Students Press for Academic Rights Bill · 13 October 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

Some fear college professors discriminate

By Reeve Hamilton--Vanderbilt Hustler--10/14/05

Students for Academic Freedom, an organization that lobbies members of Congress on behalf of universities, is actively pressuring lawmakers to pass an academic bill of rights which would protect students and professors from discrimination based on political beliefs.

SAF, with chapters in 150 universities nationwide, identifies itself on its Web site as "a national coalition of student organizations whose goal is to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge."

Though the proposed academic bill of rights protects people of all political leanings, the movement is generally a conservative one based on the belief that universities and professors generally tend to have a liberal bias.

"All too frequently, professors behave as political advocates in the classroom, express opinions in a partisan manner on controversial issues irrelevant to the academic subject, and even grade students in a manner designed to enforce their conformity to professorial prejudices." said political activist David Horowitz.

Horowitz is the editor of and a supporter of an academic bill of rights. There is currently no chapter of SAF at Vanderbilt. Some students question whether such a movement is necessary.

"I've been in classes with liberal professors and conservative students and I haven't noticed any discrimination taking place based on political beliefs. Students and professors may argue, but I don't think it usually effects how the students are graded," said David Rutledge, a sophomore political science major.

Through the academic bill of rights, the SAF seeks to protect free speech from political bias.

Others, such as political science professor John Geer, however, cite the bill itself as an infringement on freedom of speech.

"In a society that champions freedom of speech, it is a bad idea any time there is an effort to constrain people's ideas and ability to express them," Geer said.

"So, if faculty judge students by their political beliefs, that would be wrong - just as it would be wrong if students judge faculty by their political beliefs. A university setting demands a free exchange of ideas from all perspectives. Anything less undermines and weakens the intellectual climate," Geer said.

Some feel various political opinions initiate dialogue could improve the intellectual climate, if not used for discrimination.

"I think it is interesting to hear different perspectives. I have not seen any discrimination, so I don't see any need to eliminate these perspectives. This bill would sterilize the classroom and make for a less interesting education experience," Rutledge said.

"Politics today are indeed shaped by the colors 'red' and 'blue.' If we let those colors interfere with our teaching and learning, then we would be in trouble­ - real trouble. But I see no evidence of such bias," Geer said.

"I see lots of evidence that students and faculty have red and blue leanings, but I have yet to see that undermine the mission of this university. In fact, I would argue that the strong partisan leanings many of us feel stimulate interest in these subjects and make for even better exchanges among students and faculty," Geer said.