Bills of Rights:
A Statement by AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and
The past year has witnessed repeated efforts to establish what
has been called an “Academic Bill of Rights.” Based
upon data purporting to show that Democrats greatly outnumber
Republicans in faculty positions, and citing official statements
and principles of the American Association of University Professors,
advocates of the Academic Bill of Rights would require universities
to maintain political pluralism and diversity. This requirement
is said to enforce the principle that “no political, ideological
or religious orthodoxy should be imposed on professors and researchers
through the hiring or tenure or termination process.”1 Although
Committee A endorses this principle, which we shall call the “principle
of neutrality,” it believes that the Academic Bill of Rights
is an improper and dangerous method for its implementation. There
are already mechanisms in place that protect this principle, and
they work well. Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant,
but, ironically, it also infringes academic freedom in the very
act of purporting to protect it.
A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning
the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference
to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and
applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise
and training to establish such standards. The proposed Academic
Bill of Rights directs universities to enact guidelines implementing
the principle of neutrality, in particular by requiring that colleges
and universities appoint faculty “with a view toward fostering
a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.”2 The danger
of such guidelines is that they invite diversity to be measured
by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria
of the scholarly profession. Measured in this way, diversity can
easily become contradictory to academic ends. So, for example,
no department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish
“a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by
appointing a professor of Nazi political philosophy, if that philosophy
is not deemed a reasonable scholarly option within the discipline
of political theory. No department of chemistry ought to be obligated
to pursue “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives”
by appointing a professor who teaches the phlogiston theory of
heat, if that theory is not deemed a reasonable perspective within
the discipline of chemistry.
These examples illustrate that the appropriate diversity of a
university faculty must ultimately be conceived as a question
of academic judgment, to be determined by the quality and range
of pluralism deemed reasonable by relevant disciplinary standards,
as interpreted and applied by college and university faculty.
Advocates for the Academic Bill of Rights, however, make clear
that they seek to enforce a kind of diversity that is instead
determined by essentially political categories, like the number
of Republicans or Democrats on a faculty, or the number of conservatives
or liberals. Because there is in fact little correlation between
these political categories and disciplinary standing, the assessment
of faculty by such explicitly political criteria, whether used
by faculty, university administration, or the state, would profoundly
corrupt the academic integrity of universities. Indeed, it would
violate the neutrality principle itself. For this reason, recent
efforts to enact the Academic Bill of Rights pose a grave threat
to fundamental principles of academic freedom.
The Academic Bill of Rights also seeks to enforce the principle
that “faculty members will not use their courses or their
position for the purpose of political, ideological, religious,
or antireligious indoctrination.”3 Although Committee A
endorses this principle, which we shall call the nonindoctrination
principle, the Academic Bill of Rights is an inappropriate and
dangerous means for its implementation. This is because the bill
seeks to distinguish indoctrination from appropriate pedagogy
by applying principles other than relevant scholarly standards,
as interpreted and applied by the academic profession.
If a professor of constitutional law reads the examination of
a student who contends that terrorist violence should be protected
by the First Amendment because of its symbolic message, the determination
of whether the examination should receive a high or a low grade
must be made by reference to the scholarly standards of the law.
The application of these standards properly distinguishes indoctrination
from competent pedagogy. Similarly, if a professor of American
literature reads the examination of a student that proposes a
singular interpretation of Moby Dick, the determination of whether
the examination should receive a high or a low grade must be made
by reference to the scholarly standards of literary criticism.
The student has no “right” to be rewarded for an opinion
of Moby Dick that is independent of these scholarly standards.
If students possessed such rights, all knowledge would be reduced
to opinion, and education would be rendered superfluous.
The Academic Bill of Rights seeks to transfer responsibility for
the evaluation of student competence to college and university
administrators or to the courts, apparently on the premise that
faculty ought to be stripped of the authority to make such evaluative
judgments. The bill justifies this premise by reference to “the
uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge.”4
This premise, however, is antithetical to the basic scholarly
enterprise of the university, which is to establish and transmit
knowledge. Although academic freedom rests on the principle that
knowledge is mutable and open to revision, an Academic Bill of
Rights that reduces all knowledge to uncertain and unsettled opinion,
and which proclaims that all opinions are equally valid, negates
an essential function of university education.
Some versions of the Academic Bill of Rights imply that faculty
ought not to be trusted to exercise the pedagogical authority
required to make evaluative judgments. A bill proposing an Academic
Bill of Rights recently under discussion in Colorado, for example,
The general assembly further declares that intellectual independence
means the protection of students as well as faculty from the imposition
of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature.
To achieve the intellectual independence of students, teachers
should not take unfair advantage of a student’s immaturity
by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before
a student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions
upon the matters in question, and before a student has sufficient
knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any
definitive opinion of his own, and students should be free to
take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course
of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.5
On the surface, this paragraph appears merely to restate important
elements of AAUP policy.6 In the context of that policy, this
paragraph unambiguously means that the line between indoctrination
and proper pedagogical authority is to be determined by reference
to scholarly and professional standards, as interpreted and applied
by the faculty itself. In the context of the proposed Colorado
Academic Bill of Rights, by contrast, this paragraph means that
the line between indoctrination and proper pedagogical authority
is to be determined by college and university administrations
or by courts. This distinction is fundamental.
A basic purpose of higher education is to endow students with
the knowledge and capacity to exercise responsible and independent
judgment. Faculty can fulfill this objective only if they possess
the authority to guide and instruct students. AAUP policies have
long justified this authority by reference to the scholarly expertise
and professional training of faculty. College and university professors
exercise this authority every time they grade or evaluate students.
Although faculty would violate the indoctrination principle were
they to evaluate their students in ways not justified by the scholarly
and ethical standards of the profession, faculty could not teach
at all if they were utterly denied the ability to exercise this
The clear implication of AAUP policy, therefore, is that the question
whether it is indoctrination for teachers of biology to regard
the theory of “evolution” as an opinion about which
students must be allowed “to reserve judgment” can
be answered only by those who are expert in biology. The whole
thrust of the proposed Colorado Academic Bill of Rights, by contrast,
is to express distrust of faculty capacity to make such judgments,
and to transfer the supervision of such determinations to a college
or university administration or to courts. The proposed Colorado
bill thus transforms decisions that should be grounded in professional
competence and expertise into decisions that are based upon managerial,
mechanical, or, even worse, overtly political criteria. The proposed
Colorado bill also facilitates the constant supervision of everyday
pedagogic decision making, a supervision that threatens altogether
to undercut faculty authority in the classroom. It thus portends
incalculable damage to basic principles of academic freedom.
Skepticism of professional knowledge, such as that which underlies
the Academic Bill of Rights, is deep and corrosive. This is well
illustrated by its requirement that “academic institutions
. . . maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect
to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions
within . . . their fields of inquiry.”7 The implications
of this requirement are truly breathtaking. Academic institutions,
from faculty in departments to research institutes, perform their
work precisely by making judgments of quality, which necessarily
require them to intervene in academic controversies. Only by making
such judgments of quality can academic institutions separate serious
work from mere opinion, responsible scholarship from mere polemic.
Because the advancement of knowledge depends upon the capacity
to make judgments of quality, the Academic Bill of Rights would
prevent colleges and universities from achieving their most fundamental
When carefully analyzed, therefore, the Academic Bill of Rights
undermines the very academic freedom it claims to support. It
threatens to impose administrative and legislative oversight on
the professional judgment of faculty, to deprive professors of
the authority necessary for teaching, and to prohibit academic
institutions from making the decisions that are necessary for
the advancement of knowledge. For these reasons Committee A strongly
condemns efforts to enact the Academic Bill of Rights.
The AAUP has consistently held that academic freedom can only
be maintained so long as faculty remain autonomous and self-governing.
We do not mean to imply, of course, that academic professionals
never make mistakes or act in improper or unethical ways. But
the AAUP has long stood for the proposition that violations of
professional standards, like the principles of neutrality or nonindoctrination,
are best remedied by the supervision of faculty peers. It is the
responsibility of the professoriate, in cooperation with administrative
officers, to ensure compliance with professional standards. By
repudiating this basic concept, the Academic Bill of Rights alters
the meaning of the principles of neutrality and nonindoctrination
in ways that contradict academic freedom as it has been advanced
in standards and practices which the AAUP has long endorsed.
1. This language derives from a Concurrent Resolution (H.Con.Res.
318) proposed in the House of Representatives by Jack Kingston
during the 108th Congress.
It also appears in a proposed amendment to Article I of Title
23 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, 24-125.5. Both pieces of
legislation grow out of a version of the Academic Bill of Rights
originally drafted by columnist David Horowitz. See http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.
2. H.Con.Res. 318. We note, parenthetically, that, while this
embrace of diversity may be reasonable in some circumstances,
it may make little academic sense in other contexts, as, for example,
when a department wishes to specialize in a particular disciplinary
3. H.Con.Res. 318.
4. H.Con.Res. 318.
5. Proposed amendment to Article I of Title 23 of the Colorado
Revised Statutes, 24-125.5.
6. “Some Observations on Ideology, Competence, and Faculty
Selections,” Academe: Bulletin of the AAUP, (January-February
7. H.Con.Res. 318.