Socrates is illegal again

Florida Republicans are backing an Academic Freedom Bill of Rights that would let students sue “dictator professors” who try to indoctrinate students. The bill passed out of its first of three committees by a party-line vote. From the Florida Alligator:

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” — for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class — would also be given the right to sue.

“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. Dennis) Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

It’s interesting that the Socratic method, which annoyed Athenians so much back in the day, still prompts visions of hemlock. Behind this bill is the mushy, multiculturalist belief that all opinions and points of view have equal value. Sincerity counts; scholarship is all subjective and therefore worthless.

Some professors do confuse indoctrination with education. Legislation — especially legislation that facilitates more lawsuits — is no solution.

About Joanne


  1. There are few ideas so good they can’t be screwed up through attention from legislators, lawyers, and bureaucrats!

  2. However wise or foolish the legislature’s action may be, the whole matter would go away if students were to take tape recorders into the classrooms.

  3. John from OK says:

    A Republican who thinks that allowing more lawsuits is an answer is not a real Republican. And yes, someone DID make me God.

  4. All teaching “the debates” really takes is a strong disclaimer on the syllabus. For instance, I teach medieval art. NONE of my students (including the church goers) have enough Bible background for my purposes, so we have what I call Bible Boot Camp for 2 weeks at the first of all 200 and 300 level classes.

    I make it VERY clear on all handouts that I don’t care what they believe or think, but that they WILL do the reading and understand the story. They read a gospel, the book of Acts, and often the book of Revelation. They do lots of work sheets. I guide ’em through it all – and I repeat “I don’t care what you believe, I only care that you GET THE CONTENT.”

    After all, I’m a believing Christian, but I teach Greco-Roman mythology to the same level of detail in my Greek and Roman art classes.

  5. Regulating the free exchange of thoughts and ideas with legislation smacks of Thought Control.

  6. corsair the rational pirate says:

    You know, edwonk, that is what I used to think… Until they told me to stop.

    Oh wait, I think that is them now…

  7. John from OK hits the nail square on the head, perhaps more than he even realizes. I’m a Republican, and I worked for the Florida House of Representatives, at times working with both of both the quoted legislators. He may be in the other party, but Dan Gelber makes a good shot at being the most intelligent and thoughtful member of the entire legislature. There are a few other competitors for that distinction, but to say Dennis Baxley isn’t among them is rather a grandiose understatement.

  8. I am not sure that I agree with the staff analysis that this would immediately generate the right to sue. One portion of the bill reads as follows: “Students, faculty, and instructors have a right to be fully informed of their rights and their institution’s grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogs and student handbooks and on the institutional website.” It would seem to me that if the grievance procedures are reasonable and reasonably complete, that it would establish a strong case that due process protections were met and create a substantial burden of proof for any student considering action.

    I just do not see this resulting in any restriction of academic freedom. It may, however, keep a calculus professor from lecturing his class on the illegality of the war in Iraq.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Professionals would never allow their students to know what their personal ppolitics or religions were. Factory workers, on the other hand, wear sponsor’s bowling shirts.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    On the contrary, people who teach in social-science subjects that inevitably have political connotations _should_ be open about their commitments so that the recipients of their teaching can factor that into their reception. Just as our journalism would be improved if reporters were to do the same. Now, there is a minority of professors who are all about politics rather than scholarship- that’s another matter. But it’s one to be dealt with by the universities’ improving quality control in hiring and tenuring, not by knuckle-walking politicians egged on by a raving lunatic like Horowitz.

  11. Esunola, I find it amusing (although not terribky surprising) that the web site links to the Senate for analysis of a House bill: the Senate’s site was always easier to use and more stable than ours. But there’s no indication in teh article of whether that’s the House staff analysis or the Senate analysis of a Senate companion bill that could well be worded quite differently. Let’s check…

    OK, SB 2126 by Senator Wise is identical and has been referred to two committees but not scheduled for a hearing. Only the House bill has an analysis because it’s the only one that’s been put on a hearing agenda, let alone reported from committee. Mr. or Ms. Hunt, the analyst, must’ve been someone brought in by Speaker Bense in the staff reorg after I left, thus I don’t know whether they’re an attorney or not (most Education analysts aren’t), but just looking at the citation format (and total sloppiness) in their footnotes suggests they aren’t. I agree with you that it MIGHT not automatically create civil causes of action, but the problem with saying it can all be handled administratively is that I don’t see any rulemaking powers being granted to an agency in the bill’s text, which suggests the only place a remedy for a violation of these rights would be available is in indeed in court.

  12. Caffeinated Curmudgeon says:

    I just do not see this resulting in any restriction of academic freedom. It may, however, keep a calculus professor from lecturing his class on the illegality of the war in Iraq.

    The bill’s sponsor disagrees:

    “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. Dennis) Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

    Baxley’s clear intention is to permit any student zealot to invoke either the institutional grievance procedure or a lawsuit to force a professor to teach his parochial view of any subject.

    Digging up “serious scholarly opinion” as a basis for suit or grievance is the easy part. Serious religious scholars can be found who profoundly disagree with most any scientific conclusion.

    This bill is nothing more than an attempt to force professors to teach any wacko view that some student happens to want to force on them.

    The bill should die, and Rep. Baxley should be unelected at the first opportunity.

  13. This “Bill of Rights” is intended to address a very serious problem that exists in most North American universities:

    many professors routinely and gratuitously push their politics on students in class;

    — neither students nor professors are allowed to vocally express opinions (inside or outside of class) that the extreme-left claims to be “offensive”.

    I don’t think this “Bill” is a good way to address these problems. But I have little sympathy for those Born-Again-Defenders-of-Free-Speech who are perfectly happy with the status quo. My guess is that author Vanlandingham — who tells us that “Republicans voted along party lines” rather than saying that everyone did — is a BADofFOS, and my guess is that most (although not all) opponents of the “Bill” are. How many of these people are on record as opposing the status quo (for the reasons I gave above), are on record as opposing the speech codes that pollute our campuses, and are on record as trying to do something about it that is more reasonable and more practical than this “Bill”?

  14. “The bill should die,”

    Since it hasn’t been put on the agenda for either of its two remaining committee stops and its companion has not been moving at all in the Senate, I tend to suspect it will, although anything’s possible until the gavels come down at the end of session.

    “…and Rep. Baxley should be unelected at the first opportunity.”

    Well, good luck with that. His constituents in Ocala adore him: a Dem would have no chance and a GOP primary challenger would face a very steep uphill battle.

  15. SuperSub says:

    The bill is an unfortunate over-reaction to the left-leaning bias often found in higher academia today. Some of the problems foreseen by the bill’s opponents are similar to actual problems that have occured on campuses today. The consequences of those problems are magnified in this bill, though, as it opens up the Pandora’s Box of civil suits.
    Most schools receive state or federal aid… I’d suggest that a penalty for schools that either encourage or turn a blind eye to academic preaching should be the loss of that aid, after a thorough investigation.
    In the case of evolution, for example, a course on evolution need not contain any reference to Creationism, since it is not a component of that theory. Also, focusing on content is neutral, as long as the educator does not imply a superiority of belief.

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    “In the case of evolution, for example, a course on evolution need not contain any reference to Creationism, since it is not a component of that theory.” What if it’s a course for nonmajors, where the phony “controversy” is an integral part of the course syllabus? Is the professor supposed to feign ignorance of the science, or else neutrality between science and bullspit? Shall we apply the same “standard” to the “round-Earth theory”? And is any of this any business of ignorant, grandstanding politicians? Good Lord.

  17. SuperSub says:

    Not sure what you mean Steve… even if its a course for non-majors, a course on Darwin’s or modern theory of Evolution does not necessarily require mention of Creationism. A course on varying theories, though, would probably include Creationism.
    The “Round Earth” statement is a common false argument… unlike evolution, the shape of the Earth has been continuously and definitively proven to be round. It is a fact.
    Evolution, on the other hand, is still a theory. While I personally believe in it due to the significant amount of evidence, I understand that there is still doubt as it has not been proven as fact. For that reason, I don’t mind people believing in Creationism, but instead I mind those who preach the virtues of either theory without acknowledgement that they are only theories.
    For all we know, both could be right, or both could be wrong.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    No, you’re quite wrong. Common descent with variation- the core of Darwin’s theory and the thing that creationists can’t abide because of its implications for the origin of humans- is as soldily grounded a fact as any in science. Just the molecular evidence for it is beyond overwhelming. Even the “intelligent design” likes of Behe don’t try to deny it, they just claim there was an occasional thumb on the scale. Again I express amazement that this is one of the few areaa in which it seems to be well accepted for ill-informed amateurs to consider themselves the equal in “debate” of higly trained professionals.