Prof. Clemens and FIRE Bring Down a New-Age Loyalty Oath
September 14, 2000
MONTEREY, CA—In a resounding victory for freedom of conscience and academic freedom, with implications for countless campuses, Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) has eliminated Requirement #14 of its "Course Proposal Outlines." In doing so, it vindicated the rights of a courageous professor who stood tall for liberty. Requirement #14 forced all professors to address diversity and multiculturalism: "Include a description of how course topics are treated to develop a knowledge and understanding of race, class and gender issues." MPC did not count on David Clemens and FIRE.
Administrators at the California college had informed their faculty that Requirement #14 was mandated by the California Education Code. When this wholly false claim was exposed, Pat Lilley, Chair of the Curriculum Advisory Committee (CAC) pleaded with President Kirk Avery of MPC to keep the CAC's politicized notion of "diversity" as part of the standard course outline.
"Requirement #14 imposed one fashionable intellectual agenda, among many, reflecting a new orthodoxy on many campuses," said Thor Halvorssen, FIRE's Executive Director; "it created, in effect, a 'loyalty oath' as contrary to academic and intellectual freedom as one that asked how a course would address issues of Americanism, family values, and the bounty of capitalism."
Professor of English David Clemens led the battle against Requirement #14. Clemens refused to go along with the multicultural loyalty oath and submitted a course outline for his English 38—on literature, technology, and human nature—with an objection to the Requirement. His course was not approved by Lilley and the committee, which explained to him that correct teaching of certain texts must emphasize "sexist males." Clemens was then criticized and attacked by the administration (including letters in local newspapers). Undaunted, he contacted FIRE and let his colleagues know his views: "With this all-encompassing, coercive dictate, MPC stifles innovation, attacks academic freedom, and degrades instruction by forcing teachers to 'address' social issues which are not relevant to the subject matter they are teaching. This turns all classes into one vast sociology or cultural studies program."
FIRE mounted a campaign against Requirement #14 that included letters to administrators, trustees, and alumni. It argued the immorality of this politically correct loyalty oath, its violation of standard canons of academic freedom, and, in MPC's case, its unconstitutionality. Clemens, FIRE noted, was the object of two abuses: the College wished to dictate what sociological issues he must address in teaching literature; and it wished to force him to introduce materials that he believed irrelevant to his subject.
In response to Clemens's persistence and FIRE's campaign, the President of MPC's academic senate, on September 6, ruled that Requirement #14 was voluntary, and no longer would be a requirement for the adoption of any course.
"We are pleased that MPC has reconsidered its illiberal, immoral, and unconstitutional Requirement #14, restoring academic freedom to its faculty and students. Academic life does not create ideological fiefdoms from which to coerce dissidents or skeptics," Halvorssen said. FIRE's letters to the College trustees of this public institution reminded them of the Supreme Court's ruling in the landmark case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943): "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith [in it]."
"I am happy that no more teachers will have to conform to an intrusive and unbearable regulation;" Clemens wrote to FIRE; "Thank you for an eloquent and ringing defense of academic freedom."
Clemens has resubmitted his course proposal to the school with Requirement #14 left blank. It is a powerful silence that reflects a restoration of academic freedom and of the rights of free minds in a free society.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonprofit educational foundation. FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, the rights of conscience, and religious liberty on our campuses. FIRE's website, www.thefire.org, provides documentation of and links to the MPC case and explains FIRE's views of the assault on liberty and dignity in higher education.
Thor L. Halvorssen, FIRE: 215-717-3473,
David Clemens: 831-375-6491, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Lilley, Chair, Curriculum Advisory Committee:
Kirk Avery, President, Monterey Peninsula College:
Mark Clements, President, Academic Senate: