A Campaign of Lies

February 10, 2005

While Colorado Professor Ward Churchill declares his undying hatred for the United States to 1,000 cheering students  in Boulder, in Ohio, four courageous state senators led by Larry Mumper have filed Senate Bill 24, modeled on the Academic Bill of Rights, to ensure that educational standards are restored to college campuses and diverse viewpoints flourish. This will not of itself prevent the hiring and promotion of ideologues like Ward Churchill, but it will create an intellectual climate in which the Churchills will find it harder to indoctrinate students and in which there will be more voices to challenge them. The American Association of University Professors has joined hands with the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations, a Saudi-funded Islamist lobby, to defeat the Bill.

The campaign against Mumper’s Bill, as against the Academic Bill of Rights generally, is as unscrupulous as it is mendacious. Both of these organizations charge that the Academic Bill of Rights legislation would put academic discourse under government control and restrict academic free speech. In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights and Senate Bill 24 are specifically designed to do just the opposite: to encourage diverse views and to restrict none. They are aimed at an academic orthodoxy that currently suppresses opposition and that makes frauds like Ward Churchill – the very antithesis of a scholar and teacher – chairs of academic departments.  Who could object to such legislation? Like-minded ideologues could.

When it comes to free speech, of course, both the AAUP and CAIR have distinctly unclean hands. The AAUP, for example, was silent or collusive in the face of the most brutal abrogation of First Amendment Rights in fifty years, when university administrations in the 1980s and 1990s instituted “speech codes” to punish students for politically incorrect remarks. These codes imposed penalties on students for using words like “handicapped” instead of “challenged” and — more seriously — for speaking on the wrong side of issues like racial preferences. University administrations across the country even recently squashed the free speech of students protesting racial preferences through “affirmative action bake sales.” The AAUP has been silent on all these infringements of free speech, or it has lent its support to the political thought police. That is because the AAUP is a guild that represents the very academics who have instituted a blacklist against conservatives and libertarians and who have sought to ban the expression of views and words that they did not like.

For its part, CAIR is an organization notorious for threatening frivolous libel suits against journalists who have written about its unsavory politics. This would include its support for the terrorist organization Hamas, its Saudi funding, its Wahhabist politics and the fact that three of its top executives have been arrested for terrorist activities. Sometimes libel suits are necessary defenses against career damaging falsehoods. But the threat of libel can have a chilling effect when it is used promiscuously and frivolously, as CAIR does. In these cases its only purpose is to suppress speech that the litigious party cannot answer.

The charge that the Academic Bill of Rights is a “grave threat to academic freedom” – a charge made by the AAUP – is both Orwellian and absurd (a redundancy to be sure). When I drafted the Academic Bill of Rights – and before I published it – I took pains to vet the text with three leftwing academics – Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube –and with Eugene Volokh, a libertarian law professor at UCLA, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on First Amendment law. Anything in the original draft of the Academic Bill of Rights that so much as irritated these gentlemen I removed. I then vetted the result with Alan Kors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who is also a libertarian. I fine-tuned the document until he was satisfied with every jot and title of its clauses.

So when I published the Academic Bill of Rights and submitted to educators and then legislators, I did so confident that it would do none of the things that its critics have subsequently accused it of doing, and that it would be wholly compatible with the tenets of academic freedom as developed by the American Association of University Professors before that organization was taken over by ideologues.

The sequence of these submissions is important. The Bill of Rights was submitted in the first place to universities rather than legislatures. When it encountered a stone wall in the academic world, and only then, did I take it to the legislatures. Anyone who thought the Academic Bill of Rights might give too much power to legislatures could show their good faith by recommending that universities rather than legislatures adopt the Bill. But none of its opponents has.           

I have refuted in detail the malicious distortions and fallacious arguments that the AAUP has marshaled against the Academic Bill of Rights, and which the AAUP has repeated in subsequent documents and arguments in full knowledge that they are false. So I’ll save myself the trouble of undertaking the futile exercise of repeating them here.

Instead, I will address the charges of CAIR, whose disregard for the truth is so bold as to be positively breath-taking. CAIR’s attacks on Ohio Senate Bill 24 sponsored by senators Mumper, Jordan, Cates and Wachtmann, begin with this:

“The bill forces the board of trustees, of both public and private schools, to adopt policies about what can and cannot be taught.”

This is false. What the Bill says is this: “Faculty and instructors shall be free to pursue and discuss their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, but they shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written materials, and they shall encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and the critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.” In other words, professors can teach according to what they believe, but it is their responsibility to “make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own.” Anyone have a problem with this?

Apparently CAIR does. It also has a problem understanding the plain meaning of words. According to CAIR: “Under the bill, faculty would be discouraged from teaching anything ‘controversial’ – a vaguely defined term that could pertain to any number of topics including evolution, history, or religion.” This is false and inexcusably so, since the bill is quite clear regarding controversial matters: “Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.” (emphasis added). In other words, no rants against the Iraq war in English class anymore. Only a very dishonest critic could misunderstand this text.

But CAIR is intent on doing so:  “If they do raise controversial issues, teachers would have to present alternative views regardless of the merits of those views or their own beliefs about them.” In fact the Ohio Senate Bill says exactly the opposite (“shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints”).

CAIR is not alone in fighting phantoms of its own creation in a desperate effort to prevent the reform of Ohio’s universities and the expansion of academic freedom for Ohio students. William T. Lyons Jr. is the director of the “Center for Conflict Management” at the University of Akron. This is another name for Peace Studies, a field notorious for its ideological agendas and indoctrinating students in the politics of the left without any semblance of academic process – for example exploring different sides to a controversial question. Professor Lyons’ idea of a required academic text  in “conflict management” at the University of Akron is Noam Chomsky’s rant “9/11” – which is not even a book – let alone a scholarly book – but a set of rambling interviews with the MIT America-hater who has described the United States as “worse” than Nazi Germany. Professor Lyons’ Center would most certainly be affected by having to make students aware of viewpoints other than those of the fringe left. He has attacked Senate Bill 24 this way: “Trying to outlaw ideas we do not approve of, even in the name of free expression, is a cure far worse than the disease.” Lyons didn’t explain how you can outlaw ideas by promoting free expression.” But then he is used to an environment in which absurdities go without challenge.

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