Kingston Backs Academic Diversity Measure · 22 October 2003


By Jonathan E. Kaplan--The Hill, 10/22


Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and several other conservative lawmakers lashed out at elite universities yesterday for their perceived intolerance toward conservative viewpoints in the academic world.

The lawmakers put their political muscle behind a nonbinding "Academic Bill of Rights."

If the bill passes, universities could adopt any or all of 12 principles - ranging from the hiring and firing of professors to grading students solely on the basis of their answers and knowledge of a subject without respect to their political viewpoints.

"This bill seeks academic diversity," Kingston told the group of lawmakers, students and reporters. "When it comes to intellectual diversity, we want a level playing field."

Stanley Fish, a dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The Hill: "This legislation is either superfluous because colleges have already enacted what is in the legislation or it is dangerous because it could become a possible instrument of political bullying."

He added conservatives should be uncomfortable with the bill's "post-modern assumptions." For example, the bill states "there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge."

Fish said there are established truths that universities must teach.

Kingston said that the Committee on Education and the Workforce might consider the bill. There would be no mandates included in the legislation to punish universities that fail to adopt its provisions.

He also dismissed a question as to whether it was smart politics to attack university professors and administrators, who are disproportionately Jewish, at a time when the GOP is making inroads among American Jews.

"That's bizarre," he said. It is President Bush's positions on Israel that Jewish voters care about, he added.

Kingston started drafting the bill after a June meeting with Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and David Horowitz, a conservative commentator who has studied alleged anti-conservative bias in academia.

Horowitz, who was unavailable for comment, also met with Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a former college president.

A political firestorm erupted in Colorado last month when Republicans in the state Legislature backed a similar measure. Critics there called the bill a "blacklist."

Several of the conservative lawmakers and students spoke about their own experience of bias in college and graduate studies.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said he felt he did not have a right to his point of view as a student at Washington & Lee University and the University of South Carolina Law School.

"Students get an absolute brainwashing," said Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.).

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said his daughter, a law student at Michigan State University, was afraid to speak up in class to express her conservative views.

Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), the former football coach at the University of Nebraska, said he wanted "to take extreme personal views out of the classroom. A free society depends on an electorate that can think."

But Fish dismissed those concerns. He said, "There is no relationship between your actions at the ballot box and how you teach in the classroom."

Jason Mattera, a student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., said that university administrators tried to shut down a conservative alternative newspaper.

Ed Kavanagh, the university's provost, told The Hill that no such thing had happened. The Hawk's Right Eye, the conservative paper, had run a mock version of the school's newspaper with swastikas over faces of prominent African Americans and another issue depicted a lewd act of child molestation.

"We realized we had some oversight problems. We want to encourage freedom of expression," Kavanagh said. For now, the group will have to get approval of its material from an academic adviser of its choosing.

In an op-ed Mattera wrote for Horowitz's website (www.frontpagemag.com), he credits fellow student Jedediah Jones as a co-author. Kavanagh said Jones is not a student at Roger Williams College.

"The liberal chickens won't show up," Kingston said. "Thirty-five-year-old professors don't have a problem intimidating an 18-year-old kid, but will they show up" for a debate?

He said they would not.


Read SAF's Response to The Hill's mischaracterization of The Hawk's Right Eye