The IRS scrutiny and delays aimed at Tea Party nonprofit groups has received enormous media and political attention. There’s nothing illegal, or scandalous, about these disturbing investigations of political groups. It’s been IRS policy and practice to do so for a long time, and more often targeted against liberal groups (and with much less justification).
Back in 2008, I wrote about the threat to freedom of speech posed by an IRS probe (under the Bush Administration) aimed at Barack Obama’s church for the thought crime of inviting Barack Obama to speak at his own church.
I am always amazed how some administrations defend themselves, as Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard does, by claiming that the AAUP has somehow authorized their dubious actions. Allard claims that the school’s new policy on “demonstrated incompetence” is a “long-recognized and widely accepted regulatory term supported by the AAUP and others.”
Brooklyn Law School’s new policy defines the term as: “Demonstrated incompetence, including but not limited to, multiple unsatisfactory performance reviews or complaints from supervisors; multiple complaints from students or multiple unsatisfactory student evaluations; sub-standard academic performance; lack of collegiality.”
Because the AAUP allows for the firing of “incompetent” professors, Brooklyn Law School’s administration thinks that it call anything “incompetence” and fire anybody at any time. That’s not how it works.
Yesterday on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh read a Wall Street Journal article summarizing the National Association of Scholars (NAS) study about Bowdoin, and quoted the finding that Bowdoin doesn’t require history majors to take an American history class.
So a history major at Bowdoin College is taught about the intrinsic discrimination against blacks, women, gays, lesbians, transgender, bisexuals. That’s all they are taught. A history major coming out of Bowdoin College is not taught for one minute about the American founding. There is not one moment of traditional American history taught, and this is just the history department. What’s taught is how immoral and unjust America has been since its founding and how its founding featured institutional racism, segregation, sexism, homophobia, and all that.
The AAUP released several important reports this week that deserve a close reading.
The AAUP Statement on the Affordable Care Act and Part-Time Faculty Positions criticizes colleges that seek to deny coverage to adjunct faculty who work 30 hours a week under the Obamacare law, by cutting classes or failing to recognize the actual hours of work undertaken by adjunct faculty.
The AAUP Statement on the Defunding of Political Science Research at the National Science Foundation expresses deep concern about the efforts in Congress to ban NSF funding for political science research, largely for political reasons.
The AAUP also this week released its report on Southern University, Baton Rouge, which used an assertion of financial exigency to fire tenure faculty under dubious circumstances.
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) just released a 359-page report (pdf) attacking Bowdoin College that proves one essential point: don’t criticize rich guys you golf with.
The US Supreme Court has rejected Ward Churchill’s final appeal of his firing by the University of Colorado, and an ugly chapter in the history of academic freedom will now be left to the history books rather than the courts.
Last week, porn star James Deen spoke to a class at Pasadena City College, but administrators banned a planned public event with Deen. In a press release misleadingly titled, “PCC Instructor Agrees To Cancel Public Event,” the PCC administration claimed, “Pasadena City College administrators met with instructor Hugo Schwyzer today and came to agreement to move an unauthorized scheduled public event that featured a male actor in the pornography industry. There will be no public event at PCC on Feb. 27.” On his blog, Schwyzer noted that this was not true, “I want to make clear that there were no negotiations; I was simply told that the public event was off. This was a decision unilaterally imposed rather than negotiated.”
North Dakota State University has reversed its ban on a grant involving Planned Parenthood that sparked outrage from Republican politicians. Last month, NDSU president Dean Bresciani announced that a $1.2 million federal grant to two faculty members would be prohibited because of Planned Parenthood’s participation, due to a state anti-abortion law. However, the reversal only came due to a ruling by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that the law had been held unconstitutional more than 30 years ago and therefore could not restrict the university. Faculty senate President Tom Stone Carlson, who wrote a letter critical of the ban, expressed an ongoing concern about the process in the case. Obviously, the university should have allowed the grant to go forward at the start, rather than making a bad interpretation of the law before any ruling had been made.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spoken out against the forces of repression in the controversy over speakers supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Here’s his full statement:
Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. I mean, if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.
The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.
You know, the freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system, and take that away and higher education in this country would certainly die.
Some of the gutless politicians in New York who first threatened Brooklyn College’s funding unless it banned controversial speakers have now issued another letter, pretending that they never endangered academic freedom at all.
It all shows that if there is the courage to strongly defend academic freedom from both outside and inside academia (as Brooklyn College and many others did), the advocates of censorship can be defeated.
Marjorie Heins, founder of The Free Expression Policy Project, is the author of the new book Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge (NYU Press, February 2013). In her book (watch video interviews with her), Heins examines the critical Supreme Court cases of the 1950s and 1960s that first upheld and then later struck down loyalty oaths, and established the legal right of academic freedom. John K. Wilson interviewed her via email for Academe Blog.