Politics of Academic Freedom
the research for our 25th aniversary history project, PSU-AAUP's former
chapter coordinator Julie Schmid quipped that "academic freedom
only exists in the academy." This folk wisdom grows out of struggles,
often championed by the AAUP, to secure academic freedom for faculty.
The AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure
proclaims that higher education's contribution to the "common good"
of society "depends upon the free search for truth and its free
expression." Like Schmid's comment, however, the Statement notes
the limits and boundaries of academic freedom. When professors, as members
of a "learned profession," speak or write as citizens, "they
should be free from institutional censorship or discipline;" at
the same time, "their special position in the community imposes
special obligations." Defining those obligations constitutes no
small part defining academic freedom itself.
Portland State University, narrators attested that academic freedom
had never been "much of a problem" and that there were no
"spectacular cases" on campus; alternatively they noted that
"the record here has been really good in that regard." Our
research unearthed at least three incidents in which faculty speech
or activism came to a crisis that touched on the issue of acdemic freedom.
David Horowitz was a particularly visible and vocal critic of the Veit
Nam war. A number os PSU faculty opposed the war in general, however,
there were mixed attitudes toward issues like closing down classes or
whether ROTC should be permitted to recruit on campus. Many were outraged
by Portland police violence against anti-war protestors and some faculty
participated in a march of solidarity through downtown in the wake of
attacks on demonstrators in the park blocks. Horowitz pushed the bounds
of academic freedom on campus when he successfully interrupted a colleauge's
class over war-related issues. "He had to go to court on it,"
recalled Tom Morris. The administration wanted "his head on a plate":
fired. The History Department rallied however, independently of AAUP,
and affirmed Horowitz's "right to protest." Morris recalled
the department's feisty spirit against the administration's pressure:
"The hell with you. We are not firing him."
less sanguine was the case of Sharon Brabanac, who Assistant Dean Duncan
Carter describes as an "activist student services person."
Brabanac lost her position as an Academic Professional at Portland State
despite "nothing but positive performance evaluations." For
Carter, Brabanac's case typifies the "vulnerability of people in
that category, academic professionals." "No tenure-track professor
would have that kind of treatment," he affirms. The case highlights
another dimension of traditional, AAUP-style academic freedom: that
it applies selectively even within the university setting, with staff
and students having far fewer protections than faculty at their disposal.