NEW PALTZ — Roger W. Bowen, president of the State University of New York at New Paltz, will be honored this weekend by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) when they present him with their prestigious Alexander Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom. The award, established in 1958, is given to a college or university president or governing board in recognition of an outstanding contribution to academic freedom. Bowen, the nineteenth recipient of the Meiklejohn Award, will be honored at the AAUP’s eighty-fourth annual meeting on June 13 in Washington, D.C.
The award was established by former faculty members and students of the Experimental College of the University of Wisconsin, which Dr. Meiklejohn had founded. With more than 44,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the country, the AAUP is the only national organization exclusively serving the interests of college and university faculty members.
A regional conference titled “Revolting Behavior: The Challenges of Women’s Sexual Freedom,” sponsored by the Women’s Studies program at SUNY New Paltz during the fall 1997 semester became the focus of controversy and debate. The events that followed and Bowen’s response to them were cited by the AAUP as reasons for honoring the SUNY New Paltz president.
The AAUP announcement of the award states:
“New York Governor George E. Pataki joined Trustee Candace de Russy and other critics in denouncing the conference and President Bowen. Pataki framed the debate around the cost of taxpayers, not freedom of speech. “Refusing to bow to political pressure, President Bowen responded that free speech was the issue, not taxpayer money, and said critics were attempting to curb debate on campus. ‘This boils down to a simple principle of the First Amendment,’ Bowen said. ‘Public or private, a university should provide a forum to present, discuss, and debate things. If you can’t have groups on the margin here, where can you have them?’ Bowen did add that, while he personally found some views expressed on campus offensive and disagreeable, he felt bound by the time-honored tradition of free expression of controversial subjects within higher education. “A New York Times editorial supported Bowen’s stance, writing that ‘any university that explores intellectual frontiers will inevitably raise hackles from some part of the political or ideological spectrum. The role of a responsible governor is to defend academic freedomand defuse the controversy it sometimes arouses….A punitive strike against Mr. Bowen would have a chilling effect on academic freedom in the SUNY system.’ “Governor Pataki next directed the chair of SUNY’s board of trustees to investigate the incident. The review panel upheld Bowen’s decision to allow the conference on campus. The report said, ‘To permit the presence of public tax support to impose limitations on academic freedom would imperil at almost all postsecondary institutions the freedom to follow ideas to their conclusion and invite into the institution a wide range of perspectives for consideration and debate.’ Bowen was appointed president of SUNY New Paltz in July 1996. Prior to that he was vice president for academic affairs and professor of international affairs at Hollins College. Bowen earned his doctoral degree from the University of British Columbia. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees were earned at Wabash College and the University of Michigan, respectively. Bowen is the author of two books and has written extensively on Japan, including on subjects such as human rights, foreign policy, and protests against building the new Tokyo airport. Since 1981, he has been an associate in research at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University.