Debating academic freedom

There are “two different realities” of academic freedom at Temple, state Rep. Dan Frankel said here recently during state hearings investigating the subject. And that, he said, “concerns me more than almost anything else.” Frankel

There are “two different realities” of academic freedom at Temple, state Rep. Dan Frankel said here recently during state hearings investigating the subject. And that, he said, “concerns me more than almost anything else.”

Frankel (D., Allegheny) is a member of the state’s Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, which heard conflicting testimony on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 from President David Adamany, Temple professors, Temple students and others who are either lauding or condemning the professionalism of professors at universities across the state.

Lawmakers in July passed House Resolution 177 – sponsored by 37 Republicans and six Democrats – to investigate charges of slanted teaching methods and to ensure that current university grievance policies effectively protect students. The resolution led to the creation of the committee, which is touring the state to examine if the allegations against professors at public and state-related universities are cause for corrective legislation.

Free speech groups and mostly conservative activists, including the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, David Horowitz, say they are increasingly concerned that college students are not sufficiently informed of their academic freedoms and are therefore more vulnerable to indoctrination by radical teachers who may condemn students with conflicting views.

Horowitz, who is widely regarded as the driving force behind academic freedom legislation, said during his testimony that current academic freedom rules are “violated every single day on every campus in this state, especially at Temple.”

“I wouldn’t be persuaded to be here if it wasn’t for 20 years of being on campuses and seeing this,” Horowitz, who said he interviewed more than 100 area students, as well as hundreds more at universities across the country, testified.

Professors and university administrators roundly deny those claims, saying professional standards and existing policies are more than enough to guard against teaching biases and to ensure students’ rights.

This debate repeated itself during Temple’s hearings, held before a crowd of approximately 50 people in a second floor Student Center conference room.

Stephen Zelnick, a veteran Temple professor, sharply criticized the academe for its lack of intellectual diversity and said teaching biases are pervasive.

Zelnick said many inexperienced, “highly idealistic and deeply opinionated” faculty teach the university’s general education courses – including Temple’s race requirement – and added that in observing 100 classes, he “almost never heard a kind word about conservative issues.”

To help rectify the problem, Zelnick and others suggested that universities submit annual academic freedom reports for state officials, who could then monitor universities without encroaching on professors. Horowitz said two other Temple programs – intellectual heritage and the university’s first-year writing program – also violate academic freedoms by pushing political agendas. Horowitz said the goal of the first-year writing program, which includes English 40 and English 50, “is to indoctrinate students with radical views of gender and, to a lesser degree, race.”

After Horowitz’s testimony, Susan Wells, chair of the English department, refuted Horowitz during public comment, testifying that “we desperately value having different perspectives in the classroom.” Daniel Tompkins, director of intellectual heritage, also defended his program’s curriculum, saying that Zelnick and Horowitz were “cherry picking intelligence.”

Debates also persisted among university administrators and state officials.

During the question and answer portion of Adamany’s testimony, state Rep. Gib Armstrong (R., Lancaster) read excerpts from a dozen student complaints he said he received from Temple students in the past year, most of which pointed to liberal bias among professors.

Armstrong, the chief sponsor of HR 177, said one complaint alleged a professor used an English class as a vehicle to spread Communist and Marxist views. Another grievance claimed a professor routinely criticized the war in Afghanistan. Yet another said a professor asked the class why the “U.S. military [studies] the languages of other people.”

“So they can kill them,” Armstrong read.

Logan Fisher, the only Temple student scheduled to testify before the committee, said professors have made him and his friends feel awkward when voicing dissenting opinions during class. Fisher, a senior business major and vice-chairman of Temple’s College Republicans, also read anecdotes from anonymous students he said feared retribution for testifying.

But Adamany and a string of professors repeatedly defended the university’s professional standards and its grievance policies during testimony, with Adamany telling legislators that in more than five years as president he has not received a single student complaint alleging “inappropriate political advocacy by teachers in their courses.”

“Nor have we found instances of complaints by students that they were improperly graded because of the views they set forth in their courses,” Adamany said. “Further, I am not aware of any similar complaints by any member of Temple’s faculty or administration.”

Although Fisher said he believed his grades have been affected because his in-class comments challenged professors, he too said neither he nor his friends have ever formally filed a complaint with the university, “for the fact that I didn’t think they would be handled at all.”

During Adamany’s testimony, which led off the hearings, he said “if we were aware of such complaints, we would certainly act on them promptly” and asked any aggrieved students, if they were willing, “to come forward and give us information.”

Though Adamany repeatedly defended the university’s policies and emphasized the lack of student complaints, he did tell legislators that Temple could improve its academic freedom and grievance policies in three ways: by better directing students to academic freedom guidelines, by informing students of their rights to appeal what they think is biased teaching, and by possibly synthesizing grievance policies that can vary among Temple’s colleges.

“A student probably should not be required to master different sets of grievance procedures in order to assure his or her rights in different academic programs,” Adamany said.

Up Next

The committee, which has also held testimony in Harrisburg and at the University of Pittsburgh, will travel to central Pennsylvania for two more hearings before May. The committee must then present its findings to the state House before a Nov. 30 deadline. Pennsylvania is the first state to form such a committee, though nearly 20 other states have considered similar action.

Editor’s note: Portions of this article were taken from online reports by Brandon Lausch and Venuri Siriwardane, which were posted at following each day’s testimony. To view those articles, click on the “Archives” link on the Web site’s main page to access the Jan. 8 issue.

Brandon Lausch can be reached at

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