« Victory for Freedom of Conscience as University of Minnesota Backs Away from Ideological Screening for Ed Students | Main | COI Policy Fiasco Coninues at the University of Minnesota »

Text of Rotenberg Letter to FIRE

pdf of this material

Office of the General Counsel 360 McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak Street S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Office: 612-624-4100
Fax: 612-626-9624
December 21, 2009

Mr. Adam Kissel, Director
Individual Rights Defense Program
Foundation for Individual Rights of Education
250 West 57thSt., Suite 1830
New York, NY 10107

Dear Mr. Kissel:

President Bruininks has asked me to respond to your letter concerning the Teacher
Education Redesign Initiative ("TERI") at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development ("CEHD").

The University takes seriously the concerns you have expressed, and respects your
organization's stated mission to defend individual rights on our country's college campuses. Our University Board of Regents Policy on Academ:ic Freedom and Responsibility for many decades has enshrned the principle of academic freedom for all members of our academic community, a freedom that includes the opportnity to "discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University."

Many of the fears you expressed in your letter are based on an unfortnate misunderstanding of the facts. Let me state them plainly. Neither the University nor CEHD has adopted or implemented any "new policies" discussed in the particular TERI task force report submitted in July 2009 from which you quoted extensively. The task force report at issue was one of seven separate task force reports; none of them has been adopted as CEHD policy, nor is there any commitment by CEHD to adopt all the myrad faculty ideas contained in the various reports. Far from articulating CEHD or University policy, the various task group reports reflect the creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement. CEHD created TERI for the purpose of re-exploring the designs of our teacher education programs and involved more than 50 faculty members and Minnesota educators in the initiative. CEHD Dean Jean Quam has characterized the various task group reports as "faculty brainstorming" on how best to accomplish this currcular redesign. As reflected in our Regents Policy, the University considers it essential that both "teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding...." Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957) (plurality op.).

No University policy or practice ever wil mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out
people with "wrong beliefs" from the University. To the contrary, as Dean Quam repeatedly has emphasized, an essential component of CEHD's currculum initiative wil be to expand - not restrict - the horizons of future teachers. CEHD's commitment in this regard was recognized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in its 2006 evaluation of the College, which praised CEHD for "exposing candidates to a diversity of ideas and viewpoints," and for "respecting the variability of race/ethnicity, nationality, culture, language, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, and human potentia1."

Consistent with these observations, it is also clear that the CEHD faculty has the right -
indeed, a duty - to engage in creative thinking, dialogue, and advocacy with respect to a broad range of ideas for improving P-12 education. Surely FIRE can acknowledge and support the right of our faculty to engage in a robust exchange of viewpoints and proposals to this end, including controversial proposals and perspectives that may well require further refinement in the coming months. Academic freedom means little if our teaching faculty is inhibited from discussing and proposing currculum innovations simply because others find them "iliberal" or "unjust."

In view of the nature of the teacher's relation to the effective exercise of the rights which are safeguarded by the Bil of Rights and by the Fourteenth Amendment, inhibition of freedom of thought, and of action upon thought, in the case of teachers brings the safeguard of those amendments vividly into operation. Such unwarranted inhibition upon the free spirit of teachers ... has an unmistakable tendency to chil that free play of the spirit which all teachers ought especially to cultivate and practice....
Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 487 (1960) (quoting Wieman v. UpdegrajJ 344 U.S. 183, 185 (1952) (Frankfurter, J. concurrng).

Inevitably, choices must be made.about what to teach, and how to teach, our University
students. Those currcular choices are made by our faculty on an individual and collective basis throughout all of our many campuses, colleges, and academic departments. Such choices, and the deliberative processes (like the TERI task forces) from which those choices emerge, are broadly protected by principles of academic freedom, principles that lie at the heart of American higher education. Rest assured that the University of Minnesota wil protect and defend those principles.

Mark B. Rotenberg
General Counsel

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)