Professor’s Politics Draw Lawmakers Into the Fray

Monday, January 02, 2006
Professor’s Politics Draw Lawmakers Into the Fray

NYT December 25, 2005 Professors’ Politics Draw Lawmakers Into the Fray

While attending a Pennsylvania Republican Party picnic, Jennie Mae Brown bumped into her state representative and started venting.”How could this happen?” Ms. Brown asked Representative Gibson C. Armstrong two summers ago, complaining about a physics professor at the York campus of Pennsylvania State University who she said routinely used class time to belittle President Bush and the war in Iraq. As an Air Force veteran, Ms. Brown said she felt the teacher’s comments were inappropriate for the classroom.

The encounter has blossomed into an official legislative inquiry, putting Pennsylvania in the middle of a national debate spurred by conservatives over whether public universities are promoting largely liberal positions and discriminating against students who disagree with them.

A committee held two hearings last month in Pittsburgh and has scheduled another for Jan. 9 in Philadelphia. A final report with any recommendations for legislative remedy is due in June.

The investigation comes at a time when David Horowitz, a conservative commentator and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, has been lobbying more than a dozen state legislatures to pass an “Academic Bill of Rights” that he says would encourage free debate and protect students against discrimination for expressing their political beliefs.

While Mr. Horowitz insists his campaign for intellectual diversity is nonpartisan, it is fueled, in large measure, by studies that show the number of Democratic professors is generally much larger than the number of Republicans. A survey in 2003 by researchers at Santa Clara University found the ratio of Democrats to Republicans on college faculties ranged from 3 to 1 in economics to 30 to 1 in anthropology. Mr. Horowitz said he was pushing for legislation only because schools across the country were ignoring their own academic freedom regulations and a founding principle of the American Association of University Professors, which says schools are better equipped to regulate themselves without government intervention.”It became apparent to me that universities have a problem,” he said in an interview. “And nothing was being done about it.”

Mr. Horowitz and his allies are meeting forceful resistance wherever they go, by university officials and the professors association, which argues that conservatives are overstating the problem and, by seeking government action, are forcing their ideology into the classroom.”Mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them,” said Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former chairwoman of the professors association committee on academic freedom, in testimony at the Pennsylvania Legislature’s first hearing. “There is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies.”

In a debate with Mr. Horowitz last summer, Russell Jacoby, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, portrayed Mr. Horowitz’s approach as heavy-handed. “It calls for committees or prosecutors to monitor the lectures and assignments of teachers,” he said. “This is a sure-fire way to kill free inquiry and whatever abuses come with it.”

So far, the campaign has produced more debate than action. Colorado and Ohio agreed to suspend legislative efforts to impose an academic bill of rights in favor of pledges by their state schools to uphold standards already in place. Georgia passed a resolution discouraging “political or ideological indoctrination” by teachers, encouraging them to create “an environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas.”

While comparable efforts failed in three other states, measures are pending in 11 others. In Congress, House and Senate committees passed a general resolution this year encouraging American colleges to promote “a free and open exchange of ideas” in their classrooms and to treat students “equally and fairly.” It awaits floor action next year.Mr. Horowitz’s center has spawned a national group called Students for Academic Freedom that uses its Web site to collect stories from students who say they have been affected by political bias in the classroom. The group says it has chapters on more than 150 campuses.

The student group has fielded concerns from people like Nathaniel Nelson, a former student at the University of Rhode Island and a conservative, who said a philosophy teacher he had during his junior year referred often to his own homosexuality and made clear his dislike for Mr. Bush. Mr. Nelson, now a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, said in an interview that the teacher frequently called on him to defend his conservative values while making it clear he did not care for Republicans.”On the first day of class, he said, ‘If you don’t like me, get out of my class,’ ” Mr. Nelson said. “But it was the only time that fall the course was being offered, and I wanted to take it.”

Marissa Freimanis said she encountered a similar situation in her freshman English class at California State University, Long Beach, last year. Ms. Freimanis said the professor’s liberal bias was clear in the class syllabus, which suggested topics for members of the class to write about. One was, “Should Justice Sandra Day O’Connor be impeached for her partisan political actions in the Bush v. Gore case?””Of course, I felt very uncomfortable,” Ms. Freimanis, who is a Republican, said in an interview.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers are examining whether the political climate at 18 state-run schools requires legislation to ban bias. Mr. Armstrong said he discussed the issue in several conversations with Mr. Horowitz “as an expert in the field” before calling for the creation of a committee.”But I don’t know if his Academic Bill of Rights is necessary in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Armstrong said in an interview. “Before we have legislation to change a problem, we first have to determine whether the problem exists. If it does exist, the next question is, ‘Is it significant enough to require legislation?’ “”So the question I’m asking,” he added, “is, ‘Do we have a problem in Pennsylvania?’ “

For now, the answer is unclear. While Mr. Armstrong said he had received complaints from “about 50 students” who said they were intimidated by professors expressing strong political views, Democratic members of the committee have called the endeavor a waste of time, and the Republican chairman, Representative Thomas L. Stevenson, seemed to agree.”If our report were issued today,” Mr. Stevenson said, “I’d say our institutions of higher education are doing a fine job.”

Chronicle of Higher Education – March 19, 1999
A Dispute Over a Professor’s E-Mail Illustrates the Complexities of Acceptable-Use Policies
Scholar sees threat to academic freedom; college fears it could be sued for his comments

A dispute at Clark College has reminded campus-network administrators and college lawyers that acceptable-use policies for e-mail accounts and other network services — no matter how straightforward they may seem — can still give rise to misinterpretation and outright disagreement.

A tenured professor who is chairman of the economics department is at odds with administrators at the public, two-year college, located in Vancouver, Wash. At one point they forbade him to use campus computers to send e-mail messages to any of a long list of addresses, including listservs.

The administrators said they were acting to avoid exposing the college to legal liability for the content of the professor’s messages — a concern that the spread of e-mail messages and World-Wide Web sites has raised to new levels. But the professor, James M. Craven, argues that the administrators abridged his academic freedom, and his situation has attracted attention from academics near and far who read about it on line. He says administrators trumped up the charges that he misused e-mail, and that they did so to retaliate against him for several protests he has made against administrative decisions.

The current dispute stems from one that began last summer. Mr. Craven — a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which comprises several tribes in southwestern Canada and the northwestern United States — was serving as an unpaid member of the Indian Justice Tribunal, in Vancouver, British Columbia. The panel, organized by the confederacy, was investigating alleged abuses of American Indian children in U.S. and Canadian residential schools run by various religious denominations between 1871 and the 1980s.

Mr. Craven calls the institutions “subcontractors in genocide” that perpetrated many crimes against American Indian children, including assault, rape, torture and even murder.

After the tribunal’s deliberations, a group of former residents of the schools asked Mr. Craven to press one panelist to stop publishing their testimony. They said the panelist had broken a promise not to do so.

Mr. Craven proceeded to denounce the man on e-mail lists, such as “warriornet” (, that are frequented by American Indian academics and activists.

In November, the panelist — Kevin D. Annett, a former minister in the United Church of Christ who is now a graduate student at the University of British Columbia — complained on some of the listservs and in a letter to Clark officials that Mr. Craven had made “malicious, untrue, and unfounded statements” about him on the listservs. He warned that he might file a lawsuit against Mr. Craven and name the college as a co-defendant, because its computer equipment had been involved. Mr. Annett could not be reached for comment.

Clark’s interim vice-president for instruction, Charles P. Ramsey, asked Mr. Craven for copies of all e-mail messages he had sent from his campus account in which he had mentioned the complainant. In response, Mr. Craven sent him hundreds of pages of messages.

Mr. Ramsey extracted the addresses of 22 individuals and listservs, then ordered the professor not to use college computers to send any further e-mail to them without first obtaining the vice-president’s written permission. “Frankly,” Mr. Ramsey wrote to Mr. Craven, “I cannot see how these e-mails/materials you have sent using college resources have any relationship whatsoever to your responsibilities as a professor at Clark College.” That electronic activity, he said, breached state regulations against using state resources for personal profit, as well as a Clark policy that college computers could be used only for college-related educational and business purposes.

Mr. Ramsey warned: “Any violation of any of these directives will constitute insubordination and will be cause for disciplinary action, up to and including your dismissal.”

Mr. Craven and Sheryl Stevens, director of the local office of the Washington Education Association, which represents some faculty members, responded by filing a grievance that cited both state law and the union’s contract with Clark.

“We went after everything but the kitchen sink,” Ms. Stevens said in an interview. The college’s actions, she said, lacked a just cause, were taken without due process, and violated Mr. Craven’s academic freedom.

In addition, she said, the contract between the union and Clark guarantees that when legal action is instituted against a faculty member, the college will provide the faculty member with support and defense. Instead, Mr. Craven said, Mr. Ramsey’s actions helped to brand him with accusations of defamation, misusing state resources, and putting the college in legal jeopardy.
After an initial meeting on the grievance, Mr. Ramsey withdrew the threat of dismissal and allowed Mr. Craven to use college equipment to send material to the disputed e-mail addresses and Internet sites for work-related purposes, as long as he did not mention the former panelist. Mr. Ramsey later said the matter would be dropped if Mr. Craven acknowledged that he had misused college equipment. If the professor would not do so, Mr. Ramsey said, the college would refer the matter to state ethics regulators.

But Mr. Craven and Ms. Stevens said Mr. Ramsey’s decision begged key questions: What wrong did Mr. Craven do? And what were “work-related purposes”? Ms. Stevens said in the interview that Clark’s policy on using computer services was problematic: “It’s interesting, but it’s totally unenforceable. To have that is silly. Obviously they have no idea where other people throughout the campus are visiting, and what sites they are using.”

State ethics guidelines allow an employee to “make occasional but limited use of state resources for his or her private benefit if there is no actual cost to the state.” The ethics code does not define “occasional” use. Mr. Ramsey said his concern was about cases of “extreme” personal use.
“Anything I did didn’t cost one penny, because we’re on a trunk rate,” Mr. Craven said, referring to the flat fee the college pays to maintain its Internet service.

In the wake of the dispute involving Mr. Craven, a committee of administrators and faculty and staff members at Clark is formulating a new acceptable-use policy for the college’s computers and network connections. Patricia H. Fulbright, a professor of English, said the committee’s task would not be easy. “Sometimes it’s very hard to find the distinction between what is linked to the academic role and teaching, and personal use. Those things often coincide.” Clark’s current policy, she said, sends contradictory messages: Explore the potential of e-mail for academic roles, but limit its use to academic roles. Ms. Fulbright is president of a faculty group called the Clark College Association for Higher Education.

Clark’s president, Tana L. Hasart, agreed that better definition of boundaries was needed. Of current policies, she said, “I don’t think they’re very good. I think we attempted to do the best job we could at the time they were authored.”

Mr. Craven maintains that his dispute with his fellow panel member was, in fact, job-related. “How do educators learn what they presume to teach,” he asked, “if they’re not involved in the world around them?”

“If I’d been hustling Amway,” he added, “I could see their point.” Mr. Ramsey had objected to Mr. Craven’s e-mail messages about the American Indian tribunal, but Ms. Hasart had encouraged him to participate in the tribunal as part of Clark’s effort to promote diversity and multiculturalism, the professor said.

Last month, after Mr. Craven had appealed Mr. Ramsey’s decision to Ms. Hasart, the president agreed to drop the matter if Mr. Craven simply stated that he intended to comply with the college’s computer-use policy.

Ms. Stevens, his union representative, responded: “We said we believed he had consistently done so in the past.”

Mr. Craven said last week that he still planned on taking legal action. “They made a summary judgment I was guilty. They said I put them in a liability situation, and I had misused state resources.”

Clark officials have themselves taken a beating over the dispute, much of it administered via e-mail. When Mr. Craven posted Mr. Ramsey’s first directive on the Internet, dozens of academics and activists, from as far away as New Zealand, zipped protests off to Clark administrators. They pointed out that the disputed listservs were valuable discussion forums, and that administrators set a dangerous precedent when they presumed to determine which forums were related to teaching duties.

But Clark officials maintain that when they receive a complaint such as the former panelist’s, they “have a responsibility as a public institution to investigate the complaint and see what’s going on,” as Ms. Hasart put it.

Ms. Stevens, the faculty-union representative, argued that it was clearly inappropriate for administrators to pry into Mr. Craven’s e-mail messages. Faculty unions are working to discredit the idea that colleges should have “full and total control” over campus e-mail, she added. “A college wouldn’t tap your phone, and they give you a key to your office. The assumption is that you have some level of privacy.”

Like so many campus disputes, this one has other contentious aspects: Mr. Craven said college officials had been bent on retaliation because he had been embroiled in several other campus controversies. As a result of one such dispute, state officials had invited him to take part in the redrafting of Washington’s whistle-blower laws.

Ms. Stevens questioned administrators’ claims that e-mail use was even at the root of the dispute. “I don’t know what the real point of this is,” she said, “other than that I don’t believe that is the point.”


About jimcraven10

About jimcraven10 1. Citizenship: Blackfoot, U.S. and Canadian; 2. Position: tenured Professor of Economics and Geography; Dept. Head, Economics; 3. Teaching, Consulting and Research experience: approx 40 + years all levels high school to post-doctoral U.S. Canada, Europe, China, India, Puerto Rico and parts of E. Asia; 4. Work past and present: U.S. Army 1963-66; Member: Veterans for Peace; former VVAW; Veterans for 9-11 Truth; Scholars for 9-11 Truth; Pilots for 9-11 Truth; World Association for Political Economy; Editorial Board International Critical Thought; 4.. U.S. Commercial-Instrument Pilot ; FAA Licensed Ground Instructor (Basic, Advanced, Instrument and Simulators); 5. Research Areas and Publications: International law (on genocide, rights of nations, war and war crimes); Imperialism (nature, history, logic, trajectories, mechanisms and effects); Economic Geography (time and space modeling in political economy; globalization--logic and effects; Political Economy and Geography of Imperialism); Indigenous versus non-Indigenous Law; Political Economy of Socialism and Socialist Construction; 6. Member, Editorial Board, "International Critical Thought" published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; International Advisory Board and Columnist 4th Media Group, (Beijing); 7. Other Websites publications at;;; 8.Biography available in: Marquis Who’s Who: in the World (16th-18th; 20th; 22nd -31st (2014) Editions); Who’s Who in America (51st-61st;63rd-68th(2014) Editions); Who’s Who in the West (24th- 27th Editions);Who’s Who in Science and Engineering (3rd to 6th, 8th, 11th (2011-2012) Editions); Who’s Who in Finance and Industry (29th to 37th Editions); Who’s Who in American Education (6th Edition). ------------------- There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state, to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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