect of Prof. Heywood; it is the post I am calling attention to. What’s next, a DNC Chair and a GOP Chair?

    That this deliberate politicization of the university is condoned by the Regents serves to throw the worst possible light on the intended purpose and use of the coming survey. Does no one recall the last time government concerned itself with the politics of the professoriate?

    As one who has dealt successfully with a Board-mandated survey by conducting a simultaneous AAUP-chapter survey (http://academeblog.org/?s=saga+of+the+survey&submit=Search), I urge the Boulder AAUP chapter to formulate its own counter-survey to give the faculty a chance to air their feelings on the situation.

    Steve Harris
    President, Saint Louis University Chapter of AAUP

  4. Jim
    July 3, 2013

    1. How can anyone object to a survey?

    2. If diversity is good for the student body, then it is good for the faculty, and that includes diversity of political opinion as well as other aspects of diversity.

    • John K. Wilson
      July 3, 2013

      1. If a survey is going to waste a substantial amount of money, then lots of people should object to it. However, the primary concern here is the way a badly done survey might be used to violate academic freedom and academic standards.

      2. Actually, nobody I know thinks that political diversity via preferences for certain viewpoints is good for the student body, and not one public college engages in such political discrimination in student admissions. By your logic, then we should certainly not allow it for faculty. The only colleges that officially have political discrimination for students and faculty are the conservative religious colleges that discriminate against liberals.

  5. sethkahn
    July 3, 2013

    This is the same David Horowitz crap we faced in 2003, 2004, 2005. I thought that idiot had disappeared up Pamela Geller’s [ahem]. Rick Santorum tried to revive this witchhunt during the 2012 presidential campaign. Guess it’s not dead yet.

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2013 by in AAUP, academic freedom and tagged , , , .
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