Attacking a Straw Man in Colorado · 17 September 2003

September 17, 2003
Attacking a Straw Man in Colorado

The Academic Bill of Rights has continued to be the subject of a remarkable case of misreporting in the Colorado press.

This bill, which specifically outlaws hiring faculty on the basis of political viewpoint, has been misrepresented as a quota bill or as a bill to force colleges to hire Republicans.

These errors stem from a Rocky Mountain News piece issued on September 6, and have been repeated in over a dozen news stories from sources across the country. Despite our numerous efforts to correct this flow of misinformation, the Colorado press continues to harp on a false story, creating a straw man to attack in the public square instead of focusing on the legitimate issue of the lack of academic diversity in Colorado's institutions of higher learning.

A corrective story by Dave Curtin in the Denver Post did not prevent the Post from running a lead editorial on Saturday, September 13, repeating the error. The error has now spread to the national press with a misreported story in the Washington Times.

There is no excuse for this lack of fact-checking. The Academic Bill of Rights, which is available for all to see at
says this:

"1...No faculty should be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs." In other words, if the bill were adopted quota hiring and firing would be prohibited.

Despite this clear pronouncement, it took nearly two weeks for the Colorado press to correctly report our message, which they did yesterday in an editorial printed in the Rocky Mountain News apologizing for the stream of errors. You can read this editorial here.

Excerpts from previous stories erroneously reporting our aims are included below. These stories demonstrate the importance of staying on-message and the power that one report can have in mischaracterizing an entire movement. Now that these media critics have been forced to retract their initial statements, we can move forward with our campaign for intellectual diversity and academic freedom on campus.

However, don't expect the opposition to stick to the facts. In all likelihood this will be the tenor of their campaign against us. They will try to make it look like we are supporting quotas when the fact is that we are opposing the quotas that they have imposed. I will return to this in my next letter.

Best Regards,
Sara Russo

Excerpts from the Colorado Press:

Rocky Mountain News story (This is the first story that appeared on the Bill of Rights by Peggy Lowe of the Rocky Mountain News, which led to the chain of misreported stories.)

"Top Republican legislators are working on a plan that would require Colorado colleges and universities to seek more conservatives in faculty hiring, more classics in the curriculum and more 'intellectual pluralism' among campus speakers."
Peggy Lowe, Rocky Mountain News, 9/6

"While legislators and a national conservative group begin work on the plan to bring more Republican ideas to play at Colorado colleges, a local group already is working on a similar plan."
Peggy Lowe, Rocky Mountain News, 9/6

"Democrats lashed out Monday at a GOP plan to get more Republicans on Colorado's college campuses, calling it academic McCarthyism and quotas for conservatives."
Peggy Lowe, Rocky Mountain News, 9/9

Denver Post story that reported it right:
Faculty-diversity backer: No quotas
Dave Curtain, Denver Post, 9/10

Denver Post lead editorial which repeated the error after the

"The same party that's been squawking over race-based college admissions now apparently wants universities to check voter-registration rolls when hiring faculty to ensure more conservatives are added to the ranks."
Editorial, The Denver Post, 9/13

"In Colorado, where Republicans control the House, the Senate, the governor's mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and five of seven U.S. House seats, that overwhelming degree of control is, for some, apparently not enough. "In Colorado, where the legislature rigged a last-minute redistricting in order to help Karl Rove keep Republicans in control of the House to go with their control of the Senate, White House, Supreme Court and John Ashcroft's choir group, that apparently, for some, is also not enough."
Mike Littwin, Rocky Mountain News, 9/13

"The Faculty Senate at Metropolitan State College of Denver is calling for an investigation into a move by Republican legislators to require Colorado colleges and universities to seek and hire a greater number of conservative faculty."
Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News, 9/13

The Washington Times:

"The eight-point manifesto calls for increasing intellectual diversity in academia by urging universities to seek more conservative professors, include more classics in the curriculum, invite conservative speakers to campus, and protect students who disagree with liberal professors from academic harassment."
Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, 9/15

Rocky Mountain News editorial issuing apology and correction, 9/16