Three events occurring close on each others' heels this semester, a breakout at the Academic Senate's Fall Plenary Session, the national election, and a film opening, together provided me with inspiration for this article. Allow me to begin with the last of the three.
On Friday, November 12, 2004, the movie, Kinsey, premiered. It is a biography of the famous sex researcher and biologist, Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University. His 1948 book, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male was, to quote the Los Angeles Times on November 15, 2004, ".an utter revelation for a populace living in a time when masturbation was frowned upon, oral sex (even between husband and wife) was illegal in some states, and homosexuality was considered an extremely rare, criminal deviance." We are told that Kinsey's motivation for doing his research was to explain what people did, and he never attempted to explain why they did it. Despite that, Kinsey was accused of being every different kind of monster: pervert, activist, cheater, liar, and numerous other epithets. Kinsey's book, together with a follow-up book on the human female, revealed truths to the world that many Americans at the time and even today find unpleasant. Dean Hamer of the National Institute of Health states, "People are extremely uptight when it comes to the academic study of sex." Vern Bullough, founder of the Center for Sex Research at Cal State Northridge, and author of Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research, says they have experienced similar attacks as Kinsey had to endure. For example, the LA. Times writes in the same November 15 article, that ".[Bullough] was accused of being a pedophile for organizing a workshop in which child pornography was to be discussed. State funding for Cal State Northridge was held up while he was investigated."
People need to be reminded that university research and classroom lectures will often reveal truths about the world that are at variance with students' and the public's preconceived notions. Reading research or taking a college class can and often will make the reader/student uncomfortable. How could it be otherwise? If everything one learned in school confirmed everything that one "knew," what would be the point of engaging in such scholarly pursuits?
THE NATIONAL ELECTION AND MORAL VALUES
Early analysis of the election that took place just ten days before the above movie premiered suggests that a large percentage of the 3+ million votes by which President Bush outpolled Senator Kerry were cast by evangelical Christians drawn to the polls by the presence on the ballot of eleven states propositions to ban homosexual marriage. Those propositions passed handily in all eleven of those states. These voters told exit pollsters that the main reason they preferred Bush over Kerry was "moral values."
Given Kinsey's and other sex researchers' findings, homosexuality exists in a small but not insignificant proportion of our society, and will most likely continue to do so as long as the human race exists. Given that fact, it will be inevitable that many members of that minority will continue to live as couples, whether or not society has recognized their unions by allowing them to get "married." Does that fact, unpleasant to many, diminish the marriage of an evangelical Christian couple, or indeed of any heterosexual couple? Would the marriage of any heterosexual couple be affected one iota if homosexual couples were allowed to marry, instead of being forced (to use a "moral values" epithet) to "live in sin?"
As with the results of academic research or the presentation of controversial material in class, when some people are faced with facts that contradict their view of the way the world should be, they react emotionally rather than rationally. In this example, rather than basing their vote on performance in office or on how that person would carry out policy that is under the auspices of the government, they preferred to base it on personally held religious and/or "moral" principles that really have no business in government.
ACADEMIC BILL OF RIGHTS
That brings me back to a breakout held at the recently concluded Academic Senate Fall Plenary Session. While undoubtedly the hot topic of this Session was whether or not the Academic Senate should recommend raising the mathematics and English requirements for the Associate Degree, there were many other breakouts on a variety of topics. One of these was one on academic freedom presented by Executive Committee members, Kate Clark, Jane Patton and myself.
Among the topics covered by this breakout were a discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act and attempts to introduce in several states legislation inappropriately entitled, "Academic Bill of Rights." The events of 9/11 understandably brought fear to the US population. That fear resulted in the passage of the ill-advised USA PATRIOT Act, a measure riddled with provisions that are patently unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has continued to declare.
Some of these provisions, however, directly impact our college communities, such as the draconian provision that requires our librarians to report to authorities which books are being studied by which of our students-and to make such reports without notifying the affected student/readers.
But, what may be even more insidious is the effort to pass legislation, misleadingly entitled an "Academic Bill of Rights," in as many as 19 states. Such a bill was introduced into the California Legislature but so far has been defeated, but may well be reintroduced in another session. This effort by the same people who would like to continue to legislate what people can and cannot do sexually in private, and who wish to continue the shameful discrimination against homosexuals in our society, now are trying to diminish the academic freedom of our professoriate by invoking a false "academic freedom" for our students. As American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has so eloquently written on this subject, "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." Students do not have the "right" to be rewarded for opinions that are independent of these scholarly standards. As the AAUP continues, "If students possessed such rights, all knowledge would be reduced to opinion, and education would be rendered superfluous." The professoriate has always policed itself. They and they alone, know what is and is not appropriate in the classroom. That is the cornerstone of academic freedom. As AAUP concludes, 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 the professors of the authority necessary for teaching, and to prohibit academic institutions from making the decisions that are necessary for the advancement of knowledge.
Colleges and universities are not the only academic institutions facing these kinds of attacks. In some states, there are Boards of Education that require high school biology texts, for example, to have a sticker placed in the front stating that evolution of the human species is just a "theory." These boards, dominated by religious practitioners, maintain that the evolution of human species is a theory - not a fact substantiated by thousands of observations, underscored by recent advances in DNA analysis. Theory arises when scientists attempt to try to explain the observable facts (like Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species). The biblical version of the creation of human beings, on the other hand, does not fit the facts in the least, and does not deserve time spent in our classrooms as a possible explanation for the origin of our species. The Adam and Eve scenario is more on a par with fairy stories, such as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White.
There is a common thread to these developments in the past few months: religious extremism, and extremism of any kind has no business in our government, or on our college campuses, or in our children's schools. The founding fathers wisely established a separation of church and state in this country. For continued tolerance and freedom, we must struggle mightily against any erosion of this basic principle, and we in the Academic Senate must continue to champion true academic freedom on our campuses.