Conservative Backers Tilt Faculty Issue Toward Colorado · 07 January 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Dave Curtin--Denver Post, 09/12/03

Liberal bias runs rampant on Colorado college campuses, conservative students say, and they plan to support a national movement here to bring more balanced viewpoints to higher education.

Students for Academic Freedom, founded three months ago by prominent Los Angeles conservative David Horowitz, has 70 chapters nationwide, including five that are forming in Colorado.

Their goal is to get their Academic Bill of Rights - ensuring conservative viewpoints in colleges - codified as state law or university policy, according to the mission statement.

State Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, said he'd like to see it happen with enforcement powers by either college trustees, the state higher education commission or the legislature. Andrews and 22 other state Republican leaders attended a June breakfast with Horowitz to discuss the plan.


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That makes Colorado a proving ground for the concept - the only state in which lawmakers have taken up the issue, said Jonathan Knight, director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, a Washington, D.C., trade group that has the power of censure. A censure can undermine a university's ability to recruit faculty and students.

"Colorado caught our attention because of some rumblings in the legislature," Knight said. "The cause for concern would be if the legislature decided on a political litmus test for appointing college faculty."

Colorado professors say the plan will lead to the equivalent of political appointments on college campuses, faculty hiring based on party affiliation rather than scholarship and irreparable harm in recruiting faculty to a state higher-education system known for government intervention and political meddling.

Horowitz specifically cites faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the private University of Denver as being overwhelmingly Democratic in select departments.

Horowitz is scheduled to speak during a student-sponsored program at Metropolitan State College in Denver on Sept. 30. Gov. Bill Owens is scheduled to appear with him, said Metro State spokeswoman Cathy Lucas.

"A good portion of students are getting a biased education," said Ryan Call, a second-year law student at DU who did his undergraduate work in Boulder. "It can be subtle or overt. It can be as subtle as demeaning comments about President Bush and John Ashcroft or as overt as an ROTC student singled out as an example of American imperialism."

Call said he attended "teach-ins" - where faculty with expertise in certain areas speak in public forums - at CU after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"It was all about 'Blame America.' It was 'Americans are responsible' as opposed to other causes of terrorism. As a student you wonder, where is the other side of the story?" he said.

Another example of liberal bias, he said, is when his wife took an anthropology class at CU titled "Family and Society."

"The textbook was written by a lesbian, and only one of the 12 sections was devoted to the traditional family," Call said.

Allys Lasky, president of the Young Democrats Society at the DU law school, doesn't see it that way.

"I've never been able to tell a professor's political bias," Lasky said. "I'm in a law class now in which the death penalty is taught, and it includes both viewpoints. The professor entertains arguments on both sides."

Brad Jones, chairman of the College Republicans at CU-Boulder, said there is reason to be concerned.

"Professors in general love to say they're impartial, but to a certain extent politics seep into the classroom," Jones said. "But at CU we have professors who come right out and say, 'I don't like Bush' or 'I'm against the war on terrorism.' One of my favorite examples is film festivals and teach-ins put on by a group called 'Faculty and Staff Against War."'

Travis Leiker, president of the College Democrats at CU-Boulder, sees the push as political posturing.

"I not only think this is Republican meddling in academic affairs, but meddling in First Amendment privileges in choosing your political party and political ideology," Leiker said. "They are proposing a litmus test for hiring faculty.

"Professors try to play both sides of an issue regardless of their political ideology, including conservative professors," Leiker said. "One of my favorite professors is a conservative in my 'Political Parties and Pressure Groups' class, a self-pronounced Republican in the political science department."

At DU, Call has organized a law school chapter of Horowitz's group, Students for Academic Freedom, and said there are chapters starting at CU-Boulder, CU-Colorado Springs, Mesa State in Grand Junction and the DU general campus, where 100 students signed up for the initial meeting.

Call, who doubles as chairman of College Republicans at DU and until recently was co-chair of the College Republican National Committee, said Horowitz reimburses expenses for organizing a chapter.

Horowitz said he's not advocating faculty quotas and he downplays that he's pushing for government enforcement. His preference is for universities to adopt his Academic Bill of Rights on their own, he said in an interview with The Denver Post.

Yet the mission statement is much more pointed: "The maximum pressure point for all academic institutions is flow of alumni and government funds that support it. Focus your activities on these vulnerable points ... continue the pressure until the authorities adopt and enforce (the code)."

Said Horowitz: "I've drawn up the Academic Bill of Rights as an idea so any legislator, university president or trustee can say, 'Hey, we've gotten off the track here in respect to these values.' If the state is credentialing and financing schools, shouldn't the state have an interest in the policies of academic freedom and the bill of rights?"

Following the code would include assigning books that offer a contrasting view to the oft-assigned "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich, an examination of surviving welfare reform with unskilled wages.

"That makes sense to most Americans," Horowitz said. "If you're getting an education you should get all the sides of the story."

If a professor asks Republican students to drop out of his class or if a professor calls a student a neo-Nazi for inviting Oliver North to speak on campus, those professors should be fired, Horowitz said. Both incidents happened recently at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., respectively, Horowitz said.

"That's abuse of the student and the student needs protection," Horowitz said. He said he feels the same if a conservative professor is the offender.

"This is not about a partisan battle," Horowitz said. "Hopefully this will make a more productive discussion in Colorado rather than arguing against red herrings and straw men."

It's not a discussion that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education should get involved in, said commissioner Gully Stanford. "There is not a monolithic position on the CCHE and the commission itself has not given any consideration to this Academic Bill of Rights," said Stanford.

"This is part of a national ideological movement and it's an intellectual virus looking for an unsuspecting host. I don't think it's appropriate for either the legislature or the commission to pursue.

"It's not our job to tip the academic balance," Stanford said. "I don't think anything measurable could be devised (to enforce it) based on further retelling of this urban legend."

Yet academic studies over two centuries have documented the political leanings of faculty are more progressive than the citizenry as a whole, said Knight of the national professors' association.

"This is hardly news," Knight said. "But the link between an individual's political views and his or her academic decisions are very difficult to trace and you have to be careful about broad generalizations.

"It takes a lot of careful connections - if there are any - between political views of faculty on a whole range of issues - war in Iraq, the Middle East or the role of federal government in citizen's lives - and decisions faculty make about grades or what curriculum should be favored or disfavored," Knight said.

"The whole business of the political views of academics can easily slip into simplicity and demagoguery," he said.