Bachmann Out to Teach a Lesson · 06 March 2005

Filed under: Minnesota

Laura Billings--Pioneer Press--03/06/05

In a flip-flop of massive proportions, Michele Bachmann, the state senator who built her early political career on bashing the Profile of Learning as a program bent on dumbing down our public schools, is now sponsoring a bill intent on dumbing down our institutions of higher learning.

The so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" she introduced this week would prevent professors at publicly funded colleges or universities from expressing their personal, political or ideological beliefs in their classrooms. It would also protect students who claim they've been punished for disagreeing with their professors' political views.

Though Bachmann says the law would apply across political lines, the bill, similar to one introduced in 21 other states and backed by conservative activist David Horowitz, comes complete with a campaign complaining that universities have become the last bastion of lefties.

Make no mistake, the point is to make sure that no child embarking on a liberal arts education has to confront an actual liberal in the process.

The notion that the nation's universities have become a hotbed of radical Marxist indoctrination is popular among the extreme right wing, even if it is plainly ridiculous.

Guests at a dinner party I attended recently almost came to blows when one insisted that the 9/11 terrorists had learned their "hate America agenda" by taking classes in American colleges. He had no facts to back this up, just a vein-popping conviction that America's universities are run by a bunch of hippies bent on destroying the capitalist system, saving the spotted owl and making slavery sound like a bad thing.

I'm moved by the idea that campus conservatives have been the poor pawns in all of this. (It must be especially painful to them, having just survived that "Christmas Under Siege," in which hearing the phrase "Happy Holidays" was a continual assault to their delicate sensibilities.)

But if liberal professors are intent on converting college students to their way of life, they're doing a lousy job of it.

Since 1999, membership in the College Republican National Committee has tripled. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which has tracked the attitudes of college freshmen since the mid-1960s, has noted a rising conservative sentiment among students, reflected in significant drops in campus support for legal abortion, gun laws and the idea that wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes.

Even at Harvard, women with the highest SAT scores in the country can be seen clapping their hands and chanting nonsense songs in hopes of getting into one of the top sororities.

You'll notice that no one mentions "The Man" anymore.

Any professor who does might be considered an important archival resource, a living history worth keeping around for the sake of scholarship. But I digress.

Horowitz said at a news conference this week that it's unprofessional for a professor to share his or her political viewpoints with students.

"You don't go into a doctor's office and expect to get a political lecture or see on his office door cartoons bashing John Kerry or bashing George Bush," he said.

Where has he been? These days everyone - your doctor, your dentist, the woman who grooms your dog - has a political opinion he or she is more than glad to share with you. A college classroom is perhaps one of the only places this kind of discussion doesn't seem plainly impolite.

This is because the whole point of a college education is to develop those tiny muscles in the back of the brain pan that focus on discernment - distinguishing between different points of view, weighing the weight of opposing logic and deciding which worldview best defines the direction you want to go.

Michele Bachmann made her political career arguing against the rigidity of the Profile of Learning and suggesting that Minnesota students deserved a more rigorous education.

Too bad she's decided that demand for excellence should stop the moment they step on campus.
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Laura Billings can be reached at lbillings@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5584.