Jason Mittell alerted me to a bill currently under consideration in the Arizona senate that would severely curtail academic freedom. According to Inside Higher Ed, if this bill were to become law, faculty members could be fined for endorsing “one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.” As Jason points out, such a law would essentially make it impossible for many faculty members to do their jobs.In my media courses, I consistently take poisitions on “partisan” issues such as media ownership, media ethics, advertising discourse, and political coverage. Like him, I feel little obligation to teach “both sides” of the debate when students are usually only given one side of the story. Fauclty members could also be fined for “endorsing, supporting or opposing any pending legislation, regulation or rule under consideration by local, state or federal agencies.” Professors who violate this rule would be fined $500.
If this bill became law, questions of what counts as “partisan” would also raise questions fields such as biology (evolution) and environmental science (global warming), although pro-business (free trade, Social Security privatization) positions should also be under challenge, and while the bill explicitly forbids “hindering military recruiting,” wouldn’t supporting the war or the neo-conservative rationalizations for it also be a “partisan political position?” Quite simply, the bill would make the task of teaching virtually impossible. As Jason points out, “to speak about a subject is to take a position on it.” While I think it’s unlikely that such a bill would ever become law, I think it’s worth calling this bill out as a dangerous piece of censorship and a threat to academic freedom.