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    MARCH 2, 2006
 
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Commentary

Academic freedom alive and well at Temple, thanks to faculty

By President David Adamany

Twice in recent months, the debate over academic freedom in America’s universities visited Temple’s campus.

First, January’s public hearings by Pennsylvania’s Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education shed much-needed sunlight on the topic.

The second, though, was the release of a book titled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, by David Horowitz.

I welcomed the Select Committee’s hearings because Temple is a state-related university, and the citizens of the commonwealth and their elected representatives should take a special interest in Temple and its affairs.

The Select Committee’s visit gave us a chance to reaffirm what all members of the Temple community believe to be true: Students have a right to be protected from the introduction of extraneous subjects in Temple classrooms and from retaliation (in the form of unfair grading, for example) for expressing political views that are at odds with those of their instructors or their classmates. Temple has policies to protect students and grievance procedures in place so that students who feel they have been treated unfairly may seek redress.

But most of all, the hearings focused sunlight on Temple’s superb track record when it comes to making our classrooms welcoming places for all people and all ideas.

In my five-and-a-half years as president, we have not received a single grievance from a Temple student complaining about inappropriate intrusion of political advocacy by teachers in their courses. Nor have we received any complaints by students that they were improperly graded because of their political views or the political views of their instructors. And as any Temple faculty member or administrator knows, our spirited students are not shy about expressing even the most negative or controversial opinions. Over that same time period, we’ve received hundreds of other complaints about dozens of other subjects.

I admire the professionalism of Temple’s committed teachers, and so do Temple’s students. In a compilation of 243,340 course and teaching evaluations, more than 94 percent of evaluations in 2004-05 indicated that Temple students found a classroom atmosphere in which they felt free to ask questions and express their opinions.

Some critics of the Select Committee criticized the public hearings as a “waste of time,” others called them a “witch hunt.” I disagree. I appreciated the Select Committee’s rules for the hearings, which required that witnesses not identify any Temple teachers by name unless the instructors had been notified at least 24 hours in advance, so that they could have a chance to respond.

David Horowitz does not play by such rules in his new book on “dangerous professors.”
Horowitz and others who have backed his push to impose new regulations on colleges and universities bristle when their efforts are described as witch hunts or McCarthyism. But how do they expect us to react now that we are confronted by Horowitz’s ominous black list of allegedly dangerous professors? How do they expect us to react when the dust jacket of his book says: “Terrorists, racists and communists — you know them as The Professors”? Perhaps Horowitz believes that the American public has forgotten how Joseph McCarthy used similar tactics.

Irresponsible accusations like those presented in Horowitz’s book leave academics with a troubling choice. Do we confront the specific charges, regardless of their baseless and outrageous nature, and risk providing the appearance of substance where there is none? Or do we refuse to dignify the charges with a response, and risk claims that the charges must be true.

That is the choice being faced by two Temple faculty members who made his list of the “101 most dangerous academics in America.” In the end, the best defense is our faculty’s excellent record. It is worth repeating: In my five-and-a-half years as president of Temple, we have not received a single complaint from a student alleging inappropriate political bias in a Temple classroom or retaliation against a student for his or her views.

Should we receive such a grievance from a Temple student, we will take immediate action.

And, as I promised the Select Committee in January, we will improve our efforts to make our academic freedom policies and student grievance procedures more visible and widely known.

But as long as we have no complaints, the extended Temple family can say with pride: Our teachers’ respect for all people and all points of view is part of what makes Temple one of the nation’s leading urban research universities.

 

 


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