By CS Staff · April 27, 2009
Off-campus groups have drawn attention after attempting to prevent President Barack Obama from delivering the University of Notre Dame’s commencement address. The university’s president stood by the school’s invitation to Obama.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has issued a press release outlining the policies and practices regarding outside speakers on campuses.
General Secretary Gary Rhoades of the AAUP issued the following press release:
Recent weeks have witnessed an increasing number of attempts by groups ranging across the ideological spectrum to prevent various speakers from addressing campus audiences. Among those speakers have been biologist Richard Dawkins, education professor William Ayers, political scientist Norman Finkelstein, and Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu. Perhaps no attempt to ban a speaker has drawn more attention than the effort by off-campus groups to prevent President Barack Obama from delivering this year’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.
The American Association of University Professors applauds Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins for standing firm on the university’s decision to invite President Obama and for exemplifying by his actions the words of his predecessor, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who stated unequivocally that “the Catholic university must have true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” The opportunity to be confronted with diverse opinions is at the core of academic freedom, which is vital to a free society and a quality education. The AAUP will continue to work to ensure such academic freedom.
The AAUP has long opposed the rescinding of invitations to outside speakers as an infringement of the academic freedom of students and faculty members. The Association first took action on this subject in 1957, after the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities issued a list of “radical and/or revolutionary speakers” such as Jessica Mitford, Linus Pauling, and Benjamin Spock, and colleges and universities repeatedly canceled their appearances.
In 1983, after several disruptive campus incidents and threats of violence surrounding scheduled speeches by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure published a statement On Issues of Academic Freedom in Interference with Invited Speakers This was followed by a joint statement, Invited Speakers and Academic Freedom—A Call to Action issued by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and three national student organizations.
In 2005, the Association issued its most recent statement on the subject, Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers, to address challenges to academic freedom when institutions claim “an inability to guarantee the safety of outside speakers, or the lack of balance represented by the invitation of a college or university group, or the danger that a group’s invitation might violate Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.” In its 2005 statement, the Association laid out its basic policy on invited speakers. It articulated these fundamental principles:
- Many colleges and universities permit student and faculty groups to issue their own invitations to outside speakers. That practice is an important part of academic freedom and institutions should respect it.
- When an authorized faculty or student group invites an outside speaker, the institution is not thereby expressing its approval or disapproval of the speaker or what the speaker has said, or will say.
- Colleges are free to announce that they do not officially endorse a speaker or the views a speaker expresses, but they should not cancel a speech because people on campus or in the community either disagree with its content or disapprove of the speaker.
- Institutions should ensure that all legitimately invited speakers can express their views and that open discussion can take place.
- Only “in the most extraordinary circumstances” may invitations be canceled out of concern for safety.
Some recent controversies regarding external speakers on campus offer a new variation on a longstanding theme. Security concerns and their associated costs have been cited as a reason for suggesting that such anticipated costs should be paid by the group inviting the speaker, or in at least one case that the speaker should pay liability insurance or indemnify the university. The American Association of University Professors opposes such practices. As noted in the 2005 statement, “We have always been clear that the colleges and universities bear the obligation to ensure conditions of peaceful discussion, which at times can be quite onerous.” That obligation includes the responsibility to bear the costs involved.
The AAUP strongly opposes the practice of invoking security concerns as well as other concerns in response to protests and threats and subsequently rescinding invitations to speakers. Such claims provide an all-too-easy pretext for capitulating to outside pressure. Such practices allow threats and intimidation to exercise a veto over academic freedom.
As the 2005 statement on “Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers” asserts, denying campus groups the right to hear outside speakers “contradict[s] the basic educational mission of colleges and universities.” The AAUP thereby reiterates its core principle: “the freedom to hear is an essential condition of a university community and an inseparable part of academic freedom.”
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