I am reporting this press release about an alleged academic freedom case in Red Oak, Iowa. I have not been able to find any corroboration of the case. However, I have a reasonable trust for Common Dreams and the details given of the case are credible to me given my own experiences and those of others I am aware of. If the facts of this case are true, it is disturbing. Also disturbing is the lack of public interest in such cases.
Here is an excerpt from a press release posted on Common Dreams:
Steven C. Bitterman had been an adjunct faculty member in the history department of Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa since 2001, teaching Western Civilization at least three times. No complaints had been made against him by students or faculty until September 2007. When some students, taking his class via closed-circuit television, objected to Bitterman saying that the biblical story of Adam and Eve shouldn’t be taken literally, they alleged that this and other statements belittled their religion. He later responded in an interview in "Community College Week," published October 8, 2007, saying, "I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn’t given any more credibility than any other god."
On September 20, 2007, Bitterman was fired. In an October 11 letter he called upon the college to publicly commit to the principle of academic freedom by acknowledging "that all ideas and beliefs are open to critical assessment in the classroom by both instructors and students." The attorney for the college responded on October 19, declaring, in part:
"First and foremost, the College understands and adheres to the principles of academic freedom in the governance of its instructors. All instructors at Southwestern Community College, both full-time and adjunct, are given the freedom to present the material for which they are responsible in the manner of their choosing. Consistent with sound principles of academic instruction, all instructors are expected to select methods of presentation which are educationally effective and which respect the rights and interests of students."
This was followed by negotiations that resulted in the settlement that has now become final. By agreement of the parties, the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
"I’m satisfied with this settlement and pleased that this dispute didn’t have to go further or take longer," Bitterman said. "As I’d indicated in the beginning, handling matters in this way is preferable."
Bitterman’s attorney, Brad Schroeder of Des Moines, Iowa, stated he was appreciative of the widespread support his client has received from members of the academic community. "That support certainly helped facilitate this resolution," he said. "We feel our concerns have been addressed."
The case is strongly reminiscent of what happened to me in 2005 when a college administrator attempted to terminate me because I refused her demands that I be biased in favor of one religious ideology in my courses. I strongly suspect that similar incidences of religious bullying happen throughout the country. David Horowitz, (he of "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week fame) is the leading proponent of students attempting to force colleges into ideological cleansing. The "complaint" of the students sounds eerily like what Horowitz advocates.
The Horowitz agenda is to remove from education any neutrality or openness; nothing but adherence to the ideologies of right-wing politics and protestant fundamentalism is permissible. It is what John K. Wilson called Patriotic Correctness, which was the original "political correctness." Some colleges are susceptible to being bullied into restricting their curricula and muzzling their teachers. If the facts alleged in the press release are true, then Southwestern Community College allowed itself to be intimidated by these ideological bullies. Their claim as reported in the press release about its commitment to academic freedom is hopefully more than just words. Academic freedom should be a crucial ingredient of any college's excellence and that freedom is proven in actions, not just press statements.
As I mentioned in the Intro, I heard nothing about this case until it was settled but that does not surprise me. There is no available network to publicize and solicit support for academic freedom cases. The media, even the alternative media, ignores breaches of academic freedom. Even most Progressives remain ignorant or apathetic about violations of academic freedom and few progressive groups ever take up the cause for academic freedom. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is not a "sexy" issue - no technology involved, no money, oil, or blood involved. Sexy or not, intellectual and academic freedom is a huge and important issue.
If teachers are not free to teach and students not free to ask questions because they fear retaliation from forces outside the classroom, then education becomes indoctrination. This is what the right-wing wants and is actively attempting to achieve. This may be the second and last Internet post about the Bitterman case. It may get no recommendations and no comments. That would be sadly typical of the public apathy toward the issue of academic freedom. Meanwhile, college professors everywhere have threats to academic freedom as part of their reality. Prof. Bitterman was fortunate to find some people willing to help him fight back.
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