Profs: Politics, Hiring No Mix · 08 September 2003

CU faculty blast GOP proposal

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

BOULDER - Irritated University of Colorado faculty leaders called state Republicans' plans to diversify faculty by hiring more conservatives a notion fueled by aging 'urban myth' and 'an embarrassment.'

But state higher education director Tim Foster defended the conservative push to cut back on left-leaning teachings Monday during a meeting of the Boulder faculty assembly.

'Urban legend or not - it is the reputation of higher education,' Foster said. 'If we ignore it or make light of it, the legislature will pass something (mandating conservative faculty).'

Gov. Bill Owens told listeners on his monthly broadcast on KOA radio that he agrees colleges should teach both liberal and conservative political philosophies.

As to passing some sort of law, Owens said, 'I don't know how you could make it a mandate. I don't think you can tie funding to any sort of quota system. I'm opposed to quotas in all of their elements. And I'm also opposed to a quota that would require a certain number of Republican professors.

'I don't know if there will be a bill introduced on this subject,' Owens said. 'But I think that if you're 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.'

The issue of too few conservatives on campus has been smoldering since Owens publicly complained in January about the number of Democrats on political science faculty. It rose to a fast burn last weekend when state Sen. John Andrews, R-Centennial, said he plans to do something about it.

Andrews is working on an Academic Bill of Rights that would encourage or require state colleges to hire conservative faculty and invite more guest speakers with conservative views. Some state Republicans leaders have met with David Horowitz, a conservative who leads Students for Academic Freedom, the national group leading the push, Andrews said.

The notion of liberal college faculty is hardly new, CU English professor Mike Preston said. 'I've followed this issue for 20 years, and the data is intended to demonstrate maldistribution,' Preston said in protest. 'Someone from Day 1 wanted to prove a point and only asked departments with liberal leanings. It takes on the properties of urban legends, and it's passed on as common knowledge.'

A Denver Post survey in January of 10 four-year state schools found 45 registered Democrats and nine Republicans among 78 tenured political science faculty. There were eight unaffiliated professors, two members of the Green Party, and one who was born out of the country and ineligible to vote. Thirteen didn't identify their party affiliation. But faculty often point out that engineering and business faculty are typically Republican.

Yet diverse views are more important in some disciplines than others, Foster said Monday.

'Political science would be one of those areas, and there is lack of balance overwhelmingly in those departments,' said Foster, a Republican and a former state legislator. 'If you're being objective and fair, you need to look and see that this is an issue. a It appears we have an imbalance.'

'It's an embarrassment to have this thing going on as we try to hire new faculty,' math professor Martin Walter said. 'A (prospective) faculty member in biology would have to wonder if they will be forced to teach creationism.'

Foster said he prefers that any push for more conservative professors on campuses not be state mandated because it will be difficult to enforce.

'If I'm looking for a professorship and I'm young and you say you want Republicans, I know how I'm going to register,' Foster said. 'How are you going to prove (viewpoint)? But I think Horowitz is on to something.'

Denver Post staff writer Mike McPhee contributed to this report.