Letter to Bucks County Community College

By February 22, 2001

Dr. James J. Linksz

President

Bucks County Community College

Newtown, PA 18940-9677

Dear President Linksz,

As you can see from the list of our Directors and Board of Advisors,
FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars,
journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and
ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, due process,
the rights of conscience, and — in the case of Bucks County Community
College — academic freedom on America’s college campuses. Our web page,
www.thefire.org, will give you a fuller sense of our identity and
activities.

I wish to express our profound, grave, and determined concern
about the threat to academic and healthy intellectual freedom posed by
Question Two of the Qualifications Statement of BCCC’s Application for
Employment: “Please provide a brief statement of your commitment to
diversity and how this commitment is demonstrated in your work.” Even
leaving aside issues of vagueness and overbreadth, it is not the
business of a public university to inquire into an applicant’s private
views of—let alone an applicant’s “commitment” to—matters of politics,
race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, or, indeed, of any other
category that you include in “diversity.” This is a politically correct
equivalent of a loyalty oath, as objectionable as a 1950s question
asking for a statement from an applicant about his or her “commitment
to patriotism” or “commitment to Americanism.” Such inquisitorial abuse
of authority was beyond the pale then; it is beyond the pale now.

We assume the good faith and concern for academic freedom (and,
given BCCC’s status as a public university, constitutional principles)
of all parties to this case. In that spirit, we ask you to listen with
an open mind and collegially to the argument against such a demand upon
instructors and staff. FIRE would defend with equal fervor the rights
of faculty at BCCC and elsewhere to be protected from inquisitions into
their love of country or celebration of Americanism if the College, in
a change of ideological climate, sought to elicit such statements as a
factor in determining employment qualifications. You have a right to
evaluate a candidate with broad discretion, and to consider any
evidence of violation of statutory and constitutional obligations
toward legal equality in someone’s past performance. Your current
inquisition into “commitment to diversity,” however, imposes one
fashionable intellectual agenda, among many, reflecting a new orthodoxy
regnant on many campuses. This truly does violate your constitutional
obligation to content neutrality, and intrudes upon the private thought
and conscience of free individuals in a free society. It truly is a
“loyalty oath” as inimical to academic and intellectual freedom as any
that arose during the sad days of McCarthyism.

It is a human failing common to us all that we rarely see our own
abuses of power, and no one, right, left, or center, is innocent of
that failing. Once these abuses are called to consciousness, however,
it becomes a moral imperative to restrain ourselves and to grant to
others the academic freedom that we would demand for ourselves. The sad
days of “loyalty oaths” to political ideologies already once darkened
the academy. Let us not revive them ourselves or tolerate their
resurrection by others.

We ask you to consider very carefully if you believe that your
investigation of private belief and conscience would pass moral muster,
AAUP guidelines, and, in BCCC’s case, constitutional review. The AAUP
guidelines of 1915 state the matter quite clearly: “To the degree that
professional scholars, in the formation or promulgation of their opinions,
are, or by the character of their tenure appear to be, subject to any
motive other than their own scientific conscience and a desire for the
respect of their fellow-experts, to that degree the university teaching
profession is corrupted; its proper influence upon public opinion is
diminished and vitiated; and society at large fails to get from its
scholars in an unadulterated form the peculiar and necessary service
which it is the office of the professional scholar to furnish (italics
added).” Is there any part of that statement with which BCCC officially
disagrees?

Further, as the AAUP noted at this birth of academic freedom: “It is
not only the character of the instruction but also the character of the
instructor that counts; and if the student has reason to believe that
the instructor is not true to himself, the virtue of the instruction as
an educative force is incalculably diminished. There must be in the
mind of the teacher no mental reservation. He must give the student the
best of what he has and what he is.” Must all potential instructors at
BCCC be made an exception to that ringing declaration of the meaning
and value of true academic freedom? In its groundbreaking statement on
academic freedom of 1940, the AAUP put it this way: “Teachers are
entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but
they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching
controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” Please
pause and think about this, substituting, in your minds, any agenda
other than the “diversity” agenda that BCCC currently favors.

Further, you are a public institution, bound by the decisions of the
Supreme Court concerning academic freedom at public colleges and
universities. FIRE would remind you of the Court’s decision, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York
(1967), that “our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic
freedom, a transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the
teachers concerned.” This being the case, the Court opined, the First
Amendment “does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over
the classroom . . . [which is] peculiarly the marketplace of ideas.” As
the Court had ruled in the landmark case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
(1943): “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional
constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe
what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other
matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their
faith [in it].” The Court concluded that “the purpose of the First
Amendment to our Constitution” was precisely to protect “from all
official control” the domain that was “the sphere of intellect and
spirit.” Your inquisition into private views of “diversity” would force
potential hires to confess both by word and by act their faith in the
opinion that “diversity” was essential to their teaching and academic
life. Does BCCC truly wish to violate academic, moral, and
constitutional prohibitions against such coercions?

FIRE will see this issue through to the end, whatever the
effort that this requires. It is our profoundest hope that your
inquisition into private belief and your loyalty oath, with their
scandalous coercion of both conscience and mind, will disappear from
BCCC’s application and hiring procedures. The presumed goals of that
questionnaire can be rightly pursued in two appropriate ways. First,
the College can and should enforce the antidiscrimination statutes and
rulings that govern its behavior. Second, consideration of issues of
diversity can and should be pursued in the infinitely more appropriate
domain of collegial debate, persuasion, and the voluntary choices of
free minds in the free universities of a free society. We hope that
BCCC will reconsider its illiberal, immoral, and, we believe,
unconstitutional inquisition into private belief and commitment,
restoring academic freedom to its faculty and staff, current and
potential. Academic life does not create ideological fiefdoms from
which to coerce dissidents or skeptics.

We are ready to discuss this issue with you at any length that you
desire, and we hope that this disturbing matter can be resolved quietly
and by common, collegial principles. If that resolution requires full
public exposure and litigation, however, FIRE will assist interested
parties in their pursuit of academic freedom, respect for conscience,
and the rights of privacy, political pluralism, and reasoned dissent at
BCCC.

Looking forward to hearing from you, I am,

Sincerely,

Thor L. Halvorssen

cc:

Dr. Annette L. Conn,
Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs

Dr. Larry M. Newman, Chairman, Board of Trustees

Schools: Bucks County Community College