Lifespan of a Lie · 15 September 2003

By: Sen. John Andrews--09-15-2003

This is true story about a false report. You could call it the portrait of a panic. Or call it the lifespan of a lie. Was it a deliberate lie, or merely careless reporting? Hard to say.

But this falsehood needs correcting, because it not only smears me personally (that's not new). It also misleads the public about a serious problem - the problem of dominant ideologies tending to smother dissent on our campuses, at the expense of academic freedom.

This summer I began working on legislation that would protect students and faculty at our state-funded universities against political bias in the key decisions of their academic lives - hiring and promotion, grades and free expression.

As a result, in the best Orwellian fashion, I now stand accused of trying to force political bias INTO those very decisions. All it took was a couple of distorted news stories, and vested interests on the left did the rest. In a week of wild overreaction, I've been called Hitler, McCarthy, a Nazi and a totalitarian. Really.

It started with a Sept. 6 story in the Rocky Mountain News stating that I wanted to "require Colorado colleges and universities to seek more conservatives in faculty hiring" - despite my having told the reporter that I support no such requirement. A Denver Post story two days later repeated the allegation, again contrary to what I told that reporter. Both writers apparently felt they could read my mind.

The Post did correctly quote me as saying, "This is about tolerance. It is about a process, not outcomes. It is extremely important that all viewpoints are protected." The process for protecting all viewpoints, to which I was referring and from which my proposed bill is modeled, is called the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Rocky did correctly describe the Academic Bill of Rights, in a midweek editorial, as a document that "defines academic freedom and lays out practices that would protect it while fostering intellectual diversity." And the editors correctly noted that the document is "studiously neutral politically."

But none of this has prevented a loud howl from paranoid pundits and professors who are somehow SURE that Senator Andrews and Governor Owens want to mandate the hiring of fixed numbers of Republicans, that we are affirmative action hypocrites, quota fascists and worse.

You can judge for yourself by reading the full text of the Academic Bill of Rights as originally drafted by author and activist David Horowitz. It's on the web at StudentsforAcademicFreedom.org.

The legislation I'm considering would not use Horowitz's identical language, but it's unapologetically based on his compelling idea that everybody on campus should be able to count on fairness. Shouldn't they?

You promise fair treatment for all, up front, and then you give redress afterward for those who feel unfairly treated. You do NOT, as I tried to tell the Post, mandate outcomes. Any such mandate, whether official or unwritten, is precisely the rigged game that I and other defenders of academic freedom object to.

And a rigged game, consciously or otherwise, is what we've seen on campuses ever since the 1960s. As I told the Rocky in that first story on Sept. 6, there has been an unwritten blacklist "which has excluded conservative thought and voices more and more." To contend that there is no liberal-left dominance of academia is, as the Post editorialized on Sept. 13, "laughable." The professors insult our intelligence when they dismiss such dominance as urban legend.

The only urban legend here is the now-widespread slur that Andrews wants to trample academic freedom with ideological intervention and political quotas. My bill would do just the opposite. It was set for a December release, but opponents sought to gain by publicizing it early and falsely. Here, with the help of the Internet to bypass media filters, I want to set the record straight as follows:

I hold that quotas at our universities are never justified for any reason. Discrimination is always wrong, no matter whether it's based on race, religion, or political beliefs.

It is to PREVENT such discrimination, to provide fairness for students and faculty of whatever political or religious persuasion, that I favor an academic bill of rights on Colorado campuses. Academic freedom is the lifeblood of higher education. To guarantee it, public policy should affirm that:

1. Students have a right to be graded on the merits of their work, without regard to their political or religious beliefs.

2. Students have a right to expect that course content in all fields - especially those most easily politicized, the humanities and social sciences--will reflect diverse scholarly viewpoints.

3. Students have a right to expect that speaker invitations, as well as funding for speakers and other student activities, will respect academic freedom and reflect intellectual diversity.

4. Faculty have a right to expect that decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, and tenure will be based on the merits of their work, without regard to their political or religious beliefs.

5. Faculty have a right to expect that there will be intellectual diversity in the makeup of com-mittees that conduct searches, hire applicants, and grant tenure.

That and that alone is my version of the academic bill of rights. Its guarantees could be enacted by governing boards or the legislature. Its remedies could be administrative or judicial. Its wording could be revised and probably improved upon, I'm sure.

But regardless of those details, there can be no doubt that left and right alike, devout and atheist alike, would only benefit from such impartial safeguards as years pass and the ideological pendulum swings. After all, political pluralism, open debate, and tolerance of all viewpoints aren't the property of any party. They are simply the American way.

The academic bill of rights is an expression of freedom, not a repression of it. To suggest otherwise is a vicious lie. What will be the further lifespan of that lie here in Colorado? What's the chance of truth overtaking falsehood in this little firestorm? Is there a journalist somewhere who will help calm the panic, and maybe explore the mentality that fed it? Will policymakers move to protect academic freedom for our faculty and students? Stay tuned.

John Andrews is president of the Colorado State Senate.