November 9, 2005
Good afternoon. My name is Joan Scott and I am Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton N.J. I also hold a teaching position in the history department at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. I served as chair of the American Association of University Professor’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure from 1999 until June of this year. I remain as a consultant to the committee and the issues of academic freedom remain central to all of my professional work. In addition to the AAUP, I am active in my professional disciplinary society, the American Historical Association, and devote some of my research and writing to questions about the history of my discipline in particular and of scholarly disciplines in general.
I appreciate the opportunity this committee has given me today to present the AAUP’s viewpoint on the important issues the committee is considering as they are spelled out in HR 177. As I read the resolution, there are essentially three questions you are charged with studying. The first is about whether political considerations enter the hiring, promotion, and tenuring of faculty. The second is about the openness of the campus environment: has it been, as some who’ve spoken to you have charged, high jacked by liberals who prevent the full exploration of ideas and thus deny students the kind of education they deserve? And the third is whether ideological considerations are involved in the grading of students and in the kinds of discussions that are permitted in classrooms.
These are, of course, matters of concern and they respond directly to charges that have been made by proponents of (what we think has been misnamed) the Academic Bill of Rights. You have wisely posed as questions charges that some have already stated as fact, charges that our campuses have been taken over by left-wing ideologues (the tenured radicals of the 1960's) and that they are waging a campaign of indoctrination that captures the minds of unsuspecting students and punishes those wise enough to disagree with them. These charges are not only for the most part false, but are themselves based on political and ideological considerations. Take for example the study that concludes that college teachers are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. The people arguing that that study proves political discrimination in hiring neglect many factors that good social scientific research would consider–the possible role of preference for more economically lucrative work on the part of republicans; or the different policies each party has in regard to financial support for higher education and so what might be called ‘interest-based’ votes by university faculty–to take only two examples. But even more important, political party affiliation has nothing to do with scholarly positions and with what counts as a conservative or a non-traditional approach to literature or history or the classics. The considerations that enter hiring decisions have everything to do with scholarship and with what might be called disciplinary politics. And here, the tendency already is towards pluralism, that is to an open classroom and campus environment. For example, English departments cover the ground, representing not only Shakespeare, the Victorians, the Romantics, novels, poetry, American literature and so forth, they also include a variety of theoretical approaches: New Criticism, Formalism, Poststructuralism, Psychoanalysis, Feminist Criticism. It is true that at some schools there are more Formalists than New Critics, or more literary historians than theorists, but that is a result of market decisions made by departments–a decision to specialize and so become distinctive in a particular field. In the same universities where there are predominantly Poststructuralist English departments there are old fashioned history departments (teaching the facts, covering chronological periods) and political science departments that hire no political theorists (those who might teach about Locke and JS Mill), but only game theorists, and economics departments that offer no courses in economic history (as once such departments did), but only courses in mathematical modeling. You have only to look department by department at most universities and colleges–you will find no prevailing ideology, only a mix of approaches; often one department’s conservatism is balanced by another’s more avant garde emphasis. For every women’s studies program that upsets Dr. Balch, there are political science departments committed to celebrating American democracy; for every ethnic studies program that worries him (and they don’t all fit the distorted picture he has painted today) there are economics departments teaching only supply side economics. If you look at departments over time, you will see changes that reflect new disciplinary knowledge as well as new styles of thinking. This history and the mix it produces have more do with markets than with ideology.
In the attempt to capture student enrollment, some universities have emphasized vocational training, investing in high powered computer science faculties, others have introduced programs in gender or ethnic studies to attract more students interested in those topics. In the search for a market niche, the Business School at the University of Chicago has emphasized conservative approaches while the Law Schools at Duke and Yale have chosen to be associated with liberals; some universities and colleges have emerged as exemplars of traditionalist education–St. John’s or Grove City–and others as liberal–Brown and Wesleyan–or wildly experimental (Sarah Lawrence, Reed, Hampshire). But most have chosen a more pluralist route, offering a wide range of courses and approaches so as to meet all student demand. If you do a systematic study of courses offered and of the theoretical or interpretive approaches their instructors employ, you will find that diversity already characterizes our colleges and universities. That is because there are carefully monitored guidelines for hiring and promotion–you have copies of AAUP guidelines (“The1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” and “The Ethics of Recruitment and Faculty Appointments”) and these are followed in most institutions, as are the procedures for grieving and challenging decisions that have been made. (AAUP censures institutions that don’t follow these guidelines and there are relatively few institutions on our censure list. The small number of censures–47 of the many thousands of universities and colleges in the nation–indicates that the guidelines are being implemented. Censure is one way of making sure there is national attention to the enforcement of guidelines.) The evidence suggests that there is no party line being used either to hire teachers or to inform their teaching. (If you like, in the question period, I will describe the elaborate procedures followed by hiring search committees and by tenure committees, the ways in which a wide range of views are represented on these committees, the ways their recommendations are scrutinized by all-university committees as well as by deans, provosts and presidents–there is no short quick way to get hired or tenured in an American university!!) And you cannot rely on anecdotal evidence in your quest for information–you will always find an instance in which someone claims (for good or bad reasons) that he’s been discriminated against on political grounds. It’s hard for someone not hired or tenured to admit that his work just didn’t measure up to scholarly standards and much easier to find other reasons–race, gender, political opinions-- for not getting a job or tenure). What your committee needs is good social science and the supporters of the ABR are not interested in that. One can only conclude from that flawed study of Democratic and Republican faculty, that they looking to have more Republicans as university teachers–a political test for what should be a scholarly job!
An important point to remember as you look at the make-up of college and university faculties is that disciplines are constantly in flux; knowledge changes as new research opens new doors. It is up to scholarly communities to collectively decide what counts as responsible knowledge; to deny a place to a professor of phlogiston theory of heat (a notion widely held in the Middle Ages), for example, because it is not deemed a reasonable perspective within the discipline of chemistry.. There is plenty of room within these communities for debate and change–indeed debate takes place all the time and it follows accepted rules of procedure (which you can read about in our guidelines). The process usually works and works well, although there are always glitches that need attention. But mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them; there is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies.
On the second and third questions—about the openness of the campus environment and students’ rights to free expression— I think there are important points to bear in mind. One is whether “balance” on every issue, as recommended by the ABR, is a desirable feature of the university curriculum. Another is whether all points of view must always be taught in every classroom for students to enjoy a good climate for learning. We do not think that either balance or all points of view are necessary in every course, nor are they the right of students. It is one thing to insist (as we do) that there be respect for differences of opinion; another to argue that all opinions have the same weight. For the most part, students do not have the training and the knowledge base that their teachers do; they are there to learn. As David French said before this committee last September, student rights “do not include a right to be taught what they want to hear. Their broad rights do not include a right not to be offended. Their rights do not include a right to have a teacher tell all sides of the story as they see all sides of the story.” We agree with his statement and think the door should not be opened to having students think they have such rights. In the “Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedoms of Students” (.pdf) we say that while “students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion,” they are also “responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which they are enrolled.” While students ought to be protected against “prejudiced or capricious academic evaluation,” they are also “responsible for maintaining standards of academic performance established for each course in which they are enrolled.” In other words, ultimate judgment about what counts as serious academic work and as legitimate course content rests with the faculty. A student cannot claim violations of his academic freedom if creationism is not taught in his biology course or if Holocaust deniers are not on his history syllabus or if his professor of Middle Eastern Studies is critical of Israeli domestic or foreign policy. In the area of rights to free speech, faculty and students may be on the same plane since the First Amendment assumes equality of status in the field of ideas. But in the classroom, academic freedom rests on a notion of faculty expertise. It derives from values that attach to the distinctive role of the professional scholar, a member of a self-regulating corporate body whose job it is to certify that expertise. Academic freedom pertains to scholars as professionals, not individuals. It guarantees freedom of research, freedom to determine one’s teaching in the classroom and freedom from censorship for extra-mural expression. It carries responsibilities enforced by one’s peers. Students do not have this kind of academic freedom and they ought not to be led to believe that they do. Otherwise, we will face a nightmare of unjustified and costly litigation that will seriously interfere with the university’s mission.
We also worry that the insistence on “balance” as a guarantee of student rights ignores another important aspect of education. Conflicts of values and ethics are part of the process of knowledge production; they inform it, trouble it, drive it. The commitments of scholars to ideas of justice, for example, are at the heart of many an important investigation in political theory, philosophy and history; they cannot be dismissed as irrelevant “opinion.” Students need to know about the values and commitments of their professors–they don’t have to share them. But because such commitments cannot be separated from scholarship, there are mechanisms internal to academic life that monitor abuses, distinguishing between serious, responsible work and polemic, between teaching that aims to unsettle received opinion and teaching that is indoctrination. There are established procedures within universities for hearing complaints about indoctrination, about unfair grading, and other denials of student rights, and for deciding on the merits whether it is happening or not.(See for example, “The Assignment of Course Grades and Student Appeals”) (These procedures are markedly different from what passes for information on the website of Students for Academic Freedom, which posts lists of unexamined complaints by students as if they were established fact. These lists constitute an end- run around serious procedures, kangaroo courts not interested in justice, but in scoring points, or meting out punishment and revenge.) The established procedures that AAUP recommends are not always perfectly implemented, but they will not work better if government oversight is substituted for community self-surveillance. This is how John Dewey and Arthur Lovejoy, founders in 1915 of the American Association of University Professors, understood the need for academic freedom. Precisely because academic work might call into question received wisdom and contradict popular opinion, there was a need to protect faculty from outside interference–it was that protection (a protection based on respect for self-regulating communities of scholars) that they called academic freedom.
We worry, too, about the idea of neutrality promoted by supporters of the academic bill of rights. It would prohibit professors from expressing judgments about the material they teach, as well as about matters not directly relevant to course material; instead they are simply to transmit stores of undisputed information and refrain from expressing their points of view. Aside from the fact that this denies the role judgment must play in scholarly work, it cancels the important critical role that higher education should fulfill. The best teachers, in my experience and I’m sure it’s true for many of you too, are usually those whose commitment and point of view, grounded to be sure in a command of information and knowledge of a field (a command certified by their degrees, refereed publications, and departmental reviews), inspire students to think differently about the world; whose teaching calls into question the pieties and certainties students have imbibed elsewhere. It is precisely the experience of this kind of education that opens students’ minds and engages them in learning, sets them out on paths they never knew they could take. That has been the critical thinking that is the hallmark of American education–an education designed to create thinking citizens for a free society. I worry that the emphasis on formal balance and neutrality, and the injunction not to express a point of view will harm our educational system and suppress exactly the kind of thinking that has distinguished our democracy and made it a model elsewhere in the world.
I have restricted most of my comments about students to the question of the classroom, to what is taught and how. I’d like to add, and here again I’ll be agreeing with David French, that an open environment is one in which the free exchange of ideas and views occurs within a framework of tolerance and civility. AAUP deplores speech codes and believes that the best cure for insulting speech is more speech. We also insist that speakers of any stripe be allowed to come to campus and we warn students, faculty, and university administrators (as well as regents and legislators) that attempts to censor speakers, however much we disdain their words, creates a chilly climate for everyone. These days there are many attempts to enforce certain political or moral positions on campus–by students, administrators, and off-campus groups. If true democracy is to prevail, we must resist these attempts and let differences of opinion and ideas thrive. If John Stuart Mill was right, the market place of ideas will sort out the good from the bad–we cannot, should not do that in advance.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that AAUP considers the ABR, which seems to inform House Resolution 177, to be a misnomer, as well as mistake. In our view it “ironically infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it.” You have, I believe, a copy of our statement of opposition to the bill. In it we detail our criticisms, so I’ll just summarize them now.
AAUP believes that the ABR threatens to impose legislative oversight on the professional judgment of the faculty, oversight which is not only unnecessary because self-regulating governance procedures already are in place and work very effectively, but also dangerous–it recalls the kind of government intervention in the academy practiced by totalitarian governments (historical examples are Japan, China, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union) who seek to control thought rather than permit a free marketplace of ideas. Here I will quote the historian of education and distinguished educator, Walter Metzger, on the question of academic freedom:
A state legislature does not violate academic freedom...when it sets up or abolishes departments of instruction in academic institutions under its control, because these actions have budgetary implications that the representatives of the paying public cannot ignore. Nor does it do so when, under its licensing powers, it requires candidates for professional degrees to undergo a specified course of training which the state academic institution must provide. It is an unsettled question whether it does so, when to gratify local pride, it makes a designated course in local history prerequisite for an undergraduate degree. But centuries of history tell us that it invades the very core of academic freedom...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.
AAUP believes that by insisting that students have the same rights to academic freedom as their professors, it deprives teachers of the authority necessary for teaching. It threatens to substitute mere opinion for scholarly knowledge; and it opens the door to student complaints that subject matter is offensive to them and therefore should not be taught.
AAUP believes that the ABR, by insisting that all courses and departments have “balance” and “diverse points of view” represented, would actually prevent colleges and universities from making the kinds of judgments that guarantee high quality teaching. The market place of ideas is and must be an open system, of course, and in the process of research and study, some ideas prove more compelling and closer to the truth than others. It is up to faculty, in their disciplinary associations, to evaluate these matters of knowledge, to constantly subject them to criticism and to change them. Faculty are the only ones competent to make these decisions and it is academic freedom–a corporate, not an individual right–that enables them to do this. Students do not, they cannot, have this kind of academic freedom. That does not mean that students have no rights, of course they do, but we maintain that they are already well protected by procedures internal to the academy, procedures which you should become familiar with as you conduct your hearings, procedures which I believe my colleague Professor Moore will cover in more specific detail.