By Sara Dogan
In a victory for academic freedom at Temple University, Provost Richard Englert took prompt action after he was notified by the Temple College Republicans that the official Honors Department listserve was used to send out a blatantly partisan anti-war email. The victory was somewhat tempered by the provost’s insistence that the email did not violate the university’s recently adopted academic freedom policy, but that it was simply a matter of “failure to comply with a process for administrative review.”
The email message which urged students to attend a protest of “The U.S. Occupation of Iraq” was forwarded to the entire Honors Department listserve by Temple employee Jackie Everette on March 14.
A flyer attached to the email contained vehement anti-war and anti-military language, exhorting students to “Come together with Temple Anti-War to demonstrate and speak out against the 4 years of butchery of Iraq.” The flyer claimed that the Iraq war has resulted in “Over $365 billion wasted” and the “use of tons of depleted Uranium causing long-term consequences to civilians and soldiers.” Students were instructed to meet at noon on March 16th at the Bell Tower on campus to engage in a protest of the war.
In an April 17 letter to Temple University Provost Richard Englert, Jack Posobiec, the former chair of the Temple College Republicans, urged the provost to investigate the matter as a violation of Temple’s newly-adopted academic freedom policy.
“Temple students are not well-served by the Temple Honors Department advocating a partisan political agenda,” Posobiec wrote. “On behalf of myself, [Temple College Republicans President] Ryan McCool, and Temple Students for Academic Freedom, I implore you to take the necessary actions to explain Temple University Policy 03.70.02 to the Temple Honors Department, and to ensure their compliance with this University Policy.” Temple University’s Board of Trustees adopted policy 03.70.02 on “Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities” last August following an unprecedented year-long process of legislative hearings inspired by Students for Academic Freedom. At the time of the hearings, not a single public university in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided student-specific academic freedom guarantees to its student body or provided students with a grievance procedure specifically to challenge such violations. Policy 03.70.02 remedied that situation at Temple by granting students the right to file a grievance if their academic freedom is violated.
One clause of the policy relevant to the email controversy states, “Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the information or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.” A partisan email sent through official university channels to an entire departmental listserve violates this standard.
“It’s frustrating as a conservative student to constantly have liberal policies shoved down your throat, especially when it’s an academic department like the honors department which had a duty to remain neutral,” said Temple College Republicans Chairman Ryan McCool. “If the College Republicans were holding a conservative event such as a pro-life rally, I sincerely doubt that the administration would be so quick to use University resources to announce it.”
Following the receipt of Posobiec’s message, Englert responded to the College Republicans, acknowledging that the email shouldn’t have been sent out. “I have determined that the posting of this announcement was the clear result of error by a staff member whose primary goal was to be helpful to a student who requested immediate action,” Englert wrote.
Englert additionally stated that he has “asked our Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies to review the appropriate processes for listserv postings with all staff and administrators in the Honors Program.” But the Provost denied that the listserve posting violated the University’s academic freedom policy, insisting, “I see the present case as a failure to comply with a process for administrative review.”
While the College Republicans are grateful that the immediate situation has been addressed, they are concerned about the provost’s failure to view the anti-war email as an issue of academic freedom.
“This blatant violation of academic neutrality at Temple University, in spite of the highly-publicized academic freedom policy now in place on campus, illustrates the urgent need for other schools to adopt Academic Bills of Rights to protect their students’ academic freedom,” said Students for Academic Freedom Chairman David Horowitz. “While I commend Provost Englert for taking prompt action on this issue, I urge him to reconsider the question of whether Temple’s academic freedom policy applies in this case.”
Students for Academic Freedom is a national initiative dedicated to restoring academic diversity and educational values to America’s institutions of higher learning. The organization recommends that colleges and universities adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to ensure that these principles are respected. The Academic Bill of Rights is available on the organization’s website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.