Academic Bill of Rights

Government Oversight of Teaching and Learning

With all freedoms come responsibilities. While participants in academic life have a right to retain and express (in appropriate venues) their beliefs and opinions, the AAUP holds that teachers and researchers are responsible “by example and practice, to abide by the best scholarly and ethical standards of their disciplines” as the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics says. Students, for their part, are responsible for “maintaining standards of academic performance established for each course in which they are enrolled” (Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedom of Students).

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. Colorado and Ohio legislatures worked out agreements with public colleges and universities to ensure that students were aware of their rights and existing grievance processes, and Pennsylvania decided to study the notion further by forming a committee to hold hearings across the state. The committee’s final report, released in November 2006, concluded that there is not a problem with Pennsylvania’s higher education system, and that universities have policies in place to handle any issues that may arise in the future.

The ABOR push has greatly lost steam; the number of states with introduced legislation has dropped dramatically. However, the issue is not dead.  A number of related bills using the phrase “intellectual diversity” pose similar challenges. Ten states introduced such legislation in 2007.

The AAUP has sharply criticized the so-called academic bill of rights as unnecessary and almost certain to compromise academic freedom rather than defend it. At their core, its measures would place decisions about faculty appointments and the content of academic programs in the hands of political officials, thereby jeopardizing not only the independence of faculty members and their institutions but also their capacity to advance knowledge and educate our students.

See more about Academic Bills of Rights in the Government Relations section of the AAUP website.

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