Censoring Our Educators

A nationwide effort is underway in statehouses to foster intellectual diversity by censoring professors

| March 1, 2007

Political views in the United States are heavily divided, with each side worrying that the other is corrupting today's youth. And who has more access to fresh, young minds than teachers? That's why the latest argument about when and where free speech flies is taking place in the classroom.

According to an article by Saxon Burns in the Tucson Weekly, conservative groups are fed up with a perceived leftist bias among university professors. David Horowitz, a right-wing political pundit who penned the 'Academic Bill of Rights' as a guideline to intellectual freedom for students, is leading the movement and driving a number of legislative bills that would prevent instructors from voicing potentially controversial opinions.

The Arizona legislation, Senate Bill 1542, would forbid school district employees from advocating 'one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.' Those who take up such stances would face a fine of up to $500. The bill has already been voted down once by the Senate's Education K-12 Committee, Tucson Weekly reports, but 'a strike-everything amendment' brought it back to life in the Government Committee, where it remains 'in limbo' pending further committee attention.

A similar bill in Missouri, House Bill 213, would require that higher education institutions report on steps they've taken to 'ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.' Universities would be required to report on efforts to, among other things, incorporate intellectual diversity concerns into their teaching guidelines, student course evaluations, and hiring, tenure, and promotion policies. Silas Allen writes in the University of Missouri-Columbia's Missourian that the bill, which is also called the 'Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act,' was inspired by a Christian student who refused to write an assigned paper in support of gay adoption. The matter ended up in court, with the college eventually reaching an out-of-court settlement in November. The bill is set to appear before members of the House of Higher Education this week.

According to Free Exchange on Campus, a coalition dedicated to protecting 'the free exchange of speech and ideas on campus,' 'intellectual diversity' bills in states such as Georgia, Kentucky, and New York are in the works, but few are passing. The group recently celebrated defeat of Montana's House Bill 525 on Feb. 21. The measure sought to encourage 'intellectual diversity, transparency, and accountability in the university system' through annual reports submitted to a legislative committee. As Gwen Florio writes in the Great Falls Tribune, 'Opponents criticized the bill as both unconstitutional -- because the state Constitution gives the Board of Regents authority over universities -- and unnecessary.'

Small victories, though, have given hope to Horowitz and his supporters. Horowitz announced on his FrontPage blog in November that 'two of the three major universities in [Pennsylvania] -- Temple and Penn State -- have now adopted 'student-specific' bills of rights.' The Academic Freedom Policy HR64 on Penn State's website states that, 'It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects.' Temple University also lists similar guidelines.

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