Ideology Measure Wins a Voice Vote · 12 April 2007

By Jason Rosenbaum
Filed under: Press Coverage

Columbia Tribune

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House approved by voice vote a bill that would prompt higher education institutions to take steps to ensure "intellectual diversity" at the state’s colleges and universities.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, would require institutions to report to the General Assembly on how they are laying a foundation for "a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious and other perspectives."

In the report, the institution could include as many as 12 points to show that they are meeting the ideal of intellectual diversity. Those points include encouraging a "balanced" variety of speakers and panels, including intellectual diversity issues in student course evaluations and developing hiring practices that protect against any reported grievance.

The findings from these reports would be distributed to legislators, posted on the higher education institution’s Web site and provided to students.

Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, brought the legislation forward in response to an incident at Missouri State University, where student Emily Brooker refused to sign a petition in support of gay parents.

The legislation comes on the heels of a scathing report of MSU’s social work program that revealed a propensity for faculty to bully students into their line of thinking. The outside report said the program should make significant changes or be disbanded.

"We know that we need this bill," Cunningham said on the House floor. "We do have a problem with this faculty, and it’s not just Missouri. I think campuses all over this country have this problem. And it’s my prediction that a trend is developing that will quickly rid our colleges of forced ideological conformity."

Critics of the legislation contend that the bill is an example of meddling in the internal affairs of colleges and universities. They also contend that the push for "intellectual diversity" is part of a movement by conservative activist David Horowitz.

"It’s the worst type of governmental meddling," said House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. "Our colleges and universities should be places of academic freedom. And obviously the incident down in Springfield was a mistake, but to use it as a pretext for this right-wing, extremist bill is really unfortunate."

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said he favors the bill. He noted that it would only require institutions to provide information to the General Assembly and students and would not require the implementation of certain policies.

"The bill is nothing but ‘mays,’ as opposed to ‘shalls,’ " Robb said. "They ‘may’ do this; they ‘may’ do that. The only thing that they ‘shall’ do is report what they actually did. The Board of Curators at the University of Missouri doesn’t have a problem about that."

The bill faces another House vote before it advances to the Missouri Senate.