Keep Debate Lively on Campus · 18 March 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

Editorial from the Denver Post, 03/19/04

Even without a bill being passed, statehouse Republicans may have succeeded in their bid to stuff a sock in the mouths of campus liberals.

The so-called Academic Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, was shelved Thursday, but a question remains: Did it have a chilling effect on most campuses anyway?

The bill would have prohibited faculty from introducing controversial topics unrelated to course content because of fears liberal professors too often use their platforms as pulpits and indoctrinate, rather than teach, students.

The charges were serious, and the debate often was nasty. Now, left-leaning professors may think twice before piping up in class.

If that's what some lawmakers intended to do, mission accomplished.

The bill came in response to complaints that some conservative students' views were being stifled in class and they were retaliated against for speaking their minds. It would have required schools to set up a formal grievance process - something most already have.

Faculty rightly clamored that the bill would crimp their rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom, and university administrators worried they wouldn't be able to hire and keep quality faculty.

Mitchell, who may not have had enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate, announced Thursday he would drop his bill because university and college officials agreed to work on the perceived problem.

The presidents of the state's four big schools - the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Metropolitan State College and University of Northern Colorado - all agreed to review their institutions' "student rights and campus grievance procedures" in an effort to ensure political diversity is not only recognized but protected.

They also agreed to adequately publicize those rights and grievance procedures.

The issues Mitchell raised were worthy of discussion, but the forum was all wrong. It should have been debated on campuses in the first place, not in the legislature.

Mitchell finally came around Thursday when he said it was better to accomplish his goals through leadership, not legislation.

Students on every campus should feel comfortable enough to express their opinions in classrooms, lecture halls and dormitories without fear of retribution. Professors should enjoy those freedoms, too.

There are basic tensions in academic debate that must be expected and respected.

"That tension is the heart and soul of any university," CU president Elizabeth Hoffman said. "It's that process that produces critical thinkers."

And those critical thinkers usually become successful, contributing members of society.

That's what college is all about.


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