March 15, 2006
Good afternoon, my name is Joe Yanik and I am a Professor at Emporia State University. I am past President of the Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and I currently serve as the newsletter editor.
I appreciate the opportunity this committee has given me today to present the AAUP’s viewpoint on the important issues this committee is considering.
I’d like to turn first to the general context raised by HCR 5035 which proposes to adopt an “Academic Bill of Rights.” We contend that the title “Academic Bill of Rights” is misleading. The national AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure issued a statement on this issue which was published in the January 2004 issue of Academe, where we make our opposition clear. I’ve distributed copies of that statement to the committee today.
We recognize that the Academic Bill of Rights does quote AAUP documents, but we want to make clear that those quotes are quite selective. There are even cases where we agree with a principle advanced in the document – for example the “principle of neutrality” which is defined as the principle that “no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy should be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process." While we agree with this principle, we firmly believe that (quoting from the AAUP statement) “ the Academic Bill of Rights is an improper and dangerous method for its implementation. There are already mechanisms in place that protect this principle, and they work well. Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant, but, ironically, it also infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it.” At ESU, we have a well-established grievance policy that can be used by any faculty member who alleges inappropriate treatment.
The AAUP also agrees that [as stated in the academic bill of rights] students should be graded only on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subject and not on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs. Once again, there are already mechanisms in place to protect this. At ESU, we have a long-standing grade appeal policy which allows a student to appeal a grade that he or she feels has been awarded on an unfair basis.
The key point of disagreement here is with the issue of who should make the decision as to whether a faculty member or a student has been treated inappropriately. To quote from the AAUP statement “if a professor of American literature reads an examination of a student that proposes a singular interpretation of Moby Dick, the determination of whether the examination should receive a high or a low grade must be made with reference to the scholarly standards of literary criticism. The student has no ‘right’ to be rewarded for an opinion of Moby Dick that is independent of these scholarly standards. If students possessed such right, all knowledge would be reduced to opinion and education would be rendered superfluous.”
A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards.” The danger of guidelines such as those that are suggested by the Academic Bill of Rights is that they invite diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession.
In my opinion there is a fundamental misunderstanding of academic freedom that is indicated in the Academic Bill or Rights. The purpose of academic freedom is to create, as much as possible, a true “marketplace of ideas” where superior ideas will eventually triumph. It is not intended to treat all opinions as equal. In fact, in a true marketplace of ideas there should be winners and losers at any given time. Yet, HCR 5035 declares that “academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to substantive disagreements that divide researchers…” It is the very nature of academic freedom that professionals will be making judgments about substantive disagreements and, if they are not permitted to express those judgments freely, either individually or as a group, then the mechanism for separating out the bad ideas from the good will be irreparably harmed.
In terms of larger questions, I refer you to AAUP’s Policy Documents & Reports. I will arrange for a copy to be delivered to the committee. This book contains a large number of policy statements that represents the standards and norms of the profession, many of which speak directly to issues raised by the so-called Academic Bill of Rights.
In closing I would like to quote from Walter Metzger writing in the March/April 1982 issue of Academe, [page 12] “centuries of history tell us that [a legislature] invades the very core of academic freedom thus defined when it dictates the contents of any course at any level or for any purpose. When it does that, it converts the university into a bureau of public administration, the subject into a vehicle for partisan politics or lay morality, and the act of teaching into a species of ventriloquism.... The central precepts of academic freedom ... are that professors should say what they believe without fear or favor and that universities should appoint meritorious persons, not followers of a diversity of party lines.”