Academic Freedom, Please, and Hold the Freedom

David Horowitz, the former left-wing nutjob turned right-wing nutjob, is crusading for a movement to, in his words, “increase academic freedom” on college and university campuses. Unfortunately for academia, Horowitz’ inversion of “freedom” means that professors would be forced to teach “serious alternative theories” (read: creationism) that might conflict with their own beliefs.

It’s worth noting that Jeb Bush has endorsed Horowitz, calling him a “fighter for freedom.” That should give you some idea of where Horowitz is on the wingnut spectrum.

As always, Florida is the incubator for new political movements, and is right in the vanguard of the “academic freedom” movement:

Horowitz recently lent his support to Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley’s (R-Ocala) Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. Rep. Baxley’s legislation, which in late-March passed out of the House Choice and Innovation Committee by an 8-to-2 vote (the only two Democrats on the committee voted against it) was a broad assault on academic freedom. Allegedly aimed at leveling the playing field for so-called beleaguered conservatives on the state’s campuses, the devil was clearly in the details.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,'” Rep. Baxley maintained.

A Florida university professor countered Baxley’s claims:

“For a biologist for whom evolution is no more a theory than is the law of gravity, to have to present ‘alternative’ religiously-oriented or inspired views would be contrary to his very understanding of the scientific method. That would be comparable to Galileo being forced to recant his scientific observations that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the opposite as ordained by the Church.”

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, students who felt their views were disrespected in the classroom or thought they were singled out for “public ridicule” by their professors would have the right to sue them and the university.

During the debate over the Baxley bill, opponents argued that allowing students to sue their professors would create chaos in the classroom and force judges to determine what might or might not be academically appropriate.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Rep. Baxley decided to join Horowitz’s crusade after he “attended a conservative conference in St. Louis last summer where Horowitz spoke about academic freedom. The message struck a chord [and] … after talking to Horowitz,” he introduced his bill in the Florida Legislature.

While Rep. Baxley’s bill ultimately failed to garner enough support this legislative session, its introduction signaled the beginning of a battle in Florida that could go on for a number of years and eventually result in a future law.

Besides Florida, 13 other states have introduced some type of “academic freedom” legislation, including California, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota.


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