SAN FRANCISCO, June 1, 2006—In a direct attack on academic freedom, the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is “investigating” a professor for assigning a peer-reviewed journal article that some students felt was “racist.” Psychology professor Leland van den Daele contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help soon after hearing that he was facing investigation and possible punishment.
“CIIS’ actions show a disturbing disregard for academic freedom,” commented FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “If academic freedom is to have any meaning, professors must have the ability to present relevant, provocative material in their classrooms without fear of punishment.”
Professor van den Daele’s trouble began in March 2006, when he assigned his Lifespan Development Psychology class an article he authored entitled “Preschool Intervention Through Social Learning for Disadvantaged Children,” published in 1970 by Howard University’s Journal of Negro Education. The peer-reviewed article focused on social learning and emotional development among “the urban poor, particularly Negro ghetto males.”
A student in van den Daele’s class reported the article to CIIS’ Diversity Action Team (DAT), which began to consider a “response” to the assignment. Upon hearing that the DAT was looking into his article, van den Daele e-mailed a DAT member, explaining that he assigned the article, as he has in previous years, in part because it “permits introduction of a wide-range of material and discussion about cultural and social factors in development, including historical change since the publication of the document.”
“One of the very reasons he assigned the article was to show how discussions of race have changed over the last several decades,” said Lukianoff. “This case is about more than the right to assign an article—it’s about an administration and students trying to censor history they deem offensive.”
The DAT continued to scrutinize the article, which eventually came to the attention of CIIS President Joseph Subbiondo. On April 14, Subbiondo sent an e-mail to the entire CIIS community saying that he had met with students who thought that van den Daele’s article represented “institutional racism.” In response to this “incident,” Subbiondo wrote that van den Daele’s psychology class and his use of the 1970 article would undergo “immediate investigation,” which would result in “recommendations for actions if appropriate.” Subbiondo also recommended that the entire psychology doctoral program be moved to “the top of [the] list” for a program review.
Van den Daele contacted FIRE, and on May 17, FIRE wrote a letter to President Subbiondo reminding him that CIIS has a duty to ensure academic freedom. CIIS’ faculty manual states that “[f]aculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in presenting their subject…free from Institute censorship or discipline.” CIIS also explicitly guarantees “freedom in the selection of textbooks…and other teaching materials.” Subbiondo has not responded to FIRE’s letter.
“If CIIS is to present itself as a haven for serious scholarship, it must resist pressure to launch chilling ‘investigations’ into legitimate assignments. Its current course renders its institutional promises of academic freedom meaningless,” concluded Lukianoff.
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 at CIIS can be viewed at thefire.org/ciis.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph Subbiondo, President, California Institute of Integral Studies: 415-575-6105; email@example.com
L’esa Guilian, Diversity Action Team, California Institute of Integral Studies: 415-575-6162; firstname.lastname@example.org