A statement from the American Council on Education may pave the way for a compromise between academic institutions and supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights.
The statement, dated June 23, was endorsed by 26 organizations, including the College Board and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. In it, the organizations outline their support for intellectual diversity on college campuses, which was the basis of the Academic Bill of Rights legislation proposed in several states and Congress by David Horowitz. Legislation in North Carolina, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Brock, did not make the June deadline for it to be considered for full passage in the General Assembly during the two-year session.
In the statement, the groups say a universal definition of academic freedom would not work because each institution is different. Instead, the groups say there are several principles should be included as the basis of academic freedom discussions on campuses.
According to the statement, the principles are:
• Diversity among institutions is what characterizes higher education in the United States. The statement calls the institutional diversity a “central figure and strength” that should be “valued and protected.”
• Intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas should be welcomed on college campuses. Discussions should be held in an environment that allows openness, tolerance and civility.
• Grades should be based on considerations that are relevant to the subject matter. Students or faculty members should not be evaluated based on their political opinions. Also, a clear institutional process should be established to hear grievance if a student or faculty member believes they have been punished because of their political views.
• Intellectual standards should be used to measure the validity of academic ideas, theories, arguments and views.
• Government should recognize and respect the independence of colleges and universities.
“Individual campuses must give meaning and definition to these concepts within the context of disciplinary and institutional mission,” the statement states.
The principles expressed in the Statement generally support the goals of the Academic Bill of Rights and were met with support in Congress, including Republicans who had sought to include portions of Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights into the Higher Education Act, currently in the process of being reauthorized. According to a press statement, legislators will include portions of the Academic Bill of Rights and the American Council on Education statement into the renewal of the Higher Education Act.
“I applaud the higher education community for coming to the table and working with us to forge stronger protection for students on college campuses,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Commission on Education and the Workforce. “I’m encouraged by the cooperation and the openness that led to this agreement, and I’m eager to move forward in that spirit with renewal of the federal higher education programs.”
Horowitz said the statement is an important because it helps to make people recognize “serious problems of political exclusion and political harassment” on college campuses. He said the statement would help create a non-partisan solution to the situation.
The “statement by the academic community is in no small part a reaction to their principled calls for intellectual pluralism,” Horrowitz said.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a key sponsor in Congress of Horowitz’ legislation said the compromise will allow politics to be taken out of university curriculum. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., called the statement a victory for students, regardless of political affiliation or ideology.
“[W]e are sending out a clear signal that discrimination based on political beliefs will not be tolerated on college campuses,” McKeon said.
Shannon Blosser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.