July 08, 2005

Academic Freedom under Fire in Pennsylvania

via Fontana Labs, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has voted to create a special committee designed to investigate how courses are taught, professors hired, and students evaluated, at public universities (including Pitt, my grad school alma mater).

The bill was inspired by David Horowitz's so-called Academic Bill of Rights. Though David Velleman, in comments at the Chronicle piece, says that the bill does not contain the most controversial (i.e., worst) elements of Horowitz's campaign, I think the Republican Legislature will be using this committee to browbeat the universities over an imagined liberal bias--indeed, I imagine that's the purpose of the committee. It's not encouraging that the sponsor of the resolution waffles about the merits of evolution.

At Prof. B's place, Rep. Mark B. Cohen asks for help and explains the shoddiness of the case for academic bias. Unfortunately this doesn't seem like something Gov. Rendell can veto. Please go to B's place, read Cohen's request, and help him out.

Posted by Matt Weiner at July 8, 2005 08:14 PM

Wait a minute? Are you suggesting that there is no liberal bias in higher education? I just want to be sure I am reading you correctly. If you are suggesting that there is no liberal bias, then I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you. Unless you are talking about a school with some religious affiliation (e.g., Jesuit institutions, Christian colleges, etc.) then there is an overarching and in-your-face liberal bias. I say this because I live in Salt Lake and it is especially apparant, given the stark comparison outside of the university. This is not to say that I am a conservative, but it is to say that I can recognize liberal views (some of which I agree with) as being overly represented. And sometimes such views can come off as quite dogmatic--the very charge we so adamantly lodge against conservatives. Tell me if I am totally off, here. Or if I have misunderstood your post.

Posted by: Diana Buccafurni at July 9, 2005 02:15 PM

Ok, so I read one of the links that talks about the committee. Please do not think that my first set of comments implicate that I am: 1) for the proposal and 2) a conservative. All I wanted to get accross is that there is a overwhelming liberal bias in higher ed. That's all folks.

Posted by: Diana Buccafurni at July 9, 2005 02:31 PM

What I mean is that there's no case for bias in grading (as Cohen describes it), nor bias in hiring. Liberals are overrepresented, for what I think is a complex set of reasons (I suspect that a big one is: People who go into academia are going to be people who don't put a lot of value on making money), and sometimes liberal views may be overrepresented in class as a result.--Though sometimes that's because the liberal views are right, e.g., evolution.--But no evidence of discrimination against conservatives appears to have been presented.

Utah itself has been known to make the U. jump through this kind of hoop, on charges with no merit. (Unfortunately the Salt Lake Tribune has broken all the links.) And there's this. I think that the PA legislature would like to be able to pull that sort of stunt.

(More opinion here, FWIW.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 10, 2005 01:33 PM

Ok, mw, I see what you mean. Though I have experienced (as a teaching assistant and grad instructor) others in my similar position who, because of their bias against conservative views, do penalize against such views as well as make the classroom a hostile environment for those who hold such views.

Posted by: Diana Buccafurni at July 11, 2005 09:27 AM