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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The ‘Academic Freedom’ Movement Comes to UMB

An activist group promoting intellectual diversity and a students’ bill of rights is opening a chapter at UMass. Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) was founded by activist David Horowitz, a popular author and veteran of the civil rights movement.

Horowitz is an outspoken conservative and a “converted liberal.” He edits the online digest Front Page Magazine, which encourages readers to “join our fight against the left.”

Horowitz says that he formed the group to combat a rash of ideological intolerance and flawed academic policies he claims are compromising students’ liberties.

SAF feels speech codes, the theft of student publications, and overbearing political orthodoxies on campus are just a few of the factors contributing to what is an increasingly hostile learning environment at many colleges and hopes schools and state legislatures will adopt its bill of rights. This bill of rights would guarantee students the right to free expression and an “ideologically balanced learning environment.”

One example cited by SAF occurred last March. The faculty senate at the University of California at Los Angeles voted 180-7 to condemn the invasion of Iraq. Some students at the school found it very disconcerting that the faculty would take a stance on such a controversial issue. Those who supported the invasion felt the new policy created a hostile learning environment and worried that the new policy might get them blacklisted.

At the helm of the new UMass chapter is student Jason Doedderlein, a philosophy and political science major.

“Intellectual diversity is so important,” he commented, “because it is impossible to learn the truth [when] being provided only one side of the argument.”

While Doedderlein makes it clear that “most teachers are excellent atpresenting both perspectives,” he does have concerns about teachers who use their position of influence to promote an ideology. “The purpose of higher education is the search for the truth,” he insists.

Doedderlein also argues that speech codes interfere in a student’s free pursuit of knowledge. “They…violate constitutional rights,” he said, adding, “The Supreme [Court] has consistently struck down such speech codes when challenged.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education estimates that up to 90 percent of colleges and universities have adopted speech codes.

Doedderlein also sounded off on the outbreak of newspaper thefts recorded across the country. The Student Press Law Center reports that nearly one hundred college newspaper runs and newsletters have been stolen in the last few years. “I think it shows the intolerance many have of opposing viewpoints,” he remarked.

Local chapters have successfully defended students on their campuses. At San Francisco State University, SAF managed to reverse the expulsion of a student who they believed had been targeted because of the unpopular political views she held.

Despite its rapid growth and popularity, SAF has faced some criticism. Some contend that the organization will limit the leeway professors have in the classroom or put them under too much scrutiny. Others suggest that some forms of speech may be too offensive to allow on campus and should be restricted.

SAF is online at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.com.