Describing itself as a coalition of “student, faculty and civil liberty organizations,” Free Exchange on Campus (FEC) defined its mission as “advocating for the rights of students and faculty to hear and express a full range of ideas unencumbered by political or ideological interference.”
FEC was co-founded in 2006 by the American Association of University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, Campus Progress (a project of the Center for American Progress), the Center for Campus Free Speech, the National Education Association’s Student Program, People For the American Way (and its “Young People For” program), and the United States Student Association.
FEC was created solely to oppose the efforts of one individual, conservative author David Horowitz, who had recently initiated a campaign to persuade universities to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR). This ABOR sought to: (a) prevent professors from politically or ideologically indoctrinating their students in the classroom; (b) promote a classroom “environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech”; (c) protect professors and students alike from being punished for their political views or ideas; and (d) “expose students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses.”
According to FEC, the Academic Bill of Rights was unjustifiably “premised on an argument that professors presenting new or controversial ideas will ‘indoctrinate’ students or make the classroom so uncomfortable that students aren’t able to learn.” “ABOR proponents claim to want to protect college students from political, religious and ideological interference,” said FEC. “Students are far smarter and more capable than ABOR’s proponents give them credit for, and ABOR would restrict the free exchange of ideas they need to learn.”
Another top priority for FEC was to denounce David Horowitz’s 2006 book The Professors, which spotlighted what it called “several disturbing patterns of university life,” including: the “promotion [of professors] far beyond [their] academic achievement”; professors “teaching subjects outside [their] professional qualifications and expertise for the purpose of political propaganda”; professors “making racist and ethnically disparaging remarks in public without eliciting reaction by university administrations, as long as those remarks are directed at unprotected groups, e.g., Armenians, whites, Christians and Jews”; and “the overt introduction [by professors] of political agendas into the classroom and the abandonment of any pretense of academic discipline or scholarly inquiry.”
FEC launched its first campaign on March 16, 2006, to coincide with the publication of Horowitz’s book. By FEC’s telling, Horowitz’s depictions of leftwing bias in higher education “bea[r] no resemblance to what college faculty and staff see in their work as professionals on campus.” Added the coalition:
“By every reasonable measure, America’s colleges and universities are considered the most diverse, challenging, and successful higher education institutions in the world. Higher education faculty members are trained professionals who bring a great variety of scholarly viewpoints to the classroom based on their disciplinary knowledge…. ABOR … seem[s] not only unnecessary and insulting to the competency of college faculty, but even downright dangerous to their ability to perform their job.”
Most of FEC’s member groups were extremely well-funded and thus were able, in turn, to ensure that their overall coalition was financially sound. Below is a comprehensive list of these member groups. In parentheses, next to the name of each organization for which financial information was available, is a dollar figure indicating the its total assets during (in most cases) the 2006-07 time period:
FEC has been largely inactive since 2007.
Further Reading: “Academic Bill of Rights” (Students For Academic Freedom); The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (by David Horowitz, 2006, Regnery Publishing, p. xxiii).