Lawmaker Hopes to Protect College Students From Viewpoint Bias · 18 April 2005

By Jim Brown--AgapePress--04/19/05

(AgapePress) - A new bill in the Tennessee legislature seeks to protect the academic freedom rights of students on university campuses.

State Representative Stacey Campfield of Knoxville says he was prompted to introduce the measure after hearing firsthand from numerous students who were either silenced, intimidated, or the victims of grade retaliation because of their political or religious beliefs. The bill is patterned after a "Student's Academic Bill of Rights" developed by conservative activist David Horowitz.

Campfield says tenure makes it nearly impossible to deal with academic abuses by college professors. "A lot of the issues are not covered," he notes. And while some student handbooks may cover small parts of the problem or touch briefly on it, he adds, "usually they don't -- and the student ends up paying the price."

The lawmaker observes that in his own state of Tennessee, which offers the merit-based Hope Scholarship and Lottery Scholarship programs, "one bad grade from one teacher can kill a person's scholarship. So I want to make sure a person is judged fairly on their grades."

Campfield's bill has been adopted as a Republican Caucus position, and he says some Democrats have already voiced support for the legislation. Besides protecting students from bias and discrimination, another of the measure's aims is to protect the free-speech rights of students with minority viewpoints on university campuses.

The Tennessee conservative says he sponsored and drafted the bill in response to numerous complaints. One incident he was made aware of involved the daughter of a Republican colleague of his in the State House, who told about how she had worked on the campaign of her father, while her professor had come out for her father's opponent.

Campfield maintains that the young woman "had a straight A average," and had always been a great student. Nevertheless, he says, "When the final grades came out, all her tests were A's, but she got an F. And she could not understand it."

The state legislator says his colleague's daughter tried to appeal her grade through university channels, but met resistance from school officials. Moreover, he adds, "Her counselor actually went so far as to get upset with her and said she had a problem."

Campfield's bill is designed to prevent such grade retaliation and similar abuses that penalize college students for their political or religious viewpoints. Among its other provisions, the legislation establishes a statewide grievance procedure for those students whose academic freedom rights have been violated.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.