Students for Academic Freedom

I must have missed this story because I was at ICFA. A Georgia Tech Public Policy professor is accused of discriminating against a student because of her political beliefs. The school is now facing political pressure from conservative critic David Horowitz, who recently wrote the “Academic Bill of Rights” and Georgia State Senator, Eric Johnson, who sponsored a bill passed by the Georgia Senate “that encourages public colleges and universities to refrain from discriminating against students based on their political or religious beliefs.”

The AJC op-ed piece by two students in the class, Doug Gladden and John Putrich, reports that these allegations are essentially a “political witch hunt.” Some of the basics as teh students explain them:

To recap the story, a Tech professor is accused of saying to a student: “You don’t know what you’re talking about. George Bush isn’t doing anything for you. He’s too busy pimping for the Christian Coalition.”

As students in that class, we feel obligated to speak out on behalf of a professor whom we believe to be fair and highly capable. It doesn’t matter whether or not we agree with what she said. What matters is that alleging “indoctrination” or “discrimination” based on the remark she made is nothing more than a political witch hunt.

The professor was reviewing for an upcoming test when two students decided to engage her in a debate that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Keep in mind that these same students have previously started discussions on current events rather than the course material. They routinely tried to steer these discussions to get an opinionated reaction from the professor.

After they made their point, the professor replied with her own view, and then encouraged the class not simply to be flag-wavers for any party, but to learn about and support issues rather than a party platform. The professor’s remark was much more a way to end the debate and return to the material in the course rather than an attempt at indoctrination.

The fact is that things will be said that you don’t agree with, no matter where you are or what you do. The professor expressed a political opinion that cannot be debated objectively. In the end, however, our test included questions such as “discuss the Administrative Procedures Act” or “discuss the budget process,” not “for which group is President Bush pimping?”

I don’t know much more about this story yet, but I’ll certainly start digging around. I’ve got a meeting on campus, but I’ll do some digging tonight and try to get to the bottom of this story. The students in the editorial note that a campus group, Students for Academic Freedom, have been seeking out a “test case.” Right now, it’s leading me to rethink teaching English 1101 using an election theme this fall.


  1. collin Said,

    April 7, 2004 @ 1:32 am

    Test case, indeed.

    I’d say to go “meta” with this stuff, and turn the case itself into one of the objects of study. Horowitz is one of the chief architects of the attempt to appropriate various “left” ideals (and as importantly, vocabulary) on behalf of the right–the academic bill of Right is just the latest. He’s been harping on the idea of “intellectual diversity” for several years now, the primary point of which appears to be to allow campus Young Republicans to pay him lots of their school’s money to appear.

    It might make for an interesting assignment to ask students to choose one of those “charged” terms, and to explore how it’s taken up variously by candidates, pundits, et al. I’m thinking also here of George Lakoff (of Metaphors We Live By fame), and his recent work on how the left and right take up “marriage” and “family values” politically:

    My thoughts about groups like SAF aside, it sounds like a great test case for making some important connections b/w politics and language…


  2. chuck Said,

    April 8, 2004 @ 1:34 pm

    I think you’re right about the “meta” approach–that’s essentially what I was planning for the elction course in the first place. Using Lakoff is a good idea, too. I think his concpet of “framing” can be a great way to really dig into how Horowitz essentially reshapes the terms of the debate using the discourse of freedom.

    I’m still feeling cautious about tackling the Tech case in the classroom. We’ll see how things unfold over the summer.

  3. collin Said,

    April 9, 2004 @ 3:14 am

    Yeah, it’s easy for me to urge you to throw caution to the wind, so I won’t. There’ll be plenty of material to work with, without “volunteering” to become a test case yourself…esp in a course where you’ll be evaluating writing…


  4. chuck Said,

    April 9, 2004 @ 7:47 pm

    If I did anything with Horowitz, I’d probably focus on a case from another university. Plus, I have a feeling this case probably won’t become too much of a public issue.

  5. observer Said,

    April 12, 2004 @ 10:56 pm

    Horowitz makes substantially more as a published author than a campus speaker, so I don’t understand the animus to his collecting a speaker’s fee. Certainly Noam Chomsky is remunerated for his appearences. As it is, Horowitz is independently funded for his appearences since more left leaning student governments (with their axes to grind) have found convenient “reasons” for refusing his appearences on campus. Isn’t he coming to Emory sometime soon? Also, I don’t always agree with Horowitz, but understanding his positions may be in order to anyone stumbling upon the Tech, or other, “cases.” see:

  6. chuck Said,

    April 12, 2004 @ 11:49 pm

    To be fair, I have two links to Horowitz’s website in this blog entry. I’ve also made clear that I’m not going to try to decipher what has happened in the Georgia Tech case until it becomes a public issue.

    I certainly disagree with Horowitz’s politics (which probably isn’t hard to guess), but I’m more conerned about how he has appropraited the language of “academic freedom” and “diversity” in ways that seem counter to those very principles.

  7. observer Said,

    April 13, 2004 @ 12:22 am

    Fair enough, and I appreciate your unique position in the matter. As for apropriation of language, I don’t believe “academic freedom” and “diversity” are proprietary MO’s to be weilded one-sidedly by either the right or the left in the classroom (and yes that can be argued pro/con to death which is part of what I think the ABoR is trying, in part, to address) Even Stanley Fish, a vocal critic of the ABoR, has been willing to give Horowitz some benefit of the doubt:

    “For the record, and as one of those with whom he has consulted, I believe him, and I believe him, in part, because much of the Academic Bill of Rights is as apolitical and principled as he says it is. It begins by announcing that “the central purposes of a University are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions … and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large.”

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