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Academic Freedom

President Bush has repeatedly claimed that the goal of his foreign policy is to spread freedom around the world. Unfortunately, his administration has failed to adequately protect an important liberty: academic freedom.

Across the globe, professors and students are facing more and more governmental interference with institutions of higher education. We recently learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has consolidated state control over the public university system and will now appoint major administrative officials. The Russian president has been roundly criticized for repeatedly encroaching on democratic freedoms. This move is just the latest in a campaign to increase the power of his government.

Unfortunately, the current administration has not taken a strong stand against Putin's anti-democratic initiatives. President Bush actually praised Putin and declared that he "was able to get a sense of his soul" during a brief meeting with the Russian leader. Bush has gently prodded Putin on human rights issues, but has never publicly brought up academic freedom. As a result, the Russian leader has aggressively curtailed the rights of students and professors.

Unfortunately, President Bush and his conservative allies have been more focused on purging liberal faculty from public universities than the worldwide decline in academic freedom.

Russia isn't the only country that has seen reductions in the freedoms enjoyed by educators. In Cambodia, a professor was fired and arrested for simply authoring a book that criticized the government. The book wasn't even published-the Cambodian government got a hold of an advance copy and prevented the book from ever going to press. Sadly, President Bush has remained silent. His administration clearly has no plan to deal with increasing threats to academic freedom around the world.

Unfortunately, most of President Bush's attempts to encourage the expansion of democratic freedom have backfired. In Iraq, academics have been under severe pressure due to the ongoing violence amid occupation. The American Association of University Professors and the Middle East Studies Association have repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration for failing to protect academic freedom. Iraqi educators are routinely harassed and sometimes killed for their political views.

Iraq's decent into civil war and chaos has had a huge impact on young people. Iraqi youth are often the target of suicide bombers and other terrorist attacks. The Iraqi Education Ministry estimated that at least 64 students have been killed in just a two month period. Most were killed by sectarian violence that targeted schools. Young people cannot be expected to learn in such a violent environment. President Bush's failure to provide basic security for Iraqi students has been a major blow to academic freedom.

The Bush Administration's policies have failed to protect academic freedom in places other than Iraq. President Bush has isolated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahaminejad and provoked a reactionary backlash. The Iranian government has declared war on liberal professors and is urging radical student activists to purge the universities. Although the stated policy of the U.S. is to promote democracy in Iran, the actual results have yielded a decline in liberty for academics.

The Bush Administration needs to start paying attention to this serious problem. Currently, there is no formal governmental body charged with protecting the freedom and autonomy of academics across the globe. This needs to change. President Bush should work with organizations like Human Rights Watch, the Scholars at Risk Network, and the American Association of University Professors to establish a formal commission charged with developing a plan to protect academic freedom around the globe.

Unfortunately, President Bush and his conservative allies have been more focused on purging liberal faculty from public universities than the worldwide decline in academic freedom. Organizations such as "Student for Academic Freedom" have made a cottage industry out of attacking academia for an alleged liberal bias. Conservatives should spend more time worrying about educational liberty across the globe if they are serious about fostering democracy.

The free exchange of ideas is an essential part of any open society. President Bush's agenda of promoting freedom across the globe cannot succeed without protecting academic freedom. An independent educational establishment helps promote democratic reforms. After all, intellectuals are almost always at the forefront of progressive social movements. If President Bush is serious about spreading freedom around the world, he needs to get serious about protecting academic freedom.

Ben Waxman is a student at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. His blog is http://benwaxman.blogspot.com.