The challenges to academic freedom that came with the heightened concern for national security after last year's terrorist assaults have become more intense in recent months, with the further worsening of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the looming war with Iraq. In addition to actions against individual professors (the Al-Arian case at the University of South Florida has particularly concerned us), a major focus of the challenges has been on Middle Eastern studies, with persons and groups demanding the canceling or restructuring of academic activities expected to bring forth a viewpoint different from their own. An example of these threats to academic freedom is the Campus Watch program sponsored by Daniel Pipes's Middle East Forum, which monitors and circulates information on prominent Middle East scholars whose criticisms of Israeli policy it deems detrimental to American interests. (For more information, see "Watching Campus Watch.".)
In contrast to its challengers, academic freedom has had its champions in these troubled times. Notable among them are four college or university presidents who eloquently and successfully defended academic freedom when it was under threat this summer at their respective institutions. President Richard C. Atkinson of the University of California supported the offering of a writing course on Palestine to be taught by a graduate student instructor in the English department at UC's Berkeley campus. President Richard L. Judd of Central Connecticut State University insisted on the legitimacy of a summer program on the Middle East arranged by the faculty for secondary school teachers in the area. President Richard F. Celeste of Colorado College refused to cancel a keynote address by Palestine's Hanan Ashrawi at a symposium titled "September 11: One Year Later." President Molly Corbett Broad of the University of North Carolina resisted calls to cancel the assignment of a book on the Koran as advance reading for incoming freshmen at Chapel Hill. Their words follow.
Joan Wallach Scott
Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
English R1A is a regularly offered course at UC Berkeley designed to provide undergraduates with enhanced skills in reading and writing. Approximately sixty sections of the course are offered, each of them designed and taught by a graduate student instructor. Students have the option of choosing from any one of these section offerings. There is an upper limit of seventeen students per section to ensure maximum attention for each of the students, and "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" section is fully enrolled for the fall 2002 semester.
The current description of the section, which is posted on the Web site of the UC Berkeley English Department, reads as follows:
This is a course on Palestinian resistance poetry. It takes as its point of departure the Palestinian literature that has developed since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which has displaced, maimed, and killed many Palestinian people. The Israeli military occupation of historic Palestine has caused unspeakable suffering. Since the occupation, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. And yet, from under the weight of this occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians. The instructor takes as his starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Discussions about the literature will focus on several intersecting themes: how are Palestinian artists able to imagine art under the occupation; what consequences does resistance have on the character of the art that is produced (i.e., why are there so few Palestinian epics and plays and comedies); can one represent the Israeli occupation in art; what is the difference between political art and propaganda and how do the debates about those terms inflect the production of literature; how do poems represent the desire to escape and the longing for home simultaneously (alternatively, how do poems represent the nation without a state); what consequence do political debates have on formal innovations and their reproduction; and what are the obligations of artists in representing the occupation. This 1A course offers students frequent practice in a variety of forms of discourse leading toward exposition and argumentation in common standard English. The course aims at continuing to develop the students' practical fluency with sentence, paragraph, and thesis-development skills but with increasingly complex applications. Students will be assigned a number of short essays (2-4 written pages) and several revisions.
Regents, faculty members, and members of the public have raised concerns about this course section description over the last several months. These individuals have condemned the course description because it appears to adopt a politically controversial position that rebukes Israel in a one-sided way. I have received many letters on this subject, some anguished, many hostile. Some ask that the Berkeley campus cancel the course; others ask that the course description be edited to remove its harsh political rhetoric; still others urge that the description be amended to provide a balanced political perspective.
Several changes have been made to the original course section description. The statement "Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections" has no place in a university course description and was removed from the description very early in this sequence of events. Subsequently, the graduate student instructor further amended the course description to clarify the scope of the course and the methodology for achieving the instructional purposes of the course—that is, the ways in which the course would teach reading and writing skills.
These changes have not assuaged most of the course description's critics. I, too, have been angered and disappointed by the course description. I regard aspects of the description as inflammatory and in no way necessary to describe the course or to convey the perspective from which it will be taught. I also am concerned by the suggestion, particularly in the earlier version, that students were not welcome in the course if they had viewpoints differing from that of the instructor. On balance, were I a faculty member of the committee deliberating on this particular matter, I would not have voted to support the current course description.
However, my obligation as president of the University of California is not to impose my own perspective on faculty and students. My obligation is to safeguard the educational mission of the university by upholding the principles of shared governance. My authority in this matter is prescribed by Standing Order 105.2 of the regents, which delegates directly from the regents to the Berkeley Academic Senate the responsibility to "authorize and supervise all courses and curricula" offered at the University of California. The senate has assigned this responsibility to its campus divisions and, in practice, responsibility for course descriptions is exercised by the faculty's Committees on Courses operating at each campus. The regents have decided that the assessment of teaching is a question of professional judgment, and for that reason they have vested in the expertise of the faculty the responsibility for supervision of courses and course descriptions.
The academic senate, acting first through its Committee on Courses and subsequently through its Divisional Council, has reviewed the course section description for "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." The senate has determined, after substantial discussion, that the course description meets the faculty's pedagogical standards. Under Standing Order 105.2, which reflects basic principles of shared governance, the administration cannot overrule this determination.
Like all of you, I am distressed by the hostility and recrimination that this matter has brought to the university. I wish it were otherwise. However, by upholding the right of the Berkeley faculty to approve this course description, we defend commitments that lie at the very heart of the University of California. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that it would be, in my judgment, the far worse course of action for us to abandon these commitments.
I believe there are several actions we must take going forward, however, to more completely address the issues raised by this series of events:
1. I believe it would be helpful to begin a thoughtful review and discussion of our overall standards for course descriptions in order to help clarify the principles on which we base these decisions, for the benefit of broader understanding throughout the university community. Therefore, I will convene a forum, under the auspices of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, to explore the issues raised by this series of events in greater detail. This forum, informed by the contributions of experts on academic standards, free speech, and constitutional law, will seek to identify some principles that may help guide our future collective thinking on the subject of standards for course descriptions.
At my request, Professor Robert Post, a Boalt Law School faculty member and one of the nation's foremost scholars on First Amendment law, has provided an analysis of how the university should contend with the issues of academic freedom and academic responsibility raised by this course. . . . I am inviting other experts in this field to provide their commentary as well, and their papers will serve as a starting point for the forum.
2. The English Department at the Berkeley campus has assumed responsibility for regular observation and mentoring of the graduate student instructor leading "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" course section. The department chair will attend the first class and will explicitly advise students enrolled in the section of their right to free expression and to have their work evaluated free of discrimination or harassment. A faculty observer will attend all sessions of the course to ensure open discussion, and students will be asked to evaluate the course and instructor before the semester midpoint, leaving sufficient time for any necessary adjustments to be made. These actions are being taken to ensure that the teaching of this section is conducted in a manner fully consistent with academic standards.
Matters of academic freedom frequently arise on university campuses. Most recently, Central Connecticut State University, as a result of its program on the Middle East for area teachers, was under assault from many fronts from all over the world. Critics of the five-day Middle Eastern Studies Summer Institute for Teachers accused the professors of bias against Israel and of presenting a one-sided picture of the Mideast.
I was the direct recipient of several hundred e-mails from individuals and organizations representing personal, academic, and organizational views.
Roughly 50 percent of the e-mails assaulted CCSU, the faculty, and me. The other 50 percent praised CCSU for upholding academic freedom and warding off the "unwarranted" call to cancel or censor an academic course.
Universities since their inception have been the custodians not only of the history and cultures of humankind, but of the rational process itself. Universities should exist for the purpose of seeking intellectual truth. That pursuit is not neutral. It is not to be bridled. It is a search that sometimes leads the university to oppose nationalistic thought. Sometimes that quest pits universities against forces that would limit their struggle against the irrelevancies that corrupt thought and reason. At the core of the university's soul is academic freedom.
The American Association of University Professors views academic freedom as essential. Freedom in research and teaching are fundamental to the advancement of truth. The laws of Connecticut and contractual provisions require the university president to support, maintain, and enforce the principles of academic freedom.
Professors are teachers. They are not mere regurgitators of facts and knowledge. They are considered informed scholars. When they teach, their responsibility is to provide students with the fruits of their scholarship and expertise in their discipline. It is expected that the professoriate will be intellectually honest and teach with the highest regard for academic integrity demanded of their profession. That does not mean they will refrain from offering students their informed opinions in the classroom. University students are not blank slates. They are capable of assessing the value of a professor's teachings.
Many of the CCSU critics have operated in contravention of the time-honored principles embraced by academic freedom. Universities and their faculties and students must have the unabridged right to opine about anything they wish within the sphere of their disciplinary authority and expertise. The university above all else must protect those rights. Upon that tenet rests the fabric of democracy and the basis of civil society. And upon that doctrine rests the survival of the global society in which we all live.
In "A Propagandist Comes to Colorado College," the August 13 Rocky Mountain News editorial questioning Colorado College's choice of speakers for its symposium this fall, the News misunderstands the mission of the college and mischaracterizes the content of our symposium.
Having spent a good part of my working life in public service, I know how much our society is nourished and sustained by institutions that stand apart from—and, I hope, above—the political battles of the day. The aim of our symposium, "September 11: One Year Later," and the broader mission of colleges like Colorado College, is to stimulate debate and to provide opportunities for our students, faculty, and the community at large to learn about and to judge for themselves the causes and issues that most deeply divide people.
In a real sense, the more contested and heated the argument, the more important it is that places like Colorado College let contending sides be heard. No invitation from this or any college implies endorsement of the speaker's views; rather it is intended to provoke critical and engaged thought-the heart of our liberal arts and sciences educational mission.
This is the case regarding our symposium next month. Yes, we are featuring a keynote address by an articulate advocate of the Palestinian cause, Hanan Ashrawi. We are also featuring a keynote address by Gideon Doron, president of the Israeli Political Science Association. No doubt they will stimulate vigorous debate and discussion.
Our hope for the symposium, however, reaches much further. Topics of discussion for various panels include current American foreign policy (including United States policy toward Iraq), women's rights, poverty, and the causes of war. Our eleven guest speakers include writer Robert Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics; Thom Shanker of the New York Times; Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs; and Riffat Hassan, who advises President Pervez Musharraf on women's issues in Pakistan. It is a diverse, balanced, and exciting group.
Unfortunately, much misinformation and innuendo, some of it "guilt by association," is in the air about one of our guests—Ashrawi, a strong voice for Palestinian causes.
Some, like the News, view her as a "propagandist." But as a writer in the Christian Science Monitor put it recently, "Ashrawi has consistently worked for Palestinian unity and against violence. She has doggedly swum against the current of mainstream Israeli and Palestinian opinion that there would be total separation of the two peoples. Once she put it to me this way: we are 'foreordained or doomed, however you want to put it, to live together. . . . Otherwise you have permanent apartheid, a la South Africa, and permanent conflict.'"
The most critical warning sounded by the evil and damnable events of September 11 tells us that, unless we members of the human family learn new ways to understand and fashion a common ground with one another, we shall be condemned to lives that become brutish, unreasoned, and short. Understanding the extraordinary challenge of peacemaking is the paramount theme of our symposium.
My hope is that the News and its readers will join us for this symposium, listen critically, contribute thoughtfully, and come away with a fuller appreciation of the unique role that Colorado College adds to our public life.
Universities are one of the oldest, and indeed most valued, institutions of modern history. They have endured over several centuries in large part because they provide a critical forum for the exchange of differing viewpoints and ideologies, the ideal training ground for an informed and enlightened citizenry. As teachers and researchers, university faculty are expected to push the frontiers of new knowledge. As part of their educational experience, students are expected to learn about ideas, philosophies, and practices that they have never encountered before and that may differ from their own. Such unfettered freedom of inquiry remains the very foundation of the American university.
For this reason, a staunch commitment to academic freedom is prominently articulated in the criteria for accreditation established by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the University of North Carolina's primary accrediting body. These criteria stipulate that university "faculty and students must be free to examine all pertinent data, question assumptions, be guided by the evidence of scholarly research, and teach and study the substance of a given discipline. . . . The board must not be subject to undue pressure from political, religious, or other external bodies. Furthermore, it should protect the administration from similar pressures."
The American Association of University Professors, academia's largest professional association, demands similar vigilance in the protection of academic freedom and publicly censures those institutions that fail to uphold this bedrock principle. Its statement on academic freedom and tenure reads in part: "Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interests of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights."
These historic values remain deeply ingrained in the University of North Carolina, the first public university in America to enroll students. Indeed, since its creation, the UNC Board of Governors has been guided by a code that emphatically expresses its commitment to the defense of academic freedom . . . .
At various times in our 200-year history, this university's commitment to these enduring principles has been tested, most often in times of war or conflict. We face such a test today, at a time when our nation battles terrorism and when the images of last September 11 are still painfully seared in our country's collective memory.
UNC-Chapel Hill's summer reading program asks all new freshmen and transfer students to read a specified book—selected by a committee of faculty, staff, and students—and to arrive at campus prepared to participate in small group discussions led by trained faculty and staff. In conjunction with these discussions—held one day before fall classes begin—all students also are asked to write a one-page essay describing their reaction to the assigned book. Every part of the reading program is ungraded, and there is no academic penalty for students who choose not to read the book, attend or participate in the group discussions, or submit an essay. The sole goal of the program is to offer a shared learning experience that encourages students to think about and discuss differing points of view in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
The campus's selection for summer 2002—Approaching the Qur'an by Michael Sells—was influenced by the attacks of September 11, 2001, and intended to introduce students to the culture of the Middle East and to engage students on the very relevant, but little-understood topic of Islam. However well intentioned, that choice has generated a firestorm of political, religious, and legal controversy, and it has evoked the expression of deep-seated concerns and reservations from citizens across the state and beyond.
- Some consider the book's selection unpatriotic, believing it implies a lack of support for U.S. military efforts and fails to show proper respect for the victims of the September 11 attacks.
- Some have expressed concern that a single religion was specified for study, to the exclusion of all others.
- Many have expressed concern that the book lacks proper balance, since it fails to examine certain violent factions of the Islam religion.
- Some have questioned why students who might object to the book on religious or other grounds were not offered alternative reading options.
- Still others question the campus's judgment in selecting a book that is so complex that it requires elucidation by knowledgeable faculty. They find it particularly troublesome that such a text was assigned to entering freshmen, who are less experienced in critical thinking.
As individuals, we may agree or disagree with these varying perspectives and still respect the thoughtful views of others. But as leaders entrusted with the oversight and governance of one of the very finest public universities in the nation, we have a clear duty to uphold and passionately defend the right of faculty on every UNC campus to define the curriculum, to examine and to debate ideas-however popular or unpopular those choices might be, and however much the state's non-university leaders may agree or disagree with a specific campus decision.