We have reason to believe, moreover, that the dozens of cases involving human sexuality that AFCON has addressed in recent years are just the tip of the iceberg that chills education about sexuality throughout Nebraska.
Implicit in most efforts to restrict discussion of sexuality is a widely-shared assumption that human sexuality is special in ways that render standard principles of academic freedom irrelevant.
We see no justification for this view. In this statement we apply general principles of academic freedom to seven overlapping areas of concern with regard to sexuality and academic freedom.
Sexuality within the Curriculum Issues of sexuality are important in psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, history, literature, law, and other fields and should be presented and discussed in many areas of the curriculum at all levels of education.
The specific content of various areas of the curriculum at various levels of education should be determined by teachers and other professionals on the basis of academic considerations. In responding to challenges, administrators and school boards should explain and support justifiable curricular decisions and should educate their constituencies about the educational importance of an inclusive curriculum and the critical role of respect for academic freedom.
Teaching Sexual Responsibility In addition to teaching about sexuality in various curricular areas, many educational institutions attempt to promote sexual responsibility in students. Recognizing the diversity in beliefs and values among parents and cultures, and respecting the present and future autonomy of students, education for sexual responsibility should not be a program to indoctrinate students in specific sexual beliefs and values.
Rather, education for sexual responsibility should provide accurate information and encourage students to formulate--and act on the basis of--justifiable beliefs and values of their own. Of particular concern in recent years have been abstinence-only curricula and associated regulations aimed at restricting education about birth control. Students should indeed be informed that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
In deliberately and systematically omitting other relevant information, however, abstinence-only curricula are inconsistent with the goal of encouraging students to formulate, and act on the basis of, justifiable beliefs and values of their own.
Student Freedom of Belief and Expression Students have a right to believe whatever they believe about matters of sexuality and to maintain or change their views as they deem appropriate. Educational institutions may present alternative views but may not require belief in those views.
Students have a right to express their views even if those views are deemed inconsistent with what the school is trying to communicate. Students may be evaluated and graded with regard to their understanding of curricular material but not on the basis of their agreement with particular viewpoints.
A student in a psychology class argues that gays can be "cured" through psychotherapy. The instructor may tell the class that most psychologists disagree with this view and may explain the evidence against it, but the student should not be ridiculed or penalized for maintaining this view.
Some educational contexts, such as school libraries and school newspapers, provide a forum for students to pursue topics of their own.
Such topics should not be restricted simply because they may create controversy. The school may, however, clarify its nonendorsement of views and values that it does not hold. A student writes an article about gay teens for the high school newspaper. The article is deemed by the advisor to meet all journalistic standards but the principal is concerned that it will be controversial and may jeopardize financial support for the school.
The principal should not censor the article but may require the school newspaper routinely to publish a disclaimer explaining that the paper is a forum for student expression and that views expressed within it are not necessarily those of the school. Freedom of Inquiry Sexuality is no less legitimate than any other field of inquiry. It is not consistent with academic freedom to set special restrictions on inquiry with regard to sexual topics.
Of particular concern in recent years have been regulations liimiting access to sexual materials on the internet. Academic institutions must recognize sexuality as a legitimate academic topic. Restrictions on the use of computer facilities must be based on written policies that reflect genuine academic priorities in the allocation of scarce resources. Such restrictions, if any, must be viewpoint-neutral and must be enforced consistently with regard to all topics, not just sexuality.
A school library allows students to use a bank of computers to access the Internet but restricts access to pornographic sites. This restriction is inconsistent with a commitment to academic freedom. Simply applying the subjective label "pornography" to sexual ideas and materials that some deem objectionable does not justify special limits on freedom of inquiry with regard to matters of sexuality.
A school library allows students to use a bank of computers to access the Internet but posts a notice limiting each student to 20 minutes if other students are waiting for access to a computer. This limitation is neutral with regard to topics and viewpoints and is thus a legitimate restriction on the use of a scarce resource.
Sexual Harassment Individuals have a right to believe whatever they choose about matters of sexuality and to express their views even if those views are deemed offensive or otherwise objectionable. We have seen numerous cases in which broadly- and vaguely-worded sexual harassment policies effectively create a right not to be offended with regard to sexual matters. It is inconsistent with academic freedom to limit freedom of expression to the expression of ideas that will not be deemed offensive.
We see no reason why sexuality requires a special exception to the right to hold and express ideas that others find offensive. Harassment, strictly defined, is a pattern of actions specifically directed against a particular individual with the intent of humiliating, intimidating, or otherwise harming that individual.
Thus defined, harassment is not protected by norms of academic freedom regardless of the sexual content of any ideas that may be expressed as part of the act of harassment. A student in the course of class discussion expresses the view that homosexuality is sinful and disgusting, whereupon a second student claims that the views of the first are stupid and offensive. Each student has a right to hold and express his or her view. Teachers may and should encourage civil discussion, but must not use censorship to require this.
A student repeatedly targets another student with epithets that the second clearly finds upsetting, even after being asked to stop. This is an act of harassment whether or not the epithets are sexual. Equal Opportunity All members of an academic community have a right to enjoy the benefits of academic freedom regardless of their actual or perceived sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
Teachers and administrators must not discriminate on the basis of such characteristics and should encourage students to respect each other in this regard.
Expressing a view that members of certain demographic groups find offensive is not in itself an act of discrimination, even if the expression is sexual in content. Although sexual harassment regulations are typically intended to protect women, our experience has been that broadly- and vaguely-worded sexual harassment regulations are routinely used against the most vulnerable members of an academic community, including women and sexual minorities.
As discussed above, acts of harassment may and should be forbidden, but harassment must be strictly defined so that it does not include the mere expression of offensive sexual ideas.
Sexual Orientation Several of the examples used in this policy statement involve sexual orientation. This reflects the reality that a large proportion of the complaints and concerns that come to our attention involve sexual orientation. The fact that issues of sexual orientation are controversial in our society does not justify censorship.
On the contrary, recognizing that the urge to restrict intellectual freedom is always strongest with regard to controversial matters, school authorities should be especially vigilant in protecting intellectual freedom with regard to matters of sexual orientation. Queries may be directed to: