Liberal Education

From the Editor

From where David Horowitz sits crafting academic bills of rights and entering names on his blacklist of “dangerous” professors, the world must seem to revolve around him. At least that’s the impression given by his response to the Statement on Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility issued in January by AAC&U’s board of directors. “The Academic Bill of Rights does not call for ‘balance’ on faculties or in the curriculum,” he protests. “It does not impose political criteria on academic institutions” (see www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org). In the end, what’s remarkable about Horowitz’s “Statement on the AACU Statement” is not that it reveals his narcissism but that it demonstrates his disingenuousness.

The AAC&U board statement is intended for a wider audience than just Mr. Horowitz, of course, and it addresses a far broader range of issues than those raised by his Academic Bill of Rights. The academy will surely withstand David Horowitz, however wrongheaded and disruptive his campaign against it may be. Yet the tenor and substance of the current public dialogue about academic freedom do give cause for concern. As compared with the specter of the “liberal” professor, conjured up through apocryphal stories first trumpeted loudly in the media only later to be quietly discredited, McCarthyism certainly poses the greater danger to academic freedom.

In responding to this danger, the academy must help the public understand that academic freedom is a vital and necessary condition for teaching and learning in a democratic society. That’s why, in addition to providing a fuller context for the ongoing debates about intellectual diversity in undergraduate education, the AAC&U statement focuses on the educational principles at stake. It reviews the larger concepts of intellectual and personal development in the college years to show why diverse perspectives are necessary, but by no means sufficient, to fulfill the academy’s educational role and responsibilities.

The AAC&U Statement on Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility was recently the subject of wide-ranging discussion at the 2006 annual meeting of the association, where it was endorsed by the membership. Now, discussion of the statement continues in this issue of Liberal Education, as we hope it will on campuses. Here, the board statement is published alongside three responses to it. Additional responses from readers of Liberal Education are welcome (see www.aacu.org/liberaleducation).

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