The Academic Bill of Rights (House Bill 837) introduced by Representative Baxley in Florida has garnered significant criticism from academics and others who allege that it would curtail the free speech rights of faculty members and claim that its call for professors to introduce students to “a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study” would force the teaching of discredited or unscientific doctrines such as Holocaust-denial or creationism.
An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times quoted the AAUP’s claim that the bill invites “diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession” and an article in the Herald Tribune noted that “academics” fear that its “true intent is to hinder any discourse out of the mainstream.”
These charges are absurd. The philosophy of academic freedom expressed in the Academic Bill of Rights was drawn from official statements of the American Association of University Professors which have been consistent over the past century in their cautionary warnings to faculty not to take “unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity to fairly examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own” In a 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the AAUP reinforces this position, noting, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” Additional excerpts from the AAUP statements on Academic Freedom may be found on our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org .
Lest these AAUP statements are not sufficient to convince our critics, Students for Academic Freedom has conducted research into the academic freedom policies of four major Florida universities and has found that all three possess policies which mirror the language and intent of the Florida Academic Bill of Rights, most particularly the statement of the need to introduce students to diverse opinions and perspectives in the classroom which has been so widely criticized. Excerpts from these policies are below.
While we applaud the intent of these policies, the fact remains that they are seldom enforced and are not publicized in places where students are likely to come across them such as student handbooks or course catalogues.
House Bill 837 would remedy this situation mandating that, “Students, faculty, and instructors have a right to be fully informed of their rights and their institution’s grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogs and student handbooks and on the institutional website.”
University of Florida:
The Rules of the Department of Education for the University of Florida state that:
” Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, a teacher must have freedom in the classroom in discussing academic subjects, selecting instructional materials and determining grades. The University student must likewise have the opportunity to study a full spectrum of ideas, opinions, and beliefs, so that the student may acquire maturity for analysis and judgment. Objective and skillful exposition of such matters is the duty of every instructor” (emphasis added).
University of North Florida:
The UNF Faculty Handbook, Chapter 10.1 states:
” The University of North Florida strongly supports the principles of academic freedom and responsibility as adopted by and promulgated by the State University System….Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, employees shall have freedom to present and discuss their own academic subjects, frankly and forthrightly, without fear of censorship, and to select instructional materials and determine grades in accordance with University and Board policies. Objective and skillful exposition of such subject matter, including the acknowledgment of a variety of scholarly opinions, is the duty of every such employee” (emphasis added).
Florida State University:
The FSU Faculty Handbook, Chapter 7.53 on Academic Freedom and Responsibility states that:
“In the development of knowledge, research endeavors, and creative activities, a university faculty must be free to cultivate a spirit of inquiry and scholarly criticism and to examine ideas in an atmosphere of freedom and confidence. A similar atmosphere is required for university teaching. Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, an instructor must have freedom in the classroom to discuss academic subjects. The university student must likewise have the opportunity to study a full spectrum of ideas, opinions, and beliefs, so that the student may acquire maturity for analysis and judgment. Objective and skillful exposition of such subject matter is the duty of every instructor” (emphasis added).
Florida Atlantic University:
The FAU Faculty Handbook advises instructors:
It is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage full academic freedom….Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, employees shall have freedom to present and discuss their own academic subjects, frankly and forthrightly, without fear of censorship, and to select instructional materials and determine grades in accordance with university policies. Objective and skillful exposition of such subject matter, including the acknowledgment of a variety of scholarly opinions, is the duty of every such employee” (emphasis added).
Reference: http://www.fau.edu/academic/provost/facbook.pdf (pages 12-13)
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