Quarrel Boosts Bill's Momentum · 25 February 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

'Student rights' act heads to full House

By John C. Ensslin--Rocky Mountain News, 02/26/04

A brief verbal sparring match between a professor and a student near the end of a long legislative hearing quickly became exhibit A for supporters of a "Student Bill of Rights."

House Bill 1315 passed the House Education Committee on a 6-5 party-line vote and now heads to the full House.

The measure seeks to ban discrimination by instructors who "create a hostile environment" for students based on their political or religious beliefs.

Supporters say it will promote diversity of opinion on campus and prevent discrimination against politically conservative students. Opponents say it will chill academic freedom and steer teachers from controversial topics.

The quarrel broke out just as the committee had finished taking nearly three hours of testimony.

That's when Ian Van Buskirk, a University of Colorado student who supports the bill, told the committee, "We've seen how the grievance procedure works. Let's send a chilling effect to these faculty members."

Moments later, just out of earshot of the panel, Van Buskirk and Tim Gould, a philosophy professor at Metropolitan State College, got into a confrontation.

Gould later said he told Van Buskirk, "Send a chilling message and I'll see you in court."

Van Buskirk claimed Gould told him, "Send a chilling message and I'll sue your (expletive deleted) in court."

Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said he witnessed the encounter and described Gould as getting within an inch of the student's face.

"I think the very reason why this bill is necessary is what we just witnessed today," King said. "We've had an inappropriate demonstration of conduct from a professor to a student."

Gould, who sat next to Van Buskirk after the exchange, disputed that account.

"I'm not harassing him," Gould later told Van Buskirk and a group of reporters. "It was meant to respond to what you said."

Later he added, "If it seems to you that I was chilling your environment, I'm sorry."

The exchange came after critics of the bill sponsored by Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said it was unnecessary.

CU President Betsy Hoffman, who had to cancel a flight to Washington, D.C., in order to testify, told the committee that the bill sends the wrong message to faculty members.

"The bill sends a message to the faculty that the legislature does not trust or respect them," she said.

She urged the lawmakers to let students who feel discriminated against take their complaints to the university's grievance process for a full and fair hearing.

Several of the conservative students who testified Wednesday, however, say they have not filed grievances because they distrust that process.

"With the leftist sway of the University of Colorado at Boulder, I'm afraid the grievance process is not going to work the way I want it to," said Michele Schmidt, a doctoral candidate at CU.