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College of DuPage Board Rescinds “Academic Bill of Rights”

By John K. Wilson

On May 4, 2009 the new College of DuPage Board of Trustees voted 4-3 to reverse the previous board’s passage of David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights. It was a victory for academic freedom, and a decisive defeat for Horowitz and his friends, such as outgoing trustee Kory Atkinson, founder and president of the Intellectual Diversity Foundation, who paid for Horowitz to speak at a private event on campus and pushed his agenda. He attended the Board meeting while wearing a T-shirt that read, “Stop Faculty Pay to Play,” an apparent reference to the fact that the faculty union had donated money to help elect trustees who support academic freedom.

The real defeat for the Academic Bill of Rights had come at a polling booth a month earlier. On April 7, voters completely rejected the old board and its right-wing ideologues. Nancy Svoboda led with 46,654 votes, more than twice the number of outgoing chair Michael McKinnon, who finished fifth with only 21,756 votes.

In response, the conservatives on the Board decided to make their legacy a fit of ideological pique. On April 16, against the urging of the AAUP and three upcoming board members who had been elected, the outgoing board voted 6-0 to impose the new Board Policy Manual on the College of DuPage, including suddenly reimposing the original Academic Bill of Rights that they had previously watered down.
This attack on academic freedom has been criticized by groups across the spectrum, including the Illinois AAUP and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

At the May 4 meeting, the new Board was forced to confront the issue because of a motion to accept the previous board policy. They voted 4-3 to rescind the controversial policies objected to earlier, including the Academic Bill of Rights, and tabled the discussion of the remaining policies.

The national AAUP and the National Education Association’s National Council for Higher Education sent a letter to the College of DuPage trustees, urging them to overturn this terrible mistake. Fortunately, the will of the people and the voice of reason triumphed over the efforts of right-wing Republicans to silence free speech on campus.

However, the fight for academic freedom doesn’t end with one successful battle. The College of DuPage Board of Trustees is still considering the same deeply flawed policies. On October 15, 2009, the Board will consider again three of the policies that it had passed and then overturned.