4/07/2005

Academic Bill of Rights legislation in Florida

From Amy Goodman's radio program, "Democracy Now":
Yesterday members of the Florida State legislature heard testimony about the so-called "academic freedom" bill or HB 837. The bill would develop a statewide "bill of rights" for faculty to follow in the interest of delivering a "fair and balanced" curriculum. The bill is a product of an academic bill of rights written by David Horowitz, founder of the conservative think tank, Students for Academic Freedom. The group has been campaigning for state and federal legislation that adopts the bill. The website for Students for Academic Freedom features a template for such legislation, which can be copied by any interested state legislator. There are similar bills pending in California, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

(Goodman went on to interview Rep. Dennis Baxley, Republican Florida state representative from Ocala (a sponsor of the bill), and Roy Weatherford, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida. He is also the president of the Faculty Union of USF. I will quote from Weatherford but you can read the whole interview from the link above).

Weatherford stated:
"...There are three parts of the bill that are of particular concern to the professoriat. I should mention that I am not merely speaking for the University of South Florida faculty. Throughout this legislative session, I am acting as the higher education director of the Florida Education Association, representing 120,000 education employees in Florida. And I am therefore speaking for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, our affiliates, and the American Association of University Professors has also asked me to represent their views. So, for the first time ever, the professoriat is speaking with one voice, and we are unanimously against the bill. The three things that it does that we think are not wise. First of all, it specifies that faculty may not introduce controversial subjects when they're inappropriate, but it provides no mechanism or means for determining who gets to say what is controversial. Somebody, evidently, will have the right to tell us what we cannot say in our classroom, and that strikes at the very root of academic freedom. Secondly, it says that students have the right to expect that alternative views will be presented. One of the examples that Representative Baxley has used in discussing his bill is that it would be appropriate in a biology class or in a science class, for intelligent design to be taught whenever the theory of evolution is being taught. Well, first of all, that again requires faculty to teach something that they do not think is scientifically legitimate or should be in the course, and secondly, there are far more alternatives than just one. Lysenkoism in the old Soviet Union was the orthodox form of biology; would we be required to teach that as well? Would our business colleges have to teach Marxism as a legitimate business theory? There are many alternatives, not just one or two. And finally, it says that students have a right to expect these things, which presumably means that they would have the right to sue to have the rights enforced, which the bill analysis says would cost the people of Florida $4.2 million, and my wife says would be a real boon to the trial lawyers of our state."

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