Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why is Krugman afraid of Florida House Bill 837?

Paul Krugman rails against Florida's academic freedom act, which just passed the Florida house: "Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party. . . . political pressure will nonetheless have a chilling effect on scholarship." What is Krugman talking about here, what is this threat to civilization? It's Florida House Bill 837, entitled "An act relating to student and faculty academic freedom in postsecondary education." Ooh, academic freedom -- scary! What does the bill propose? That students and faculty not be discriminated against on the basis of political or religious beliefs. Those radical theocratic Republicans! This means that you can't harass a student because she holds Christian beliefs . . . or Jewish ones . . . or Muslim ones . . . or atheist ones. Yep, that's theocracy in action.

For my readers, I've reproduced the pertinent provisions of Florida HB 873.

Section 1. . . [S]tudents have rights to a learning environment in which they have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion, to be graded without discrimination on the basis of their political or religious beliefs, and to a viewpoint-neutral distribution of student fee funds . . .

Section 2. . . Postsecondary student and faculty academic bill of rights.

  1. Students have a right to expect a learning environment in which they will have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study. In the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, the fostering of a plurality of serious scholarly methodologies and perspectives should be a significant institutional purpose.
  2. Students have a right to expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
  3. Students have a right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.
  4. Students have a right to expect that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience of students and student organizations will not be infringed upon by postsecondary administrators, student government organizations, or institutional policies, rules, or procedures.
  5. Students have a right to expect that their academic institutions will distribute student fee funds on a viewpoint-neutral basis and will maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious disagreements, differences, and opinions.
  6. Faculty and instructors have a right to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
  7. Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their fields of expertise and will not be hired, fired, denied promotion, or denied tenure on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
  8. Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will not be excluded from tenure, search, or hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
  9. 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.
Section 3. The Chancellor of Colleges and Universities shall provide a copy of the provisions of this act to the president of each state university. The Chancellor of Community Colleges and Workforce Education shall provide a copy of the provisions of this act to the president of each community college.

That is truly frightening stuff.

Seriously, one can debate whether such legislation is wise or necessary. But Krugman's parade of horribles boils down to largely ad hominem attacks against people who disagree with him. He complains that university professors will not be able to teach evolution, which seems a far stretch. The teachers are required "a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious disagreements, differences, and opinions." Evolution is a matter of biology, and it succeeds as a theory with regard to empirical evidence alone.

In other news:

"1789 -- AP: Princeton University professor Paul Krugman warns that the sinister so-called "Bill of Rights," with its expansive first protection for "the free exercise of religion," will lead to the nation becoming a 'damned theocracy.'"

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