At DuPage College – a community college outside of Chicago – the board has recently proposed a policy change that would give far more power to the board of trustees. This would influence “such questions as the future of the curriculum, the role of the student newspaper, how outside speakers should be selected, and so forth“. And, perhaps most significantly, the board is pushing towards a policy similar to David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights.”

Veronica Schukin, a student at the College of DuPage, takes part in a silent protest by students outside the college's board meeting Thursday. The students were opposed to possible student policy changes that they believe would effectively silence their collective voice on campus. (Tyler Stoffel/Special to The Sun)

From “Power Grab at DuPage

Many of the 230 planned changes in policy are indeed noncontroversial. But amid all the routine updates are changes that stunned faculty members. Indeed, DuPage is probably not the only college where professors would object if what was billed as a routine updating of board rules ended up including the Academic Bill of Rights.

From “Government Oversight of Teaching and Learning” from the American Association of University Professors*:

In the United States, neither teachers nor students are responsible to the government for the content of their teaching or learning.

But since 2004, nearly two dozen state legislatures have considered legislative proposals challenged the fundamental concept that higher education in the United States is and should be free of government control or interference. No state has approved the so-called Academic Bill of Rights, which would involve the state and/or federal government in oversight of curricula and teaching, and faculty hiring and promotion in both public and private institutions of higher education.

The policy proposed at DuPage would “mirrors the Academic Bill of Rights […] and faculty members say that they were not told that the board wanted to include this measure”. In a letter from the faculty association to the board, the association notes:

The Academic Bill of Rights supporters apparently hope that the bill will give elected officials the power to dictate, for example, whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution in college biology. Let us be clear: The faculty supports teaching conflicting views on a subject where those views are supported by sufficient evidence. But it is the responsibility of college professors, who are trained experts in their fields, to evaluate that evidence. It’s not the job of politicians…. Given the controversial nature of ABOR and its lack of acceptance in Illinois, it’s especially troubling that the Board would try to use a revision in Board policies to impose it … without due debate or consideration.

Student’s expression is also under threat under this policy, which would give the board the power to approve or reject visiting speakers, influence the planning of speaking events, and give the college president control of the content of the school newspaper.  A letter from the Student Press Law Center*, notes that this power shift seems to be in response to criticism of the board of trustees in the paper, and that under Illinois College Campus Press Act, enforcing this policy would “[consititute] a violation of students’ free-speech rights.”

*American Association of University Professors and Student Press Law Center are participating organizations of the National Coalition Against Censorship.