Three New Claims of Prof Bias are Heard by Colorado Panel · 09 September 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

Hearing an update for state lawmakers. Legislators were briefed on efforts to protect students from political bias. But one senator called the hearing a "witch hunt."

By Dave Curtin--Denver Post--09/10/04

Three new accusations of political bias by college professors emerged Thursday in a special hearing before state lawmakers investigating the issue.

Some Democrats, while denouncing the acts, likened the hearing on political indoctrination to a "witch hunt" and said the episodes - if they are true - are isolated and are being investigated by the colleges.

During a three-hour hearing hosted by Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, students testified that:

CU professor David S. Hill told his property law class that "everyone knows the 'R' in Republican stands for racist." Student Mario Nicolais, a Republican, said he confronted Hill after class and was told, "There are plenty of other Nazis like you out there." Hill was disciplined, said CU president Betsy Hoffman.

Metropolitan State College political science professor Oneida Meranto attacked Republicans during an introductory lecture last month, said student William Pierce, a member of the College Republicans, and she inferred that Republicans are incapable of thinking critically and "should therefore drop her class." Pierce dropped the class and filed a complaint. Acting president Ray Kieft said the school is investigating. Meranto was reprimanded for an incident last year.

Part-time Colorado State sociology professor Steven Helmericks criticized the war in Iraq as pointless, said Heather Schmidt, a 20-year-old Army veteran whose husband was fighting in Iraq at the time.

He also promised to lecture on how "un-great" Ronald Reagan was and drew pointy ears and a dumb expression on a rendering of President Bush.

CSU president Larry Penley said Helmericks was disciplined. Student Meg Ryan, who supports Helmericks, said he taught only two days this fall before being banned from class.

College presidents would not detail the discipline, citing state personnel privacy laws.

The professors were not present to defend themselves during the hearing, and attempts to reach them Thursday were unsuccessful.

The new accusations come on top of allegations that emerged in two previous legislative hearings.

Meranto and Helmericks said they received death threats following publicity over the incidents and reported them to police, according to testimony.

Ryan said she took Helmericks' class on the recommendation of other students this fall and was told by other students that the incident was "exaggerated and taken out of context. This professor has been silenced because of the complaint of one student."

"The allegations seemed to have some credibility; however, it's hard to be sure whether or not a problem really exists because we were given testimony by three or four students, and we have tens of thousands of students," said Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, who likened the hearing to a witch hunt.

"I don't see a pattern, I don't see a trend, and frankly I'm not sure I see a problem. You may have a few bad apples among the otherwise thousands of fine dedicated faculty."

Students with differing views on either the professors or the ideological debate said they were told Wednesday they would not be allowed to testify.

Andrews disputed that, saying, "Our announcement made clear that public comment would be received."

Thursday's hearing stemmed from a memorandum of understanding signed this year by college presidents who promised to update lawmakers periodically on their progress in protecting students from political discrimination and indoctrination.

The issue rose to the forefront a year ago after Andrews and other Republicans met with David Horowitz, a Los Angeles conservative pushing for an "Academic Bill of Rights" for students.

The policy has professors afraid of crossing the line as they discuss political science, evolution or stem-cell research, college presidents and professors said.

"It has had a chilling effect," Kieft said. "Faculty members are much more conscious about the topics they address and what they say because they're not sure what's acceptable."

CU evolutionary-biology professor Michael Grant says he worries about the policy. "I'm careful to always say that we are going to stay strictly in the scientific arena, and some students are angry and think it unfair that we don't include their views."

CU student Josh McNair complained Thursday that the nondiscrimination policy espoused by lawmakers is only invoked when convenient. McNair said his attempts to bring Holocaust revisionist David Irving to campus were denied.