Amid all the good news of Duke 24 and the new Krzyzewskiville policy, you might have missed it. I almost did.
Students for Academic Freedom-a group that wants all professors to sign a pledge that they will commit to "academic freedom" (but actually seems more interested in rooting out a supposed liberal bias)-was recognized by a 32-6 roll call vote at the Oct. 26 Duke Student Government meeting. But this wasn't your normal group recognition. There was something much more sinister underneath the surface of this seemingly simple process.
Last spring, then-sophomore and DSG Senator Joe Fore worked many months to craft the "Academic Expectations and Responsibilities" amendment to the DSG constitution. Fore called the amendment a "foundation" for policies that will initiate change. He also called it the Community Standard's "policy counterpart." Except, as Rob Goodman, former Chronicle columnist and '05 alumnus, pointed out in "Well done, Joe" (April 4, 2005), the amendment contains no policy at all. To quote Goodman, the amendment "declares our legislators' dedication to the uncontroversial, the safe and the why-not popular."
So Fore used the amendment to advance his candidacy for vice president for academic affairs, eventually winning by a whopping 38 percent margin. But if Fore abused the constitution to help himself, and students-including myself-voted for the amendment, everything's really okay in the end, right?
Something more disturbing flitted beneath the radar in the amendment, something that only became clear to me during last Wednesday's DSG meeting.
The DSG Senate initially denied to bring SAF's request for recognition to a vote with an overwhelming "nay." A 30-minute debate ensued, during which Fore came to the defense of SAF, explaining that the group would fill a "unique niche" that the Academic Affairs Committee and the administration could not. After more senators voiced opposition to SAF, calling it "unneeded," "an advocacy group" and "unclear" in its funding requests, Fore took the floor yet again. He reminded everyone that the Academic Expectations and Responsibilities Amendment (which includes a clause on academic freedom) was part of the DSG Constitution that they had all sworn to uphold.
Ahhh. Now it all becomes clear.
In the rationale for the amendment, an entire paragraph is committed to denying that the amendment is any way related to SAF (emphasis my own):
"The choice to avoid the phrase 'Bill of Rights' in the legislation was a deliberate one, to avoid any appearance of association with the Students for Academic Freedom movement.- This is an entirely non-partisan set of rights with only one goal in mind: to ensure the most outstanding academic experience possible for every Duke undergraduate student."
Why did Fore even feel the need to mention SAF in the amendment? Why even consider calling the amendment a Bill of Rights? Maybe-no, probably-because the amendment was inspired by the national SAF's own proposed Student Bill of Rights.
Fore said Wednesday of SAF, "They inspire debate and discussion. That is what this campus should be about." Well, they certainly have been doing that of late.
Stephen Miller, who has publicly equated multiculturalism with segregation, attacked Maya Angelou and attempted to defend Bill Bennett's racist comments, is the president of the Duke chapter of SAF. Fore believes Miller-who is also a Chronicle columnist-offers statements that are good because they add a new dimension to campus dialogue.
But I see this battle for "academic freedom" not as a positive force for this University, but as a harmful discourse for Duke and all of academia.
Chalk it up to my "Very Liberal" classification on facebook if you like, but I think SAF is a bunch of crap.
The thought that Miller wants to defend academic freedom makes me laugh out loud. The demand for professors to sign an academic freedom pledge comes from a person who thinks the Black Student Alliance should apologize for staging a peaceful protest and the Palestine Solidarity Movement should not have been allowed on campus.
SAF simply provides a forum for conservative students to whine about their grades. If students feel they have to portray their own beliefs differently to be marked higher, maybe it's not that their professors are biased but that the students can't defend their beliefs well enough. Students should learn how to defend their arguments in college; a high number of liberal professors at a liberal arts college do allows conservative students opportunities to prove themselves. And maybe some of them will realize that people in the real world have opinions, too, and that sometimes you have to defend yourself against them instead of forming a committee to whimper about it.
SAF is a superfluous organization. Deans, heads of departments, DSG and more are available to students who feel they have been discriminated against for their beliefs. And since Fore has already implemented SAF's end goal of an academic bill of rights, I can't see why the members of SAF see a need for the group themselves.
Elizabeth Rudisill is a Trinity sophomore. Her column usually runs every other Thursday.
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