Legislator Wants Law to Restrict Professors · 02 March 2005

Filed under: Ohio, Press Coverage

Legislator Wants Law to Restrict Professors
Religious, political discussions targeted
By Reginald Fields--Plain Dealer Bureau--02/20/05

A state lawmaker wants to monitor Ohio's college and university professors, who he says are polarizing campus classrooms by imposing their left-wing ideas on impressionable young students.

Students are being "indoctri nated and not educated," says Sen. Larry Mumper, a Mar ion Republican, who introduced Senate Bill 24, described as an "academic bill of rights."

The measure seeks to restrict religious and political classroom discussions that Mumper believes could cross over from intellectual debate to controlling persuasion.

It would force Ohio's public and private universities and colleges to adopt policies forbidding classroom talk on topics not related to the course.

It would also chastise professors for imposing their political views on students or for penalizing pupils for holding different opinions.

Critics, who call the bill the "academic bill of restrictions," say it is an assault on free speech.

"This bill doesn't take away free speech -- that is, if we have free speech in college," the senator said. "A lot of students are complaining that there is a bias from the professors against their attitudes." Mumper said the bill is based on principles promoted by conservative activist David Horowitz.

Horowitz has made a career of attacking liberals and has been accused of inciting racial tension through his strong opposition to slavery reparations. His books include "Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes."

Lawmakers in California and Colorado have already killed similar bills. Indiana is considering one like Mumper's.

Mumper's bill, which has drawn national attention, will get its first hearing Tuesday in the Senate Education Commit tee. Some observers have already dubbed it dead on arrival. But there is a smattering of support for it.

Youngstown State's faculty senate drew up a resolution opposing Mumper's bill, saying it "would impose serious and unnecessary restrictions on the methods of teaching, research and grading used by college and university faculty."

The University of Akron's faculty senate is also preparing a resolution.

"We want to get on record and say the assumption that we are all liberal radicals is unwarranted," said Rudy Fenwick, an Akron sociology professor and chairman of the faculty senate. "The assumption that we oppose all ideologies is unwarranted."

But some campuses are having difficulty agreeing on a position.

Cleveland State University's faculty senate couldn't reach a compromise earlier this month for its resolution. Most of the faculty vehemently oppose Mumper's bill, citing an infringement on academic freedom, but a strong minority thinks the proposal has merit.

"I think there needs to be a guarantee that no student will be prejudiced for voicing a personal opinion that might be at odds with the professor," said Cleveland State law professor David Forte, a self-described conservative.

Forte figures that more than 90 percent of college and university professors are liberals, and many of them cannot help but exude their bias in class, he says.

"If it is a political science class, [students] will get a liberal perspective and they won't hear many opposing views," Forte said. "Many students are uncomfortable with this."

Forte said Mumper's bill isn't perfect and should not include private schools. The senator said he is willing to remove private schools from the bill.

As a political science professor at Cleveland State, Rodger Govea is sensitive to Forte's charges. Govea is president of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, which opposes Senate Bill 24.

"It is one of the first things you face: Students think you are going to say something ideological," he said. "So you learn early on to walk that line. Because if they think you are being ideol ogical, they won't listen."

Govea said Mumper's bill is based on a fallacy.

"He's way overstating that liberal component," said Govea, who added that students aren't nearly as gullible as supporters of Senate Bill 24 suspect.

An opinion piece in Akron's student newspaper, The Buchtelite, took a cynical shot at the bill, saying Ohio should consider raising the voting age: "Since we are apparently unable to form our own beliefs, we probably should not be casting ballots. Or do most students just vote the way their professors vote?"

Mumper's bill gets an A-plus for seeking diversity but an F for its approach in trying to achieve it, said Christine Link of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Under Mumper's bill, Link envisions campuses forced to invite two guest speakers for every lecture - a liberal and an opposing conservative voice - which she finds impractical.

"If a university brings in someone for equal rights for women, then do they have to bring in someone who speaks in favor of not having equal rights for women? It looks that way," she said.

Mumper said he isn't seeking a quota system. The bill does not say how professors would be policed or what sanctions they would face for violating the measure, if it becomes law. It does, however, require the school to set up a grievance procedure.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

rfields@plaind.com, 614-228-8200

© 2005 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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