ind police are at it again · 13 September 2003

By Gail Schoettler--Special to the Denver Post--09/14/03

Sunday, September 14, 2003 - Colorado's mind police are at it again. Now the Republican political leaders, including Gov. Bill Owens, Senate President John Andrews and House Speaker Lola Spradley, want to dictate political ideology at our colleges and universities. They couch this in benign language we can all accept. But their intent is far from benign.

The vehicle for this latest assault on higher education is the so-called Academic Bill of Rights. It would require what we all expect colleges and universities to do anyway: provide students with a diversity of viewpoints, information and knowledge. But look deeper at what is really behind it.

Owens, Andrews, Spradley and other Republican officials met last June with David Horowitz, a conservative who founded Students for Academic Freedom and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture - which isn't about popular culture at all, but is about investigating the political views of college faculty.

Horowitz's goal is to force institutions of higher education to hire conservatives who reflect his point of view. His vehicles are students, whom he urges to investigate professors' politics, and state legislatures, whom he encourages to pass his Academic Bill of Rights. If this sounds like something straight out of the Soviet Union, it is.

Colleges and universities have always spawned heated debates about political and social issues. They have often been the locus of civil disobedience, as during the civil rights marches and the Vietnam War. Campuses are centers of intense discussion and activity surrounding such pertinent issues as the war in Iraq, affirmative action and globalization.

Yet Horowitz and some of Colorado's political leaders would have us believe otherwise. He says that for 20 years, major universities haven't sponsored conservative commencement speakers. In 2002 alone, however, commencement speakers included such key Republican conservatives as John Ashcroft, former President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vice President Dick Cheney. While he complains that colleges rarely host conservative speakers at all, Horowitz reports in his website that in two years, he's "spoken at more than 30 colleges and universities."

Horowitz charges that "the political bias against conservatives in the hiring process amounts to an illegal political patronage operation, which provides huge advantages to the Democratic Party and to the political left." An interesting point, when the White House and Congress are controlled by conservative Republicans. Perhaps he doesn't know of Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution or the University of Chicago's renowned and conservative economics department, which both have strong influence in setting our foreign, social and economic policies.

What is perhaps most alarming is Horowitz's effort to shove political partisanship into college hiring. His website tells students how to investigate their universities for political bias. It specifies which departments to attack, how to find the political affiliations of faculty and administrators at the county clerk's office, how to create a spreadsheet documenting professors' politics, and how to report back to him.

This isn't an interest in improving higher education. It's a blatant attempt to intimidate faculty and to politicize hiring. Our legislature is prepared to support such activity.

We aren't seeing an interest in encouraging real diversity of ideas; it is an interest in promoting a conservative political agenda in higher education.

Playing politics with colleges and universities will wreak havoc on our children's education. On top of the massive budget cuts, attracting the most talented faculty will be impossible in a heavily politicized, punitive and intimidating environment. It is time for the mind police to deal with the serious problems facing our state, not with forcing their own narrow ideology into the minds of our children.

Gail Schoettler (gailschoettler@email.msn.com) is a former Colorado lieutenant governor and treasurer, Democratic nominee for governor and Douglas County school board member.