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Table of Contents

The Academic Bill of Rights: Yea or Nay?

The Academic Bill of Rights - What is It?

It's My Right!...

Thelmo Resolution in Support of Civility, Free Speech and Dialogue

Is Tolerance Enough

If We Agree in Love

The Responsible Use of Freedom

Sticks and Stones...

What's Out There: Researching Academic Freedom

Alumni Accomplishments

The Kenya Connection

Laurentian Reviews

Table of Contents

It’s My Right!…
St. Lawrence is not the only place where arguments about free speech are heating up.

By Macreena A. Doyle

Record fines for broadcasters airing objectionable language, brawls spilling over from playing fields to spectators in the stands, increases in both the volume and vituperation exhibited on cable news stations and talk radio – could the framers of the Constitution have envisioned any of this when they voted to guarantee free speech?

Not surprisingly given the national environment, debate over free speech and its corollary – academic freedom – has also increased in recent years. Add to that the relatively new medium of Internet Web sites and it's easy to see why these topics have America's colleges and universities examining their policies.

The advent of the Internet is resulting in new exploration of established rules. According to the folks at Merriam-Webster, the most requested definition in its online service during the past year was the word "blog" (short for "Web log"). From politicians to pundits, attorneys to academicians and critics to just plain cranks, it seems that with the Internet, everyone has a worldwide forum in which to espouse their views.

At Johns Hopkins University, an effort called the Civility Initiative began in 1997, with a goal of assessing the significance of civility and manners in society. According to those involved, it's important to pay attention to any perceived decline in civility, because research has shown a link between incivility and violence.

What has caused an increase in incivility? Theories abound, including Civility Initiative Co-Founder P.M. Forni's; he has stated that an educational emphasis in the past 30 to 40 years on self-expression and the building of self-esteem has not been balanced by "an education in self-restraint."

Whatever its causes, campuses are feeling the effects. For example:

- Efforts are under way to establish, through federal legislation, what has been called an "Academic Bill of Rights." Based upon data purporting to show that Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in faculty positions, and citing official statements and principles of the American Association of University Professors, advocates of the Academic Bill of Rights would require universities to maintain political pluralism and diversity. This requirement is said to enforce the principle that "no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy should be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process." For a Laurentian discussion of this matter, see (forum article).

- In Colorado, higher education representatives went before the Legislature's Joint Education Committee, claiming that efforts to enforce the Academic Bill of Rights had led to "death threats" against professors and had a harmful effect on free speech.

- A Web site run by students at the University of California at San Diego regularly takes aim at everything from campus fashions and the student newspaper to the chancellor's monthly housing allowance. Unable to shut down the site through other means, the university's legal representatives are exploring whether they have a basis for arguing trademark infringement.

- Statements made on a Web log by a faculty member at the University of Bloomington,

including his opposition to hiring gay people as teachers, were ruled to be offensive, but protected under the First Amendment. Similar controversies have embroiled Northwestern University, Columbia University and the University of Duluth, among others.

Like its colleagues, St. Lawrence University has also had recent experience with these types of controversies. The “green wall” that surrounded the Student Center while it was under construction in 2003 became a medium for a variety of forms of self-expression – and was subsequently celebrated by some as such, while reviled by others. And in March 2004, the campus became embroiled in intense debate surrounding statements on the personal blog of a faculty member. Two issues surfaced: the content of the statement and the fact that he linked his blog to the University’s Web site. At the height of the fervor, President Daniel F. Sullivan and Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Grant H. Cornwell Jr. ’79 issued a campus-wide statement affirming that “the link…is within institutional policy, as an application of free speech,” and stating in part that “Teaching and learning require unfettered thought, inquiry, and expression. Our greatest hope is that the controversy…will, in the spirit of freedom of speech and inquiry to which we are so deeply committed, have produced real teaching and learning.”

So, in the national debates about civility, free speech, First Amendment rights and academic freedom, have the fundamental issues become obscured? Perhaps not. A recent survey of the readers of Parents magazine showed overwhelmingly that good manners are among the qualities that parents most want to instill in their offspring.

As St. Lawrence’s coordinator of media relations, Macreena Doyle gets to explain topics of campus culture to newspaper and TV reporters.


The Thelomathesian Society

Resolution in Support of Civility, Free Speech and Dialogue

Passed, November 9, 2004

While we urge professionalism and restraint in dialogue between groups particularly on sensitive issues, we also stress that politeness should never preempt upfront and decisive attacks on actions, literature, social structures or opinions which are racist, classist, sexist, (or) homophobic, as well as other forms of discrimination, as outlined in the student handbook. We, as the Thelomathesian Society, recognize that there exist differences between personal attacks on individuals and those on larger social structures or ideas, and advocate tolerance towards individuals and the free expression of opinions towards the latter. We also recognize that dealing with sensitive issues such as these can often times be uncomfortable and some degree of discomfort is necessary and useful in dealing with these injustices that plague our society and which we as a student body are dedicated to addressing.

Whereas the recognition of free speech is both supported and encouraged by the Thelomathesian Society, we affirm the rights of academic freedom and such speech so long as opinions expressed do not include personal attacks and do not constitute forms of discriminatory harassment as defined by, yet not limited to, University regulations;

And whereas we do not support attempts to undermine free speech, or personal
attacks that have been made on individuals in our community;

And whereas the Thelomathesian Society encourages civility and dialogue without said harmful actions;

Be It Resolved:
We, the Thelomathesian Society, expect all members of our campus community to
hold themselves to such civility and dialogue, and offer to serve in any capacity that will in turn encourage such civility and dialogue.

The Thelomathesian Society Executive Board
Peter S. Snedeker ’06, President
Alex R. Sheppard ’07, Vice President of University Relations
Adam W. Casler ’06, Vice President of Senate Affairs
Molly F. Ryan ’05, Secretary
Heather L. Thomas ’05, Student Delegate to the Board of Trustees
Saurabh Gupta ’05, SLUSAF Central Treasurer


“Is Tolerance Enough?”

Laurentian Leadership Weekend visitors were not the only ones talking about civil discourse last fall (see page xx); those whose careers play out on campus got into the act as well.

A “shop talk” (campus-speak for a seminar for the brainstorming of views on pedagogy) at the Center for Teaching and Learning attracted over three dozen faculty and staff to the topic “Is Tolerance Enough? Civility and Disagreement in the Classroom and Beyond.” They were presented with these questions: In an intellectual community, how do we best deal with disagreement over fundamental issues, both in the classroom and among colleagues? Are calls for increased “civility” just another way of avoiding conflict by sweeping it under the rug of politeness and “tolerance”? Do the values of academia demand engagement rather than tolerance? How do we remain open to the possibility of our own intellectual error such that we can genuinely learn from others? How do we create classroom spaces that forward these goals?

The questions provoked a lively hour of interchange – all of it civil. Overheard:

Civility does not always mean being nice. It means supporting equal participation. It means not just tolerance, but an obligation to engage all with respect. The closer connection we see today between people and ideas leads to more categorizing of people, and thus to more ad hominem attacks.

--Eve Stoddard, English/global studies

Do we treat students differently from how we treat each other? Do we hold students to different standards? How far does tolerance extend? Do we have an obligation to engage those who are disrespectful, or just to let them talk without engagement? New scholarship in racism, sexism and so on has made people defensive.

--Steve Horwitz, economics

It’s OK to criticize without being disparaging.

--Liz Regosin, history/academic advising

It’s possible to argue against Affirmative Action and not be racist – but you have an obligation to support and defend your position. We need to teach students--and ourselves--to distinguish “I’m right” discourse from “here’s my contribution to the exchange of ideas” discourse.

--Steve Horwitz

Students instinctively try to put moral values on each other’s views.

--Donna Alvah, history

Professors have to challenge those who claim the moral high ground, but do it even-handedly. Our students should expect that we will push them to defend and sharpen their arguments, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with what they say.

--Karl Schonberg, government

Critique is the highest form of respect, if one is engaging the issue and not the personality.

--Grant Cornwell, philosophy/academic dean

It’s human nature to associate the message with the messenger. This is part of the evolution of our ability to detect deception. If we are going to go against human nature and disassociate the two, we need etiquette – we need rules.

--Ron Sigmundi, psychology

Martin Luther King Jr. is a model for respectful interaction—even under relentless verbal and physical attack he called for civility, not rules.

--Rance Davis ’80, student life

We all need a stronger commitment to be less hostile, less angry.

--Pat Alden, English/international studies

We must have trust so discourse is benign, not virulent. Lack of trust leads to lack of civility.

--Kerry Grant, English

To achieve trust, it’s necessary to find commonality.

--Ron Sigmundi

This faculty doesn’t model trust.

--Mary Hussman, English/outdoor studies

We have lost the impulse to find common ground. We need to recover that impulse.


Most college students are at an age when they are going through profound changes, among the most important of which is learning to empathize and see the world from the perspective of others. As we work to help them do this, we should think carefully about the extent to which we push them to specialize in a particular academic field. We need to broaden their views, not narrow them, if we want them to find commonality.

--Karl Schonberg