Freedom is a Dangerous Thing

Florida’s “The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights” has been making the rounds in the academic corner of blogworld lately. According to the Alligator Online:

Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee….

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

Like Ted of Crooked Timber, my initial reaction is to look back on the ancient days of yore when Republicans complained about the Evils of Political Correctness with some degree of nostalgia. You see, back in the day, Republicans would mock left-wing students who complained of being victimized. Now in the age of “Academic Freedom,” all of that has been turned on its head and Republican children are being persecuted in classrooms for their views on such topics as evolution (the only example Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor, mentions).

I think that part of what bothers me is the langauge that characterizes the university in such stark terms, referring to university professors as “leftist totalitarians” and “dictators.” Baxley’s characterization of the college classroom, with students who are “being persecuted” is striking in this regard:

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue….

“Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” he said. “Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue.”

I thought Republicans were against frivolous lawsuits, but maybe lawsuits are only frivolous when they target poor little multinational corporations, not big, bad dictatorial professors who make $150,000 a year for only six hours of work a week. But then again, we need the rest of our time to plot out methods for persecuting our students. Of course, maybe I’m missing the point here. Maybe I could start suing people for saying things I don’t want to hear….

According to what I’ve read, the bill has two more house committes before receiving a full house vote where it may actually pass. The Florida state senate is apparently more skeptical about the negative effects such a bill might have on recruiting faculty to state universities.

Thanks to Chris at Left Center Left, who refers to Ted’s entry (who cites MyDD). Inside Higher Ed is also on top of the story.

2 Comments »

  1. B Said,

    March 27, 2005 @ 9:47 pm

    Ya, this stuff is really insane. These people have no idea what university classrooms are like. These arguments are so hypocritical and ideological. I know the comparisons to Nazi Germany are over the top for many, but if stuff like this passes we will get a good sense of what it might have been like to be Heidegger or others in that time period. It really concerns me to see this stuff happening around us. That it is even talked about is insane. If I were a prof in Florida and this passed, I’d hit the job market fast. They don’t pay enough to deal with this kind of crap and the possbility of being sued! A prof might as well go work for a corporation. I bet there would be more freedom there after a bill like this.

  2. Chuck Said,

    March 27, 2005 @ 9:59 pm

    Georgia has had some problems with this Orwellian version of “academic freedom,” but not to this extreme. I’m still not ready to invoke Nazism, but stories like these do concern me even if this bill never gets to a full Florida House or Senate vote. Interesting times.

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