Report: Professors deserve protection when expressing personal views

Professors who express their personal political and religious views in the classroom need stronger protections, a national higher education group found.

The American Association of University Professors urges institutions to protect their faculty members from attacks on their jobs based on their personal politics, especially in terms of political expression through social media.

“Today, when the sound bite is more readily heard than the more thoughtful dissertation and intemperate speech is commonplace, strong language may be more necessary for those seeking a hearing for controversial views,” the report reads.

The authors of the report sought to address academic freedom as cable television, blogs, e-mail lists, and other new forms of electronic communication “are presenting us with a new reality” in which colleges may be pressured to take action against faculty members with controversial views.

The University’s policy for political activity allows faculty and staff to participate in politics so long as the activity is separate from their relationship to the University.

“Our policy on political activity protects the rights of free expression by our faculty and provides wise guidance about when expression of their views might be appropriate in the classroom. The policy reflects core principles that I strongly support,” Provost Steven Lerman said.

“I think academic freedom gives professors a very wide mandate. I think their own political views are fair game,” said John Sides, a professor of political science who maintains a political blog along with four other professors.

When discussing his blog in class, Sides said he only uses it to demonstrate political analysis rather than promoting one ideology over another.

“I think it’s oftentimes better for professors to strive to help students understand multiple perspectives, so I don’t think any professors’ personal views should be the end of the story,” Sides said. “That being said, academic freedom means being able to talk about what you believe in.”

GW may be one of the most political campuses in the nation, but conservative students are often critical of faculty for injecting what they perceive as a liberal bias into the syllabus. A Hatchet analysis of campaign filings found that University employees overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential election, with more than 40 percent of all campaign contributions going to Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. GW’s conservative student group Young America’s Foundation decried the findings as “evidence that liberal bias in higher education is real and its existence today is arguably more prevalent than ever” in a blog post last year.

In the 2007-08 installation of The American College Teacher, a national study conducted every 3 years by education researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, 47 percent of full-time faculty members at 4-year colleges and universities identified as liberal, while 15 percent considered themselves conservative.

A vocal critic of perceived ideological bias among college faculty members, conservative writer and policy advocate David Horowitz has spoken out against some of the AAUP’s recommendations.

In his “Academic Bill of Rights,” Horowitz calls for colleges to promote a variety of political and religious beliefs on behalf of faculty members when making decisions about tenure, selecting campus speakers and developing reading lists for courses.

“The most basic principle of academic freedom is that professors need to present both sides, or more than one side of any controversial issue in a fair-minded manner,” Horowitz said.

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