Liberals, Conservatives Make Deal on ABOR · 18 March 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Meagan Balink--Colorado Daily, 03/18/04

Heavyweights in the debate over academic freedom on college campuses might have called a temporary truce.

In the left corner, CU-Boulder's student government and alleged liberal administration, and in the right corner, CU's College Republicans and State Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, are scheduled to announce a tentative agreement has been reached on House Bill 1315, the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights."

CU President Elizabeth Hoffman is scheduled to make a cameo appearance at today's press conference on the issue at the Capitol in Denver, in which she and Mitchell will join college and university students from around the state to announce a compromise that may include the withdrawal of Mitchell's bill and CU promising changes to its student grievance process.

CU College Republicans Chair Brad Jones, a vocal proponent of rectifying perceived liberal bias in the classroom, said "compromise" is not exactly the right word.

"They (CU) are coming forward and saying yes, this is an issue that needs to be addressed," said Jones, calling the decision a victory for the students. "We are pleased that the university is willing to work with us on this ... willing to take the spirit of 1315 an implement it independent of the legislation."

University of Colorado Student Union (UCSU) representatives are calling today's announcement a victory in derailing a bill they felt unnecessary, vague and potentially harmful to political speech on campus.

"I think the general consensus is the student body and the UCSU are really the victors in this," said Pearson. He said student lobbyists at the Capitol have been "educating the legislature in something they really shouldn't have been legislating in the first place."

Pearson contended Jones' assertion that the text of 1315 is the foundation of agreements reached with CU and other state higher education institutions.

"I don't think we're making any changes based on the Republicans and Legislature - based on their agreement," said Eugene Pearson, UCSU Legislative Council vice president. "We noticed changes needed to be made and we've been working on it all year. It (HB 1315) was far more sweeping than the changes that needed to be made."

Jones disputed UCSU's purported involvement and called into question its "last-minute" support of protecting students against ideological bias.

"The student union, I would hope, is actively involved in causes for academic freedom. But I haven't seen them contribute to the agreement were going to have come out (Thursday)," said Jones. "Being happy or not with the result is making them look involved with the process."

Either way, the issue is being addressed.

UCSU passed a resolution earlier this month supporting CU's current grievance-filing processes and policies condemning hostile discrimination based on religious or political beliefs. The resolution also opposed the General Assembly's intervention in the issue and the Academic Bill of Rights.

In response to some students' concern about bias, the resolution demanded that the grade grievance process be investigated and re-created by the Faculty Assembly and that any discrimination in the classroom be immediately addressed by CU administration.

"If there are discrepancies in grievance process it means fixing those," said Pearson.

The issue of academic freedom arose last fall in Colorado following a controversial speech at Metro State University by California conservative author and commentator David Horowitz and his subsequent meeting with state Sen. John Andrews, R-Centennial, and Gov. Bill Owens.

Horowitz' ideas prompted an uproar and cries of "McCarthyism" among the academic community, fears of a political "quota" in the faculty hiring system and an ad-hoc Education Committee hearing by Andrews, all resulting in the eventual introduction of HB 1315.

Pearson met with CU College of Arts and Sciences Dean Todd Gleeson in the fall of 2003 to inquire about the effectiveness of departmental grade grievance processes.

"What he found was, for more controversial (departments) like political science, the grade grievance process more highly developed," said Pearson.

However, Pearson agreed that if students feel they have been discriminated against for their political ideas or beliefs, "we need to get that message (about grievance filing) out to them more. Maybe the process does need that tweaking."

As for the College Republicans' Web site, which features a controversial section where students can report perceived discrimination by professors, Jones says its presence is contingent on CU's actions within the recent compromise.

"The goal of that Web site was to give us information to work with university to this end," said Jones, noting the site was not intended as a public forum for professor-bashing. "If the university makes good on its promise to address this and provide a clear system for addressing grievances, our site will probably not be necessary anymore."

"We're anxious to see what changes the university will implement," said Jones.

The Daily was unable to reach Rep. Shawn Mitchell and CU representatives for comment by its deadline Wednesday evening.