Students for Academic Freedom

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According to its website, Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) claims to be "a clearing house and communications center for a national coalition of student organizations whose goal is to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge." Hardly the grassroots "coalition" it claims to be, SAF is an offshoot of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC) and the brainchild of David Horowitz.

History

Horowitz started SAF in 2003 as a means of spreading his agenda of "intellectual diversity" on college campuses. He justified the need for such action based on two studies of college and university professors' political party affiliations which seemed to prove that university faculty were "disproportionately liberal," and thus posed a threat to balanced academic discussion.

Studies

Several "independent studies" were conducted by CSPC and other organizations in order to prove the existence of liberal bias in higher education. One of the first studies was conducted by Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and compatriot of Newt Gingrich during the 1994 election engineering. As reported by George Mason University's website, Luntz's survey came into serious question when it was found that "Luntz polled only liberal arts faculties and administrators. And even within the liberal arts, only 12 percent of the respondents were from the more conservative business and economics faculties."

According to Horowitz, similar studies "resulted in absurd majorities of leftwing professors on college faculties by ratios that range from 7-1 to 30-1."[1] However, the funding of the experiments Horowitz cites as well as the scientific methods of research used draw each into question. The latest study, published in late April 2005, was funded by the Randolph Foundation, supporter of the Independent Women's Forum, Americans for Tax Reform, and CSPC.

The Sources

In addition to the studies, Horowitz and SAF depend largely on first-hand student accounts of professor abuse, unfair treatment, and attempts at "indoctrination" in the classroom. SAF were quick to draw attention to the case of a University of Northern Colorado student who claimed to have received a failing grade on her response to a final exam question asking students to "explain why President Bush is a war criminal." The student received an F when she turned in a paper on Saddam Huissen’s war-criminal status instead. However, in its reporting, SAF failed to give the name of the student or any exact details of the case. As Media Matters reported in March, 2005, many of the details of the case were misconstrued by Horowitz and the case was handled internally by the University system.

Academic Bill of Rights

The Colorado case did not deter Horowitz from pushing the so-called Academic Bill of Rights. ABOR has been earmarked as a "bipartisan" bill that aims to restore balance to the university system. The language of the bill itself is carefully bipartisan so as not to have any inherent biases of its own which might make it illegitimate. Among its statutes are fair treatment for all students regardless of political or religious beliefs as well as consideration of faculty for hiring, firing, and tenure without regard for those beliefs. Further points include the allocation of funds for guest speakers and student organizations in a balanced manner and "curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate." Roughly translated in the context of the bill’s authorship and political climate, the language can be deciphered as a means of ensuring that more dissenting (conservative) voices are heard on campus.

ABOR and ALEC

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), using much of Horowitz and SAF’s language, authored an ABOR as well as a model resolution on Academic Rights designed to be adopted by state legislatures. According to their website records, the ALEC Education Task Force met on April 30, 2004 to pass the model bill and resolution. It is worth noting here that in addition to ALEC’s overtly conservative agenda, according to their website the Education Task Force itself names among its Private Sector Members the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, Institute for Justice, K12, Microsoft, the National Soft Drink Association, and Standard & Poors. In SAF’s year-end report, it hopes "With the help of ALEC we expect the Academic Bill of Rights will be adopted by more than twenty states within the next year."

SAF Student Chapters

The SAF website currently boasts "The creation of over 150 chapters on college and university campuses across the country. Among the schools organized are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, Brown, UCLA, and Georgia Tech." No "grassroots" movement as it claims, SAF conveniently provides the astroturf for student activism to begin.

The SAF Handbook for the start-up of student chapters includes a section entitled "How to Research Faculty Party Affiliations (Using Voter Registration Records)." The specific directions state to research typically more liberal areas of study including English, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology for tenure and tenure-track professors. It asks that only one science or tech department also be investigated in the student report.

Among the other tools for SAF chapter outreach is a form letter to administrators demanding a clause and commitment to academic diversity (the letter claims, however, that students do not seek an "artificial balance"). It also provides strategies for aggregating student involvement including asking students enrolled in the following departments if they’ve experienced any inappropriate political bias: Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Bi/Gay/Lesbian Studies, American-Indian Studies, as well as politics, sociology, and history.

In addition to accumulating evidence of bias (the Handbook encourages students not to address individual instances immediately and instead gather the evidence to have a case against a certain professor), SAF also recommends taking concerns beyond the school itself. It states: "if your state is host to non-profit organizations or think tanks that are sympathetic to your concerns about academia, make sure to notify them every time a complaint is not quickly resolved."

Lobbying

Beyond connecting to think tanks, there is also a section in the SAF Handbook encouraging members to contact their state legislators to pass the Academic Bill of Rights. As a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3), the amount of time the organization is allowed to spend lobbying is limited. Thus SAF hurdles this obstacle by encouraging student chapters pick up the slack, designed to focus on lobbying for the passage of ABOR.

Contact information

National Office of Students for Academic Freedom
Attn: Sara Dogan
Students for Academic Freedom
1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-393-0123
Fax: 202-393-0123
Email:Sara AT StudentsforAcademicFreedom.org
Web: http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org

Also: Elizabeth Ruiz at 1-800-752-6562, extension 202.

Other SourceWatch resources

External links