[The Montana Professor 17.1, Fall 2006 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

The Academic Bill of Rights and Academic Freedom

David Horowitz
Founder, The David Horowitz Freedom Center

--David Horowitz
David Horowitz

In the winter of 2002, I drew up an Academic Bill of Rights whose purpose was to promote intellectual diversity on college campuses and restore academic values to university classrooms./1/ Although this Bill has been the object of lurid attacks, it is actually a quintessentially liberal document reflecting values embraced by all American institutions of higher learning throughout the modern era. Its text is based on a famous document called the "Declaration of the Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure,"/2/ published in 1915 by the American Association of University Professors. These principles have long since been incorporated into the academic policies of most American research universities.


The 1915 Declaration of Principles proposed two basic rights--one for faculty and the other for students. Professors were guaranteed freedom in their professional research, but they were also warned not to use their classroom authority to indoctrinate their students. In the words of the Declaration, a teacher should avoid "taking unfair advantage of the student's immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher's own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to 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."/3/

In 1940 and 1970, the AAUP issued two further statements, which amplified the original Declaration. Both featured clauses cautioning professors to "be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject."/4/ Like the original Declaration, these statements were published at a time when the nation was torn by controversies over war and peace. Their goal was to insulate the university from turbulent public passions which might damage the academic enterprise. In designing the Academic Bill of Rights, I was conscious of the fact that I was doing so in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and a new war against radical Islam. I was concerned that we were entering these ominous times with academic freedom protections that were tenuous at best.

While these academic freedom doctrines have been part of the educational governance of universities for nearly a hundred years, in the last several decades, under a regime of "political correctness," they have been increasingly disregarded by faculty and rarely enforced by administrators. My awareness of this fact led me to believe that a new statement of these principles was required. It also convinced me that a national campaign would be needed to inspire university administrators to enforce the rules that were meant to ensure fairness and objectivity in the classroom.

These rules are quite simple. They require professors who are credentialed as professionals to behave professionally in the classroom. Among other things, this means that they should not grade students by criteria that are not academic, that they should provide students with access to more than one point of view, that they should teach their academic expertise and not their uninformed opinions, and they should not introduce their political agendas into the classroom. Academic freedom is not the same as free speech. Everyone has the right as a citizen to express their views freely in the public square. But a classroom is not a public square. It is a place of learning, and that means that professors are obligated to behave professionally, as teachers, and not to use their classrooms as platforms for political causes.

You don't go to your doctor expecting to get a lecture on the war in Iraq, so why should you get one from your English professor? If a preacher goes into church on Sunday and delivers a sermon that God doesn't exist, he will be looking for a new job on Monday, First Amendment or no. Soldiers who risk their lives to defend our First Amendment freedoms are not permitted to write op-ed pieces giving their opinions on the war. The reason is simple. Churches and armies are professional institutions organized to carry out an institutional mission. If ministers and soldiers are allowed the same freedoms in their professional roles as ordinary citizens, the result will be the destruction of the institutional mission. Something like that is happening in our schools.

When professors of English proselytize about the war in Iraq or whom to support in the next election, they are not transmitting their professional expertise or their wisdom as educators. Instead, they are sharing their prejudices and inexpert opinions. They are acting not as teachers but as propagandists. This is unprofessional. It is a waste of students' tuition money and time. Students can get the same propaganda and off-the-cuff commentary on talk radio without paying tuition. Propaganda in the classroom is abusive, moreover, since students are a captive audience whose careers may be dependent on agreeing or pretending to agree with their instructors. Because the university advertises itself as the provider of professional instruction by qualified experts, this is also a form of consumer fraud.

Professor Stanley Fish is a well-known liberal academic who has written extensively on the subject of academic freedom. He has articulated the critical distinction between academic freedom and political attitudinizing with particular clarity: "Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply."/5/

Robert Gordon Sproul, the longtime president of the University of California (Berkeley) inserted the following clause into its academic freedom policy in 1934:

The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social, or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts.... Essentially the freedom of a university is the freedom of competent persons in the classroom. In order to protect this freedom, the University assumed the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda.

Unfortunately, not only do individual professors regularly violate these precepts in the contemporary academy but entire departments are devoted to the transmission of sectarian agendas and the indoctrination of students in political creeds. At the University of California Santa Cruz, for example, faculty radicals have changed the name of the Women's Studies Department to the Department of Feminist Studies, whose curriculum represents an undisguised program of ideological indoctrination in the theory and practice of radical feminism, including the recruitment of students to radical causes./6/ Its official departmental website lists "Career Opportunities" under the heading "What Can I Do With A Major in Feminist Studies" which it answers as follows:

Employment Opportunities for Feminist Studies Majors

With a background in women's and minorities' histories and an understanding of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other forms of oppression, graduates have a good background for work with policy-making and lobbying organizations, research centers, trade and international associations, and unions. Graduates' knowledge about power relationships and injustice often leads them to choose careers in government and politics, because they are determined to use their skills to change the world..../7/

This is not an academic curriculum; it is a party agenda. The Feminist Studies Department at Santa Cruz is a training program in radical politics that violates the fundamental principles of the academic profession in general and the University of California in particular./8/ Far from being an isolated example, the Santa Cruz curriculum is representative of Women's Studies Departments generally, a fact that is understood by the radical leaders of the academic profession.

When the Pennsylvania legislature passed legislation creating a Select Committee on Academic Freedom, for example, WomensENews reported: "As more and more schools and states pass legislation based on a document called the Academic Bill of Rights--Pennsylvania most recently joined the list in July--and support builds for it in Congress, many Women's Studies departments can expect increased intrusion this September. One national organization is truly alarmed. 'If one student believes that only one side of a topic was presented,' a grievance could be filed, followed by a lawsuit, warned Ruth Flower, director of the department of public policy and communications at the Washington-based American Association of University Professors. 'Women's studies would have to try to litigate or close down,' she added, noting that the legal battles could deplete the already meager funding for many women's studies programs and departments."/9/

This response to the academic freedom movement and its "threat" to enforce academic standards is typical of faculty radicals who are intent on defending their ideological agendas in the classroom. Opponents have claimed that my campaign is an attempt to impose government orthodoxies on academic institutions, which is false. They have said that the Academic Bill of Rights would force teachers to give equal time to all ideas, which is false. They have argued that the Academic Bill of Rights would require the hiring of Nazis and Holocaust deniers, which is false. They have suggested that the Academic Bill of Rights would require the firing of liberal professors and the hiring of conservatives which is false. And they have likened me, personally, to Hitler, Mao and Joseph McCarthy for attempting to restore traditional principles of academic professionalism to academic institutions.

The hearings in Pennsylvania, in fact, did not lead to legislation or lawsuits against Women's Studies. Nor was that their intention. The hearings were designed to examine the academic freedom policies of Pennsylvania universities and to ask whether these polices were being enforced and what, if any, improvements could be made. An early result of the hearings has been the adoption by the Temple University Board of Trustees of an academic freedom policy called "Faculty and Student Rights and Responsibilities." This is one of the first university policies to recognize that students have academic freedom rights. It also created a grievance machinery to air complaints and a reporting system that goes directly to the trustees. This has been a major a step forward for academic freedom, and I am proud to have played a small role in making it happen.

The University of Montana's academic freedom policy also recognizes that with academic freedom rights go academic responsibilities. However these responsibilities are not spelled out in a way that clearly delineates what professional restrictions these responsibilities might impose on classroom discourse. Moreover, under the existing Montana policy there is no procedure for student complaints and thus no provision for student rights. This makes Montana's academic freedom policy ineffective for Montana students. I recommend that the Montana administration review Temple's policy and consider adopting it in Missoula.


  1. The complete text of the Academic Bill of Rights is reprinted in this issue. Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars,made extensive revisions to the original text and played an important role in its wording.[Back]
  2. Available at http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/566.[Back]
  3. Available at http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/566. [Search for "immaturity" with your browser's Find command.] The document was written by two academics, Arthur O. Lovejoy and E.R.A. Seligman.[Back]
  4. Available at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/1940statement.htm. The 1970 statement added the word "persistently" to the 1940 statement: "teachers should be careful not to persistently introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject"--but the intent was the same.[Back]
  5. See http://cms.studentsforacademicfreedom.org//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2117&Itemid=54.[Back]
  6. See http://feministstudies.ucsc.edu/resCareers.html.[Back]
  7. See http://feministstudies.ucsc.edu/resMajor.html.[Back]
  8. Compare this to the Sproul clause quoted in this text.[Back]
  9. Rachel Corbett, "Women's Studies Hunted for Liberal Bias," WeNews, 30 August 2005.[Back]

[The Montana Professor 17.1, Fall 2006 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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