Good Morning, Senator
The ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ issue seems to be warming up. Unfortunately. Because the idea seems as full of holes as a colander. It seemed leaky when I wrote an In Focus on the subject a year and a half ago (it doesn’t seem that long, but it was), and it seems leaky now. The difficulties seem so obvious…I mentioned some –
Who would decide the law was being violated? What would the criteria be? What would constitute evidence? Would the testimony of students be sufficient? If so, what of the possibility that for instance a student who’d received a C, or one who’d been bored, or one who simply disagreed with a teacher would file charges? If student testimony would not be sufficient, would administrative staff sit in on classes? Would they go undercover? Might that lead to an underage hence underexperienced and underqualified administration?…And what about all the issues that don’t divide along a neat left-right axis? What about points of view that aren’t really particularly political at all but that the legislature doesn’t happen to agree with? So perhaps we begin to see the advantage of dealing with such issues by means of discussion, debate, argument, books and articles and websites, rather than handcuffs and subpoenas.
The problem is that it is plainly within the purview of academic freedom for instructors to determine what counts as “serious scholarly opinion” and what counts as “human knowledge.” The only way, then, that this provision can have any bite is if it authorizes others (who exactly? the Ohio legislature?) to override the instructor’s academic freedom in setting the curriculum…suppose the student’s political, ideological, or religious beliefs with respect to the subject matter of the course are false, i.e., contradicted by “serious scholarly opinion” and “human knowledge” as assessed by the instructor? Does the creationist get a free pass for her ignorance in evolutionary biology simply because she has a “religious belief” that conflicts with the scientific content of the course? Is the NeoNazi entitled not to be graded down when he writes a paper for his Anthropology or Biology class defending his “ideological belief” that “the Jewish race is biologically inferior”?
Just so. Question after question. But that hasn’t stopped the Ohio legislature, as Leiter usefully points out. Coming soon to a university near you: teaching entirely taken over by political hacks, lobbyists, bribers and bribe-takers, and religious zealots who have the ear of the political hacks. Spiffy. That will certainly improve things.