October 30, 2003

Cornell Debates Bill of Rights

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Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) announced last Tuesday that he will be introducing a resolution to Congress that challenges universities to voluntarily adopt what he calls ideologically-neutral hiring processes and academic policies.

Kingston’s resolution, called the Academic Bill of Rights, is based on conservative scholar David Horowitz’s bill of the same name and addresses an issue that is currently being debated on the Cornell campus.

Armed with the slogan “you can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story,” supporters of the ABR say that the legislation is necessary to protect what Kingston called a student’s right “to get an education rather than an indoctrination.”

“The Academic Bill of Rights simply calls on universities to commit themselves to true academic freedom. That is, to recognize the importance of ideological diversity in the academic community. Without a diversity of ideas, there is no academic inquiry — there is only indoctrination,” said Joe Sabia grad, a Sun columnist.

“Many liberals oppose the Academic Bill of Rights because they don’t want to lose the power of indoctrinating their students. They know that if students are exposed to other ideas, their power will decline,” Sabia added.

The ABR was first written by Horowitz. “It has been going on for about 5 or 6 months. In the last year it was written and proposed as something colleges should take a look at,” said Sara Russo, national campus director for Students for Academic Freedom. SAF is a nonpartisan group that supports the ABR.

“We have the Academic Bill of Rights to promote intellectual diversity on college campuses. Colleges should be places where ideas are discussed out in the open and students shouldn’t feel repercussions for speaking their minds,” Russo said.

Kingston’s resolution differs from Horowitz’s bill in that “The bill that [Horowitz] introduced has law binding effects to it. It carries the force of the law behind it, whereas ours doesn’t. There are no penalties in our resolution in not adopting this,” said Stephen Anderson, legislative assistant to Congressman Kingston.

“It has the same principles. It does have the same provisions in it to promote intellectual diversity that students will not be graded based on political beliefs, faculty will not be hired based on political beliefs, commencements speakers will not be chosen based on political and religious beliefs. All student groups will receive equal funding regardless of what their creeds are,” Anderson said.

Some supporters of the bill claim that it is non-partisan, while others admit that the bill has yet to be embraced by Democrats and other parties.

“There is absolutely no mention of specific beliefs. All the Academic Bill of Rights does — if you read it — it says that professors won’t be judged on their religious or political beliefs. It is the essence of non-partisanship,” Russo said.

“It is designed as a non-partisan bill but we haven’t had any Democratic support yet. I’m not exactly sure why that is,” Anderson admitted.

At Cornell, the ABR has been met with mixed views. Administrators say that Cornell is not a school where political belief or affiliation affects a professorship.

“It is my belief that tenure should be based on academic performance. I don’t think people should be granted tenure because of political beliefs, nor do I think that at Cornell people are granted tenure because of their political beliefs,” said Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education.

“Colleagues [who grant tenure] take into consideration first and foremost [a professor’s] scholarship and their teaching, and often their community service. Not their politics or religious background,” Kramnick said.

Student conservatives, however, say that Cornell does have an unequal balance in terms of political affiliation.

“Of Cornell faculty members registered to vote in Tompkins County, over 95 percent are registered with leftist political parties. Twenty-one of 23 government department faculty members are registered Democrats. Prof. Jeremy Rabkin is the only Republican. The lack of ideological diversity on Cornell’s faculty is scandalous,” Sabia said.

“The Academic Bill of Rights is needed at Cornell because faculty have not strictly been selected based solely on competence, nor have they based their grading strictly on the reason and merit of students’ work. We do not seek to strip faculty of their autonomy, we seek — through this ABR — to provide a minimum of acceptable academic practices,” said Elliott M. Reed ’05, chairman of the Cornell College Republicans.

Currently Cornell is taking no action at the administrative level in favor or against the ABR. Congressman Kingston, however, plans to formally introduce his resolution in the next few days.

“If it is unnecessary, if schools are [already] following [the policies in the ABR], then it is not needed, and the worst thing that can happen is that it is just redundant,” Anderson said.

Archived article by Erica Temel