Ohio's Public Universities Keep Politics Out of Class · 14 September 2005

Filed under: Ohio, Press Coverage

Ohio's Public Universities Keep Politics Out of Class
Resolution addresses conservative concern about indoctrination

Jim Siegel--Columbus Dispatch--09/15/05

A controversial bill that could have clamped down on political discussion in college classrooms has been shelved in favor of a new agreement among the state's higher-education institutions.

University leaders have developed their own plan to help quell concerns among conservative lawmakers who say liberal professors are using their positions to indoctrinate students, or to punish them for being conservative.

The resolution, to be approved by the Inter-University Council of Ohio in October, states that universities are committed to respecting diverse viewpoints and that neither students nor faculty will be evaluated based on political opinions.

Each university also must create a process by which faculty members or students who feel they have been treated unfairly on academic matters can file grievances.

The Inter-University Council will report to the Senate in January on its progress.

The resolution is expected to end discussion of the "academic bill of rights for higher education." Harshly criticized in academic circles as an attack on free speech, it prohibited instructors at public or private universities from "persistently" discussing controversial issues in class or from using their classes to push political, ideological or religious views.

"I'd rather solve this with their resolution than by legislation," said Sen. Larry Mumper, RMarion, sponsor of the bill.

Mumper has said that many professors undermine the values of their students because "80 percent or so of them (professors) are Democrats, liberals or socialists or card-carrying Communists" who attempt to indoctrinate students.

Sen. Joy Padgett, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said she worked with university officials to develop the compromise because it would be more acceptable if the higher-education community developed the plan themselves.

Implementing a resolution instead of Senate Bill 24 also avoids key unanswered questions about who would police the classrooms and punish violators.

"I thought there was some validity to the issue, but if we pass it as legislation, it would be difficult to control and implement," Padgett, a Coshocton Republican, said.

Joseph Alutto, dean of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, said the bill could have placed unnecessary restrictions on classroom discussion. He said he doesn't see a problem with the resolution.

The concern about political proselytizing in the classroom is legitimate, he said, "but the ultimate question is, in whose eyes? You're ultimately going to get down to a judgment issue.

"We certainly would not support any faculty member who put forward a personal view and then held students accountable for whether or not they accepted that view."

Mumper's bill was taken from a 2003 booklet by conservative activist David Horowitz that describes how students can persuade universities to adopt the "bill of rights."

Horowitz told senators this past spring that too frequently, professors behave as political advocates and force students, though grading, to conform to their beliefs.

Once approved, students will learn about the Inter-University Council of Ohio's resolution through a variety of means, including residence-hall meetings, mailings, e-mails and Web postings.

Read Sara Dogan's response.