Sunday, April 02, 2006

Academic Bill of Rights

In today's Eagle, David Horowitz slanders academics:
Tenured faculty in Kansas -- as at publicly and privately financed universities elsewhere -- are a highly privileged social and economic elite. At the University of Kansas, the average salary for a full professor is $92,253, and at Kansas State University, $79,983.

To earn this income, professors work an average of six to nine hours a week in class and are required to work only eight months out of the working year. Every year they are entitled to four months' paid vacation, and every seven years they are awarded a sabbatical leave.
As Professor Christopher Brooks explains in an accompanying piece, most professors in Kansas work on 9 month contracts, and use their savings or other funding sources over the summer. And anyone who's worked in the academy or spoken to people who have knows immediately that the 6-9 hour figure is ludicrous. Brooks cites "A recent audit in the Wichita State University English department [which] found the typical faculty member spending 40 hours per week meeting class requirements. This amount of time does not include the service hours and the research and creative activities that are required by contract of every faculty member." Most faculty are supposed to divide their time between teaching and teaching prep (most contracts put this between 40% and 60% of a professor's time), research (typically another 40%), and service on committees, with students outside of class, or public education outside the standard coursework (another 20%).

Being a good teacher takes time and effort. College professors are teaching the cutting edge of research, which means that they have to prepare new material each year. Many professors I've spoken with feel like a day on which they teach is essentially useless for anything else, because of preparations, office hours and discussion time, following up on questions, etc. Bad teachers are ones who spend 6-9 hours a week and go home.

Horowitz then introduces a non sequitur:

Yet entire departments at KSU and KU are devoted to ideological and political agendas, and are in fact advocacy programs designed to indoctrinate students in one-sided views of controversial issues.…

For example, the KSU women's studies department, as described in the university's catalog, is an ideological program frankly designed to indoctrinate students in a radical feminist view of the world, and to recruit them to feminist causes.…

The entire social work program at KSU is an advocacy program for left-wing "solutions" to significant social problems.…
Why does he think this? Who knows? The KSU social work program has a bunch of courses, and none look terribly left-wing, off hand. The program describes social work as "a profession for those with a spark of idealism, a belief in social justice, and a natural love of working with people." If that's inherently left-wing, then Horowitz just ceded justice and ideals to the left, leaving injustice and opportunism for the right.

As for women's studies, the department describes its study as "humankind's whole approach to women and the universal phenomenon of gender roles." I don't see the radical feminist agenda there. I also don't see it in the courses offered nor in the catalog.

Horowitz concludes:

The immediate step I would recommend is the passage of the Academic Bill of Rights resolution that is now before the Kansas House, HCR 5035.
Last I heard, this bill was dead in the water.

One thing I'd like to note from Brooks' response. Referring to the Mirecki incident, Professor Brooks writes:

At a Kansas Board of Regents school recently, a faculty member rankled some folks by referring to Christianity as a myth. Within a week, that faculty member was removed from his chair position, his course was canceled, and all of this was done by his own departmental colleagues.

Academe policed itself without an Academic Bill of Rights, without the intervention of the Legislature, and even without the higher administration of the university stepping in.
Mirecki made his statements outside of the classroom in a non-public forum, and I dare say that the degree to which his colleagues came after him at that point had a certain look of self-censorship to many people. Yes, the religious studies department self-policed, and that is Brooks' point, one which neatly addresses Horowitz' claims. Citing this incident in this context paints it as a surrender of the professor's right to speak his mind. As a leader of a religious studies department, it was inappropriate for him to be denigrating religous faiths and practices, and it was appropriate for him to leave that official post. I think the course shouldn't have been canceled, it should have been taught and people would have seen ID for what it is (mythology), Mirecki for who he is (and I don't know what that would have looked like), and the University for what it is (an open place of honest discussion).

Canceling the course isn't something to be proud of. The Academy polices itself, but not by hiding things. We police through openness and discussion. Often endless, boring, petty discussion. Discussion which outlives all interest for 90% of people. And in the end, people come to some resolution.

We don't need an academic bill of rights, because those rights already exist. We have Federal and State Constitutions, Regents rules and University regulations, and all of those guarantee that professors and students have the rights that Horowitz claims to be worried about.