Table of Contents

Two weeks ago, Greg blogged on a pair of dueling resolutions that were introduced at the meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) here in Philadelphia. One condemned only David Horowitz’s proposed Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR), while another condemned both the ABOR and “the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom, and all similar attempts to limit free and open discourse on campus.”
Imagine our non-surprise to discover that the AHA chose to adopt the resolution condemning the ABOR while saying nothing about speech codes. Inside Higher Ed has the full report. My favorite quote:

Jonathan Rose, a professor of history at Drew University, in New Jersey, said that voting to condemn only the Academic Bill of Rights would send a message that “we only care about academic freedom for ourselves and our friends.” Following such a vote, he predicted, “we will be held up to ridicule and we will deserve it.”

Well, allow me to be among the first to hold the AHA up to that deserving ridicule. Rose was absolutely right. It would have cost the AHA nothing to choose to oppose speech code restrictions on academic freedom—if it really opposed them. Instead, those opposed to opposing speech codes made arguments such as the following:

Proponents of keeping the original language said that the Horowitz movement posed far more danger than speech codes. Sandi Cooper, a professor of history at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and College of Staten Island, said courts have thrown out speech codes so criticizing them is “beating a dead horse” while the Academic Bill of Rights is “a very serious threat.”

Interesting. I can think of dozens of schools where speech codes are anything but a “dead horse.” Why, I even know where you can find hundreds of them—FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource rates hundreds of colleges and universities by their speech codes and has rated no less than 219 of them as having speech codes that substantially restrict freedom of speech. Cooper’s dead horses sure are looking lively, don’t you think?
Longtime FIRE ally David Beito, a professor at the University of Alabama, was one of those who introduced the resolution condemning speech codes. He had this to say, according to the Inside Higher Ed article:

David Beito, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and one of three sponsors of the alternate approach, said that condemning the Academic Bill of Rights without also questioning speech codes would be “handing David Horowitz a victory on a silver platter” because he would be able to call historians hypocrites.

As usual, Beito was right. The most discouraging part of the article is the argument that Inside Higher Ed reports “won over most of the historians present.” William Cutler, a Temple University professor, put it this way:

Adding speech codes to the resolution, he said, would take away from the “primary issue,” which is the need to defend faculty members under attack by Horowitz and his legislative allies.

Presumably, Cutler is talking about attacks on these faculty members’ academic freedom. But when it comes to faculty members or students whose academic freedom and free speech are under attack from university speech codes rather than David Horowitz, the AHA is uninterested. Is this hypocrisy? You bet it is.

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.