Diversity Plan with a Twist · 08 September 2003

Filed under: Press Coverage

'Academic Bill of Rights' calls for balance in campus political views

By Kate Larsen--Daily Camera, 09/09/03

A call from Colorado's Republican leaders for more "intellectual diversity" at public colleges and universities has some local faculty members worried.

Some University of Colorado faculty members say they're concerned the GOP plan to bring multiple political points of view to college classrooms could interfere with hiring practices and academic freedom.

The executive committee of CU-Boulder's faculty assembly met Monday with Tim Foster, executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Much of the discussion focused on the "Academic Bill of Rights," which aims "to secure the intellectual independence of faculty and students and to protect the principle of intellectual diversity."

The state's Republican leadership may introduce legislation next year reflecting the Academic Bill of Rights, which is being pushed nationally by California conservative David Horowitz.
" It's an embarrassment to have this going around when you're trying to hire someone," said Marty Walter, a CU math professor.

Foster said there are more liberal faculty members than conservative ones at Colorado's colleges and universities - especially in departments such as political science. And, he said, that hurts the reputation of higher education in the state.

" You have to concede that we have some sort of an imbalance," Foster said.
Foster said he doesn't favor legislation on the matter, but college administrators could address the issue on their own.

While some in higher education perceive Horowitz's movement as an attempt to force universities to hire more conservatives, the Academic Bill of Rights states "no faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure solely on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."
Sen. John Andrews, R-Centennial, is behind the movement and has met with Gov. Bill Owens and Horowitz to discuss opportunities in Colorado.

" It's not a conservative push," Andrews said. "It's a fairness push."

Andrews said he wants to protect the beliefs of conservatives and liberals on college campuses to ensure intellectual diversity.

" Without that, you get propaganda, indoctrination and reinforcement of prejudices instead of honest debate and the search for truth," Andrews said.

CU Provost Phil DiStefano said the university does not focus on a candidate's political philosophy during the hiring process.

" What we stress is that faculty in those departments really need to present a balanced perspective and certainly respect opinions that are different from theirs," DiStefano said.

Michael Kanner, a CU political science lecturer and self-identified conservative, said he's never seen ideological discrimination within the department. Legislation aimed at creating a balanced faculty concerns him, he said.

" While I might appreciate the sentiment on a personal level, I just don't see how you can make it workable," Kanner said.

Barbara Bintliff, a professor in CU's School of Law and chair of the faculty assembly, said government involvement in hiring practices at CU could infringe on academic freedom.

" I would be shocked to find that there were departments that use any sort of political litmus test in their hiring practices," Bintliff said.

The Academic Bill of Rights can be found at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.