Bill to be Introduced in Colorado · 27 January 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

By: Chris Kampfe--Rocky Mountain Collegian, 01/28/04

A bill will be introduced today designed to protect the civil rights of students in higher education.

The bill is an academic bill of rights and will address the neutrality of universities in relation to political and religious beliefs.

A student group at the University of Colorado-Boulder recently put a link on its organization's Web site for students to report politically biased professors.

Brad Jones, 20, the chairman of the College Republicans at CU and the student who posted the site, is worried that a new semester starting might be a start up of indoctrination in the classroom.

"If your biology professor chooses to talk about how (Howard) Dean is the best Democratic candidate instead of explaining how cell reproduction works, we need to hear about it," Jones said in a Denver Post article.

Jones and the College Republicans at CU are affiliated with the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), a group formed by California conservative activist David Horowitz. SAF is a group that says its mission is to promote diversity on campus and defend students' right to be treated equally on campus, regardless of political or religious affiliation.

Robert Lee, a senior at CSU as well as the state vice chairmen for College Republicans, looks to bring a chapter of SAF to campus.

"I think there's a bias on campus, whether or not it actually harms students' grades," Lee said. "We know that when students report cases some are overblown, but some are legitimate."

Horowitz said the issue of biased classrooms and professors emerged when he was visiting campuses around the country.

"It was seven or eight years ago I spoke at St. Johns when I started realizing that there is always more than one side to any question, and if (the universities) aren't addressing different sides, you're being robbed of an education," Horowitz said. "I met a girl there who was a criminal justice major whose older sister was murdered. When we started talking about capital punishment, she said she had no idea there was actually material supporting capital punishment because her professor had never presented any. That's not right."

Horowitz came to Colorado last June, which is also when SAF emerged.

Bill Chaloupka, chair of the political science department, has been following the movement since its inception.

"It seems that Colorado is a test bed for the proposal," Chaloupka said. "In the Academic Bill of Rights seen on the American Association of University Professor's (AAUP) Web site, Colorado is the only state even mentioned."

Horowitz said he has given speeches on campus where he would have to be escorted by security to and from the facilities because of potential physical and verbal harassment.

"You can't have real discussions about things like Affirmative Action," Horowitz said. "People's tempers rise and people are intimidated to say how they feel."

Chaloupka sees the situation differently.

"I would like to see civil debate without intimidation," Chaloupka said. "It's also the case that sometime Mr. Horowitz says some inflammatory things. If fire is your medium there's going to be heat around you. Not that your free speech shouldn't be protected, but not expecting a response is na?ve."

Though CU's Republicans do have an affiliation with the SAF, Horowitz said, "It's not about conservatives by any means. It's about stopping professors from abusing the classroom."

Because SAF has such affiliations with Republicans, some people often view their motives as conservatively driven.

"Right now, all such efforts to show a neutral organization fall under the shadow of names like Horowitz, Sen. (John) Andrews and Gov. Owens -- all partisan Republicans," Chaloupka said. "It will be hard for (SAF) to separate themselves from that shadow."

Ryan Call, a law student at University of Denver and the state coordinator for SAF, has noticed some predisposition to the group as well.

"The issue is that freedom of speech and freedom of conscience rights are being neglected by professors," Call said. "Horowitz didn't even want his name associated with policy suggestions. It's unfortunate Democrats are using this to take shots at Republicans."

Another goal of SAF is to introduce into legislation an Academic Bill of Rights.

Rep. Shawn Mitchell dispelled the rumors that legislators would not deal with the issue.

"I think that reporters are inferring it's not around anymore because so much time passed," Mitchell said. "It's a delicate subject matter to legislate because it's hard to legislate civil actions. This bill will borrow (language) from other civil rights bills."

So far, three main points are known that the bill will address. First, that students can expect professors will not create hostile environments relating to students religious or political beliefs. Second, students have the right to expect that they will be graded solely on performance and not have their work discriminated against because of political and religious material. Lastly, students have the right to expect their academic institution to distribute student fee funds on a viewpoint-neutral basis.