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Students & Parents | Freedom of Expression

For Academic-Freedom, Against Speech Codes

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION   |  January 23, 2009 by Peter Schmidt

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, generally does not see eye to eye with critics who say college campuses are hotbeds of political correctness and liberal indoctrination. This month, when he debated Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars at the NAS annual conference in Washington, over the meaning of academic freedom, both came out swinging.

Mr. Nelson repeatedly characterized the scholars’ association as threatening professors’ freedom to teach, while Mr. Wood accused the faculty group of showing far too little concern for the plight of students who get bad grades or face discipline based on their political views.

In the subsequent question-and-answer session, however, Mr. Nelson seemed downright sympathetic with others when it came to the subject of campus speech codes. Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, asked him whether the AAUP could move beyond disagreements with organizations like hers and work with them. Mr. Nelson replied that his group would be willing to work with hers to fight speech codes.

In a later interview, Mr. Nelson said he saw speech codes as such an affront that offering to join others in fighting them was an easy call. “One of the reasons you collaborate is to win,” he said. “I want to knock out speech codes.”

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