Home sweet home (or liberal professors, beware)

I’ve been suffering from severe Florida nostalgia lately. (I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the way I’ve spent my free time for the last ten days.)

From a distance, the state is a grand, sunny place, home to many wonderful people. It’s easy to forget that approximately two-thirds of its residents — among them Dennis Baxley, the education leader of the Florida House — are crazier than shithouse rats.

Baxley recently proposed a “student academic freedom” bill similar to those being shopped around college campuses nationwide by conservative David Horowitz. If passed, the bill would enable conservative students to sue professors who teach “controversial matter.” According to the bill’s preamble:

Students have a right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom . . . that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.

A St. Pete Times editorial highlights the myriad implementation issues raised by the bill:

Presumably, Baxley would summon Horowitz to campuses to decide which matters are “controversial” and serve “no legitimate pedagogical purpose.” Or maybe Baxley, an Ocala funeral director, plans to leave all that to the lawyers, as aggrieved students end up suing their professors for impolitic remarks. Think neurosurgeons have a hard time getting malpractice insurance? Wait until professors can be sued by students who are offended by the notion that George Washington was a great president.

You might think Baxley and his ilk would see reason when presented with the George Washington example. But, actually, no.

At Bookslut, Michael Schaub points to an article presenting a similarly unpalatable hypothetical actually posed to Baxley. It doesn’t seem to unsettle him in the least:

At the hearing, Gelber asked Baxley if it was true that his bill would give legal standing to students who wanted their courses to include Scientology or refute the Holocaust.

“Well, freedom is a dangerous thing, isn’t it?” Baxley answered. “You might hear some things you didn’t want to hear. You might get exposed to something you can’t control … [Academic freedom] is not just to protect leftist views.”

Huh? Insisting on the reality of the Holocaust is leftist? It’s leftist to want medical schools to actually teach medicine?

In his criticism of the bill yesterday, Paul Krugman mentioned Scientific American‘s “Okay, we give up,” an April Fool’s Day spoof editorial

in which [the magazine] apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution just because it’s “the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time,” saying that “as editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.” And it conceded that it had succumbed “to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do.”

The editorial was titled “O.K., We Give Up.” But it could just as well have been called “Why So Few Scientists Are Republicans These Days.” Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans.

Beyond the bill, Representative Baxley has suggested that he might withhold funding from the University of Florida and other state universities if their policies fail to conform to his views. In late February, U.F.’s student newspaper quoted Baxley as saying:

When I see things like UF rushing to have the first coordinator for gay and lesbian academia, it makes it difficult for me to come up here and support giving more taxpayer dollars to institutions with these kinds of values.


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