Victory for Freedom of Conscience at Grand Valley State University: Music Department Axes Political Litmus Test

July 28, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., July 28, 2009Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has promised to remove “demonstrated commitment to the principles of diversity” from the stated job requirements for faculty seeking appointment to GVSU’s Department of Music. The department will restate its requirements in terms of relevant experience, not vaguely worded personal commitments regarding a controversial political issue. The change came after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) asked GVSU to restore freedom of conscience on its campus.

“We have reminded public universities time and time again that they cannot require that prospective faculty demonstrate personal commitment to ‘the principles of diversity,’ any more than they can require a commitment to ‘patriotism,’ ‘objectivism,’ or ‘communalism,'” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “GVSU should be commended for canceling its music department’s demand that candidates make ideological commitments.”

On April 17, 2009, GVSU posted a job listing for a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music (Flute), a position primarily involving “the teaching and mentoring of university level flute students [and] performance with various faculty ensembles.” The listing required that candidates show “a demonstrated commitment to the principles of diversity with the skills necessary to effectively develop and lead in a cultural climate that recognizes, respects and celebrates diiferences [sic].” While public universities like GVSU may impose objective requirements regarding skills and experience, requiring a “demonstrated commitment” to “the principles of diversity” imposes ideological requirements in violation of individuals’ freedom of conscience.

FIRE wrote to GVSU President Thomas J. Haas on June 18, noting that the department had been imposing such requirements for years. FIRE’s letter stated that “GVSU, as a public university, simply cannot require professors to adhere to a political orthodoxy, no matter how much the college may believe in the tenets of that orthodoxy and wish others to embrace those tenets.” FIRE also informed Haas of similar cases this year at Virginia Tech and North Shore Community College.

GVSU responded to FIRE on July 9. University Counsel Thomas A. Butcher argued that the department’s requirements were “bona fide occupational qualifications of education, training and experience that are relevant to the faculty position,” but he acknowledged that prospective applicants might “misread” the diversity requirement as unlawfully restricting their views. Accordingly, Butcher promised to restate the requirements in terms of relevant experience.

“This change in policy is a win for everyone,” Lukianoff said. “GVSU will retain whatever lawful employment qualifications it desires, and prospective music teachers will be free to hold whatever beliefs they want.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; adam@thefire.org
Thomas J. Haas, President, Grand Valley State University: 616-331-2100; president@gvsu.edu

Schools: Grand Valley State University Cases: Grand Valley State University: Political Litmus Test in Music Department’s Job Requirements