Ohio Colleges Strike a Compromise with 'Student Bill of Rights' Backers · 18 September 2005

Filed under: Ohio, Press Coverage

Athens News--September 19, 2005

An association of Ohio's public universities has agreed to a compromise with Ohio Senate sponsors of the "Ohio Academic Bill of Rights" under which member institutions would implement principles intended to serve the purpose of the proposed legislation.

As a result, the Bill of Rights, also known as Senate Bill 24, will not be necessary, according to a spokesperson for the conservative group backing similar legislation across the country.

"The agreement will cancel out the need for S.B. 24. (Sen. Larry) Mumper will not pursue the bill," confirmed Sara Dogan, national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom (SAF).

Early last year, both the Ohio University Faculty and Student senates passed resolutions against S.B. 24, charging that it would violate academic freedom and the First Amendment rights of professors in the classroom.

They and other critics argued that such proposals would make it difficult to introduce controversial topics into the classroom, and that most universities, including OU, already have grievance procedures in place for students who think professors are abusing their authority.

On the other side, proponents, led by conservative activist David Horowitz, who chairs SAF, argue that the ranks of college professors and instructors are pervasively liberal, and that students should be protected from professors who try to force their politics onto students, especially when doing so has no discernible relation to the subject at hand.

According to a news release from Students for Academic Freedom, the compromise was reached between senators sponsoring S.B. 24 and the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), a voluntary association representing Ohio's 13 public universities and two free-standing medical colleges.

The resolution "will affirm several crucial principles including: (that) intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education; students should not be discriminated against politically; and universities should create grievance procedures for students facing discrimination for their political views," according to the release from SAF.

In the release, Sen. Mumper, R-Marion, hailed the agreement as a victory for Ohio's students. "This action is a bold decision on the part of the IUC, and I believe it will positively impact students who attend Ohio's colleges and universities," he said. "Since the introduction of S.B. 24, I have maintained that the vast majority of classrooms in Ohio are already held to these standards but for the rare instances in which a student feels threatened or belittled, I am pleased that there will now be procedures in place to remedy the situation."

The IUC could not be reached for comment, though its assistant director Cindy McQuade was quoted in an Associated Press story as stating the compromise allows the situation to be handled by institutions rather than the Legislature. The resolution "puts it back in the hands of the campuses where it belongs, affirms that we take this very seriously and will continue to do all we can to make sure that respect for diverse opinions remains an important part of campus life," she said in the AP story.

The SAF release stated that the group "is planning to communicate the resolution on academic freedom to students in a variety of ways, including through orientation programs, mailings, student handbooks, course catalogues, and university Web sites and e-mail communications."

OU Faculty Senate Chair Phyllis Bernt was a prominent critic of S.B. 24 earlier this year when it was introduced. At the time, she called the academic bill of rights "a disaster waiting to happen" and said that "American higher education is built upon free speech and the open exchange of ideas. We don't need to protect students from ideas."

Bernt on Sunday declined to comment on the compromise agreement until she sees it.

Though S.B. 24 contained nine articles, the one that most concerned critical professors at OU stated,

"Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."