Absurdity in Higher Ed · 12 September 2003

Filed under: Press Coverage

Denver Post, 9/13

When is a quota not a quota? When it benefits Republicans, it seems.

The same party that's been squawking over race-based college admissions now apparently wants universities to check voter-registration rolls when hiring faculty to ensure more conservatives are added to the ranks.

How absurd.

Can't they just be content controlling the legislature, the governor's office, Congress and the presidency without needing more conservatives hired at Colorado universities? What happened to their rallying cry of getting a job based solely on talent and skills?

Republican state Sen. John Andrews has floated the idea of pushing an Academic Bill of Rights during the next legislative session that would encourage state colleges to hire conservative faculty and invite more guest speakers to campus with right-leaning views.

The flap began in January, when Gov. Bill Owens told KOA-Radio listeners that far too many political science professors were liberal lefties. Since then, he and other GOP lawmakers have met with David Horowitz, the conservative leader of Academic Freedom, which pushes for political diversity in academic hires. Horowitz, for his part, says his bill of rights has nothing to do with quotas.

And universities counter that it's only a myth that faculties are overwhelmingly liberal. That's about as laughable as the Republican desire to mandate hiring more Republicans. (A Denver Post survey of political science departments at four-year state schools found five Democrats for every one Republican.)

Owens, for now, says he thinks schools should only be encouraged to hire more conservatives.

"I don't know how you could make it a mandate," Owens says. "But ... in a political science department, we ought to strive to make sure that there are people who understand and who can explain political philosophy from the left as well as from the right."

Sounds appropriate. But shouldn't that be up to the schools to decide? And what if lawmakers did pass a bill encouraging political diversity in hiring? Would it hold any sway?

Some Owens critics grouse that he has his eyes on a bigger prize than being governor, maybe landing an appointment in a possible Bush second term, and that's why he seems to be pandering to the far-right crowd.

Owens, who is still Colorado's governor, should use his political clout to steer his statehouse minions away from these non-issues - does the Pledge of Allegiance bill ring a bell? - and toward something more substantive when lawmakers convene in January.

There's a lot of real work to be done, and an Academic Bill of Rights would serve only to divert lawmakers' attention away from the real issues that need tending.