FIRE’s a new video today about Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson’s fight to protect his academic freedom. Johnson wrote a column publicly criticizing “dispositions theory,” which education schools sometimes use as a political litmus test to ensure that students have the “correct” views on “social justice.” In response, the Brooklyn College education department (31 professors) unanimously signed a letter demanding that he stop writing about dispositions theory and that he be investigated by an “Integrity Committee.” With FIRE’s help, Johnson fought back and vindicated his academic freedom, proving once again that universities cannot defend in public what they do in private.
For an example of what I mean, Columbia University’s Teachers College requires students to demonstrate a “commitment to social justice” and employs “dispositions,” which it defines as “observable behaviors that fall within the law and involve the use of certain skills,” to evaluate students. These dispositions, “expected of Teachers College candidates and graduates” and “assessed at each transition point,” include “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” FIRE has criticized such ideological requirements in several letters to Columbia University and Teachers College, arguing that evaluating students according to their commitment to an officially defined political belief is a violation of a student’s right to decide for himself or herself what is and is not socially just. Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman told FIRE that the policy would be reevaluated in 2007, but I guess Columbia likes having ideological litmus tests, since we have seen no change to this policy yet. Is Columbia willing to try to defend this policy in public?