“Academic freedom” is one of those terms – not unlike “freedom fighter” or “student-athlete” — that requires some fine-print scrutiny.
Presumably no one is against “academic freedom” – at least until we introduce the repugnant likes of a Ward Churchill broaching an especially controversial subject in a particularly polarizing, patently disgusting way. But that’s classic First Amendment ambit for you.
Now here in Florida, which seems to be in the societal vanguard in so many notorious ways, we have our own “academic freedom” hot button issue. And this time it has nothing to do with Sami Al-Arrogant. Specifically, it’s State Rep. Dennis Baxley’s “academic freedom” bill, one aimed at monitoring faculty to ensure they deliver a “fair and balanced” curriculum.
HB 837 would give students in public colleges and universities the right to object if professors repeatedly discuss controversial issues irrelevant to a given class. They would also have the right to be taught and graded sans political bias.
(If nothing else, it speaks volumes that such rights are thought to need codifying.)
The grand-standing Baxley is an acolyte of conservative activist David Horowitz, the crusader against higher education’s liberal group think. Horowitz, of course, has a case. The academy is what it is — unless you’re talking Naval, Military and Air Force.
Horowitz, however, is not content to point out the obvious – including sham definitions of “diversity” on university campuses – and encourage appropriate responses to legitimate complaints on a case-by-case basis. His support of the Ocala Republican’s bill, including a presentation to a Florida House education committee, is overkill. The bill is subjectively unwieldy and likely unconstitutional. It has all the earmarks of a free-speech nightmare.
It’s also counterproductive.
Witness the she-said, he-said press conference the other day that was more classic McCarthyism than “totalitarian niche” microcosm. That media circus presaged nothing but witch hunts for proselytizing professors. Moreover, no one needs the Florida Legislature meddling where it has already proven its heavy-handed ineptitude.
Perhaps more than anything, the ideological dynamic of American universities needs to be kept in perspective. We don’t need any more surveys telling us what is manifestly evident: Universities are bastions of political correctness. And that’s not about to change.
The reality, however, is that inexperienced, impressionable students move on, mature and relate to the world as they find it.
The professors stay in school.