A Princeton student named Asheesh Kapur Siddique recently wrote a fallacious and mistake-ridden op-ed for the Washington Post attacking the Academic Bill of Rights. Siddique’s article was subsequently reprinted in numerous other publications. Siddique claimed that the Academic Bill of Rights (a version of which was passed as a referendum by the entire student body on his campus last spring ) would both “inject partisan politics into our classrooms” and would prevent students from evaluating “the merits of ideas and arguments for ourselves by banning ‘political’ or ‘anti-religious’ speech from classrooms”–in itself a contradiction. Siddique also alleged that a recent bill passed by the House would limit funding to universities that fail to comply with the Academic Bill of Rights–a complete fabrication. Our letter responding to Siddique’s article (which has been sent to each one of papers which published it) follows.
The following papers have so far printed Siddique’s article:
1. Washington Post
2. Houston Chronicle
3. North Carolina News & Observer
4. Salt Lake Tribune
5. Tallahassee Democrat
To the editor:
Asheesh Kapur Siddique’s recent article for the Washington Post attacking the Academic Bill of Rights (Free Speech Under Threat on Campus, 10/29) contains so many factual errors and outright falsehoods that I am astounded that it made it into print.
In an obvious contradiction, Siddique claims that the ABOR would both “inject partisan politics into our classrooms” and would prevent students from evaluating “the merits of ideas and arguments for ourselves by banning ‘political’ or ‘anti-religious’ speech from classrooms.”
In fact, the ABOR would neither ban political speech nor require it. Instead the Bill states that “Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.” This does not mean that controversial or political ideas cannot be discussed, only that they should conform to the academic freedom policy of the American Association of University Professors which states that teachers “should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” Does Siddique have a problem with this?
Every example Siddique provides to show how the ABOR would supposedly restrict speech, such as preventing discussion of evolution in a biology class or of the Iraq War in a course on the modern Middle East, are cases that are explicitly protected under the Academic Bill of Rights.
In one false passage, Siddique writes, “The College Access and Opportunity Act passed by the House in March and under consideration in the Senate, aims to deny federal funding to institutions—even private ones—that refuse to comply with ABOR’s limitations on speech.” This is false. The Act passed by the House in March contains four brief clauses stating the “sense of the Congress” that students should not face discrimination in academic settings for their political, intellectual or religious beliefs. There is no enforcement measure built into the act, and certainly no attempt to deny funding for noncompliance.
It is regrettable that the Washington Post should have chosen to publish a piece that is so poorly researched and so misleads readers on an important educational issue.
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom