Bill to Limit Profs' Politics · 09 March 2005

The Academic Bill of Rights would limit ideas professors could express in classes.

By Angela Gray--MNdaily.com--03/10/05

When University political science professor Raymond Duvall was asked to chair the University's Task Force for Academic Freedom last year, he said, he wanted to make sure students would be challenged to think outside of their comfort zones. But a bill recently introduced by two state legislators, called the Academic Bill of Rights, could limit what ideas professors can and cannot express in the classroom.

In Minnesota, Sen. Michelle Bachmann, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, both proposed the legislation.

Nearly half of the nation's state governments have worked to protect students' rights and intellectual diversity on campuses through adopting an Academic Bill of Rights. The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a version of the bill as legislation, and the U.S. Senate is expected to follow suit.

Students for Academic Freedom first introduced the bill. The group is a national student organization with more than 130 chapters nationwide.

Conservative activist and author David Horowitz leads the organization. He has published studies on political biases in the hiring of college and university professors.

"We need to remove partisan politics from the classroom; it is inappropriate for an academic institution," Horowitz said.

The bill states universities and colleges must enact guidelines creating neutrality by appointing faculty members who provide multiple perspectives.

The bill also seeks to ensure faculty members will not use their courses or positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

The Georgia Legislature passed a bill similar to the Academic Bill of Rights, and major schools in Colorado have accepted similar provisions of the bill without the legislative process.

Tom Meyer, the University's Campus Republicans chairman, said there is "absolutely" a liberal bias at the University.

In many of his classes, teachers have criticized his opinions on welfare reform, Meyer said.

"I can't say for certain that it affected my grade, but I do believe it did," he said.

But Duvall said he does not think professors impose their views on students.

"Students are not sitting passively," he said. "Students have the ability to react and respond."

Although word about this national movement has recently received attention, Duvall said "this is not simply an overnight phenomenon."

He said the reason Minnesota is involved in the national movement is that legislators are "mimicking and mirroring what's going on in other states."

Duvall said state legislators' actions only ensure a certain political agenda.

"My view of what they're trying to do is to make the University into a place that is less comfortable with liberal viewpoints," Duvall said.

The American Association of University Professors calls the bill's method of instituting neutrality improper and dangerous. It says the current mechanisms in place protect neutrality sufficiently, according to the association's Web site.

Jason Roberts, a University political science professor, said he makes it clear to his students what his opinion is.

If a student wants him to lay out a competing argument, Roberts said, he points out he might not adequately explain it.

"In such cases, I think sharing my personal view is better for students than not revealing any biases I might have," he said.

Roberts said it's important for faculty members to be allowed to express expert opinions.

"The unintended consequences of a policy like this would cause far more harm to students and society than any good it would do in terms of protecting students from advocacy by their professors," he said.

- Rowena Vergara contributed to this report.