Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 6)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Academic Freedom

Policy 60 — Teachers' Freedom and Responsibility and Due Process in Higher Education

"Academic freedom and responsibility are the liberty and obligation to study, to investigate, to present and interpret, and to discuss facts and ideas concerning all branches and fields of learning."

The ACLU believes the only limits that should be imposed on academic pursuits are "standards of responsible scholarship." So it's not a question of what is discussed, or what is concluded, but how scholarship is carried out. Furthermore, teachers in higher education should be free to express themselves however they like as private citizens when not speaking for their institution. Loyalty oaths are specifically condemned.

"A teacher should be appointed solely on the basis of teaching ability and competence in the professional field, without regard to such factors as race, sex, nationality, creed, religious or political belief or affiliation, or behavior not demonstrably related to the teaching function." Same goes for advancement or dismissal. However, the ACLU does recognize the right of religious schools to discriminate by religious beliefs, so long as these criteria are narrowly defined and made public.

Teachers should be given an impartial hearing before they can be dismissed. There are several pages of details on due process in this area.

Rather than avoiding controversial issues or presenting them as if they are settled, teachers should teach about a variety of viewpoints and may identify their own position on the matter.

The ACLU approves of tenure, but not of tenure quotas.

Policy 61 — Academic Freedom in New Colleges

Standards of academic freedom should play a role in accreditation.

Policy 62 — Teachers' Rights in Primary and Secondary Education

Essentially the same as the rights of teachers in higher education, described above. There is a special mention of giving these teachers some autonomy in selecting supplemental materials, beyond standardized textbooks. (As opposed to being told exactly what to cover and no more.) And if parents complain about the "suitability of any material, out of concern for maturity level, morality, patriotism, literary merit, etc.," a "representative professional committee" should decide the matter.

Primary and secondary education teachers should not be subject to special behavioral rules in their personal lives.

Policy 63 — Academic Due Process for Graduate Students

A thesis rejection must be explained, to guard against rejection for "improper considerations" such as ideology rather than academic merit.

Policy 64 — Release of Information about Students

Teachers should be careful not to pass on the personal views of current or past students to government investigators or prospective employers, otherwise there will be a chilling effect on academic expression. The ACLU recommends teachers attach a standardized explanation that certain kinds of questions will not be answered, until outsiders get the message and stop asking.

The ACLU opposes making academic information available to selective service, since this can make grades "life and death" (literally!) and will encourage students to take easy classes to avoid being drafted.

Schools should keep no more records than necessary, and keep different kinds of information in separate files (academic, medical, disciplinary, etc.). "Disciplinary records should be destroyed upon graduation." Access to records should be regulated, and students must be able to view their own records.

Policy 65 — Administrators' Rights

Essentially the same rights to private expression and association as teachers.

Policy 66 — The University and Contract Research

Research money comes with the danger of outsider control. There are some guidelines here to keep outside parties out of the university's own domain, such as not meddling with promotions, not demanding loyalty tests, and not suppressing unliked research results.

Policy 67 — C.I.A. and the Academic Community

Secret research is acceptable, if the guidelines in Policy 66 are followed...which includes not keeping it a secret that secret C.I.A. research is going on.

University employees who recruit other employees for the C.I.A. must notify the university of this role. Potential recruits among the staff must give consent before being investigated, and gathered information must be destroyed if that person is not hired.

It harms international academic cooperation when the C.I.A. asks traveling academics to gather intelligence.

Policy 68 — Academic Freedom and Scientific Research

Scientific research may be restricted with regard to actions, but not with regard to exploring ideas.

[There is no Policy 69.]

Policy 70 — Federal Scholarships and Exchange Programs

Such scholarships and other financial aid must not be contingent on the private political beliefs and associations of students.

Policy 71 — College Students' Civil Liberties

The ACLU affirms the freedom to learn as a counterpart to the freedom to teach.

Admission standards should be clear, public, and fair. There is a note to see the policy about "Affirmative Action in Employment and Education," which I'll try to remember to number here when I reach that policy.

Care should be taken that audio and video recordings in the classroom don't "inhibit free and open discussion by teacher and student." All involved should be notified when recording is going on.

Representatives of the student body should at least be able to advise, if not actually vote on aspects of school administration.

Students should be able to form officially-recognized clubs without restraint and without being discriminated against for doing so. These clubs should not discriminate "on grounds of race, religion, color or national origin." When applying for official recognition, the names of officers may be presented, but the names of all members may not be required. Student organizations should be able to choose their own faculty advisor, or no advisor, if they wish.

Speakers brought in by student organizations are not implied to be endorsed by the university. The university should make this clear if complaints are made regarding an unpopular speaker. Nor are universities responsible for bringing in opposing viewpoints.

Student newspapers should be free from university control, even if funded by the university. If there is just one newspaper, it should include opposing viewpoints. Similar freedom for student radio, television, and other communication media.

General freedom of speech and association policies apply to university students, both on and off campus. Nor is it appropriate to limit the personal conduct of students.

Unless a university bars all career recruiters from campus, it can't fairly bar military recruiters.

Policy 72 — Sexual Harassment on College-University Campus

Schools should have policies against using academic rewards as sexual blackmail, and against related patterns of behavior that hinder the ability of students to learn.

Policy 72a — Free Speech and Bias on College Campuses

Free speech includes the freedom to make racist, sexist, and homophobic speech. The ACLU is against policies that restrict such speech, whether in private or in public.

Of course, if such speech is part of speech acts like "intimidating telephone calls, threats of attack, extortion and blackmail," then offenders may be held accountable for those acts as usual (but not the offensive content).

Schools do have a duty to ensure equal opportunity and teach against bigotry. The idea is to persuade people not to use such speech, not to restrict speech outright.

Policy 73 — Discrimination in Public Colleges

The ACLU opposes the involvement of state commissions in allegations of institutional discrimination in public colleges. This may be tempting, but once non-educators start making decisions about academic hiring and promotion, they may expand their control in undesirable ways. Best to leave this to the schools themselves and judicial review, when necessary.

"Moreover, it would be tragic indeed if the intervention of a state discrimination commission, real or threatened, led recruitment officers and committees to appoint or promote persons not simply on grounds of competence but on the basis of overt or covert religious 'quotas.'" (How does this square with the ACLU's current defense of affirmative action?)

Institutions of higher learning which receive public funds may not have any different admission or program requirements based on sex. Or offer governmental scholarships which depend on sex.

Policy 74 — Student Evaluation of Teacher Performance

Students may administer surveys on their own and publish results freely. Same goes for teachers conducting surveys in their own classes for feedback.

If surveys are used officially to measure job performance, they should not be relied upon more strongly than their design warrants. Teachers should have access to surveys about themselves, and be allowed to attach explanatory notes. Students should be notified that surveys are being used in this manner, and must be administered in a way that protects student identity.

Policy 75 — Compulsory Education

"The element of compulsion should lie in assuring the attainment of at least minimal levels of literacy in order to further preparation for effective citizenship and the transmission of democratic values, not in prescribing how those levels are to be attained." The ACLU therefore explicitly supports the option to home school (but does not believe parents who choose private or home schooling are entitled to vouchers or similar means of payment).

"Compulsory education of children generally should not be imposed in ways that contravene the religious liberties of parents and children[....]" That is, unless doing so is necessary to either "guarantee the health and safety of children" or "guarantee that the individual will be sufficiently educated to have the minimum competence to participate a a citizen, if he/she chooses, in the democratic governing process of the community."

Policy 76 — Secondary School Students' Civil Liberties

Generally, these are the same as for college students. Students should not be punished for things which aren't against clearly defined rules ("rule by law" vs "rule by personality" is mentioned here). Nor should students be punished for expressing unpopular ideas. Restrictions on speech are only appropriate when safety is a factor or teaching is disrupted. This freedom extends to students putting out newspapers, newsletters, etc. Students may also form official clubs for any lawful purpose, so long as they don't discriminate beyond the narrow "purpose of the organization" (the example given is French competence for a French club.)

Any kind of loyalty oaths "as a condition for enrollment, promotion, graduation, or financial aid" are strongly opposed.

"The school has no jurisdiction over its students' non-school activities." Even illegal activities should be off the table for school treatment of students, so long as they don't specifically concern educational activities.

Demonstrations are allowed, though schools may restrict time, place, and manner so as not to disrupt classes or cause a safety hazard. Students may distribute print material. They may also wear clothing which expresses membership in a group or support of a cause. Lockers may not be searched without probable cause and a prior description of what is being looked for.

"As long as a student's hair style, dress, or personal grooming does not, in fact, disrupt the educational process or constitute a threat to safety, it should be no concern of the school."

Policy 77 — Elementary School Students' Civil Liberties

Every child has the right to free, public, and non-discriminatory education. Non-discrimination includes guarding against passive stereotyping in educational materials and activities (such as sports education).

Students who don't understand English must be taught English and, meanwhile, be taught other subjects in a language they can understand now.

Though there are times when disabled children can't participate fully with other children, this should be kept to a necessary minimum rather than a broad segregation.

States have a duty to provide an equal education to all children, regardless of the wealth of the local tax base. National funding may be necessary to do the same for especially poor states. This doesn't necessarily mean the same dollar figure per child, as this goal can be substantially met by aiding schools most in need.

Student government should be implemented in a meaningful way from early on to prepare children as democratic citizens.

Elementary students — unlike high school and college students — are not likely to know when their rights are being violated and report it. Parents need to be informed to take such action on behalf of their children. "Parents are entitled to an opportunity for full and effective scrutiny of the character and quality of the education their children are receiving. They should have as full access to the school as is possible without substantial disruption of the school's work." And all parents should be able to influence school policy through "school board elections, public hearings, parent councils" etc.

Policy 77a — Classification and Tracking in Schools

Putting elementary students in separate "tracks" is a denial of equal opportunity. It often has the effect of magnifying and preserving racial, gender, and class stereotypes in the next generation. And even if it is supposedly a separation by ability, it becomes hard to fairly re-evaluate students later on.

If any sort of student classification is carried out, the ACLU has a checklist here involving things like making sure this arrangement is better for every student involved.

Policy 78 — Selection of School and Library Materials and Pressure Group Attacks

The ACLU promotes an "atmosphere of free inquiry and discussion" as an effective means of preparing students for citizenship.

Instructional materials covering a range of ideas and political viewpoints should be available in the library and used in classes. Instead of trying to keep all controversy out of schools, a fair and balanced array of views should be available. For example, it is appropriate to have materials about religious views, so long as they're not being used to indoctrinate students in a particular religious view.

Educators have a duty to promote this diversity of ideas, even against objections that some ideas are: "un-American," "communistic," "obscene" or "irreverent." The ACLU pledges to support such educators. "But the ACLU also recognizes the right of parents and students to some measure of protection from compulsory use of instructional materials which they believe assault religious and moral beliefs."

Library materials should be selected by librarians to reflect "pluralistic society" and all its controversies. School boards may not ban or remove such materials.

Parents and other community members have the free speech rights to complain about materials. Schools should have well-defined procedures for accepting any official complaints, then review requests for withdrawal publicly, and settle the matter in a timely fashion. The material may not be taken off the shelf during this procedure. "Objection to the particular language or viewpoint of material cannot be justification for the exclusion of classroom or library material."

Policy 79 — ROTC

ROTC programs must be voluntary and must be taken for credit only when under the control of a non-ROTC educator. Regular principles of academic freedom apply to students involved.

The ACLU opposes Junior ROTC programs in high schools as being "inconsistent with the primary objectives of secondary school education."

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