Republicans Push Student 'Bill of Rights' · 05 April 2006

By Brett Amelkin--Daily Princetonian--04/06/06

In an attempt to promote "academic freedom and intellectual diversity within the University community," the College Republicans called on students this week to support a USG referendum on a Student Bill of Rights.

The one-page Student Bill of Rights (SBOR), an effort to address a perceived invasion of partisan beliefs into academia, outlines five principles for removing ideology from student grading, classroom discussions, professor hiring and the selection of campus speakers. For the referendum to go to the student body, the College Republicans will need to garner 200 student signatures.

"We hope to instill in the undergraduates a sense of obligation to uphold the right to free and open debate as well as freedom from instructional bias," College Republicans president Alexander Maugeri '07 said.

The last referendum to be presented to the student body revolved around an amicus brief in support of gay marriage. The referendum, sponsored by the Princeton Justice Project, passed by 82 votes this December.

The SBOR is based on an idea by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator and author who gained notoriety several years ago with his stance against slavery reparations. Maugeri, however, said Horowitz's model is "a bit too radical" for Princeton and that the document has been revised to fit campus needs.

Maugeri, who is also an associate editor of The Daily Princetonian, said in a press release that he and his fellow College Republicans officers crafted the SBOR "not to 'police' faculty, but rather to awake and stimulate debate among instructors and undergraduates about the nature of bias and 'hiring practices.' "

While "in some Princeton classrooms and precepts, professors intentionally or unintentionally inject their personal political bias into the structure," Maugeri said in an interview, the statements in the SBOR "do not seek to censor debate."

Rather, he said, the SBOR is designed to remind professors to consider whether their personal beliefs are pertinent to the course material, and whether they are prepared to give students a chance to discuss or disagree.

Progressive students immediately lashed out against the proposed initiative, arguing that it would restrict campus speech and put pressure on faculty to conform.

Asheesh Siddique '07, the former coeditor of the Princeton Progressive Nation, sent out a press release against the SBOR, writing that the "College Republicans' proposed bill would politicize Princeton's classrooms, denying academic freedom and free speech rights to Princeton's students and faculty."

"Should such a referendum come to fruition," Siddique added, "we urge Princeton students to vote against approval; and should such a referendum pass, we urge Princeton faculty to disregard and ignore it in its entirety."

"[T]he College Republicans' proposal is nothing short of a full-frontal attack on academic freedom at Princeton," Siddique said in an email. "It's a right-wing ideological agenda-item that's been tried in other parts of the country with disastrous effects for students, professors, and education itself. Rather than protect student interests, it would restrict everyone's ability to learn."

In response to Siddique's statements, Maugeri said "one of the fundamental principles of this effort is to ensure that at no point do we single out professors or administrators. That sort of thing isn't going to be tolerated."

Maugeri said he has reached out to other groups on campus, such as the LGBT community and the College Democrats, to gain their support.

Julia Brower '08, president of the College Democrats, said that though her organization does not "believe that [the SBOR] was motivated by anti-liberal sentiments," it decided not to support the initiative.

"We support the core principles of tolerance, diversity of opinion, and equality embodied in the Bill, but frankly the approach they have chosen is unnecessarily antagonistic," Brower said in an email. "Although we believe the College Republicans have no such intentions, the bill as it stands has the potential to cause professors to unnecessarily censor themselves and to lead to an atmosphere of hypersensitivity to bias."

The Princeton Tory, however, has officially endorsed the initiative, publisher Juliann Vikse '08 said.

"Political diversity and freedom of expression will enhance the learning environment for all students," Vikse said in an email.

Wyatt Yankus '09, the treasurer of the College Republicans, said the club is on pace to reach 200 signatures by the end of the week.

"I've had people disagreeing with me, saying it's not necessary," Yankus said about those who declined to sign the petition. "But I think it was in the most part respectful and in a civil manner, which is encouraging because that is what this is all about."

College Republicans are optimistic about SBOR's eventual impact on the University.

"Is Nassau Hall going to abruptly change major policies in response to this? Probably not," Will Scharf '08, press secretary of the College Republicans, said in an email.

"But if we get the proverbial ball rolling, and generate meaningful levels of support, which we expect to do, we can certainly get the process moving," he said.