Student Rights Bill Has Critics · 03 April 2005

By Georgiana

A bill supporters say is designed to protect student academic rights but opponents say is part of a political agenda will be up before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday in Nashville.

Sponsored by Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, the bill would direct state boards that govern institutions of higher learning to adopt a grievance procedure for enforcing student rights.

The University of Tennessee's position on the bill is that procedures already are in place in faculty and senate handbooks "that very adequately deal with issues of free speech," said Tom Milligan, associate vice chancellor on the Knoxville campus. "We feel the legislation will not be productive and oppose it."

Finney agreed "to roll" the bill to the Education Committee, Campfield said, after Campfield was unable to determine when Sen. Jamie Hagood, R-Knoxville, committee chair, would schedule it.

"It has a better chance in the Senate," since Republicans hold a majority there, Campfield said, "although I think it should be a bi-partisan bill."

Democrats control the House, which Campfield has stirred up with a Web log - Camp4u - reporting his version of the way the Legislature operates.

Campfield said the bill was introduced to meet the need of students "who have come forward to me" and said there is a problem speaking out on positions that disagree with some faculty members.

The bill says students have "the right to expect that their academic freedom will not be infringed upon by instructors who create a hostile environment toward their political or religious beliefs or who introduce controversial matter into the classroom or course work that is substantially unrelated to the subject of study."

The bill also says that students "expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study."

As for the position that the university already has procedures in place for students who feel aggrieved, "They said the same thing about the (need for a) Civil Rights Act in 1964, that laws (dealing with civil rights issues) weren't being followed," Campfield said.

The bill has generated much discussion on college campuses.

The Faculty Senate at UT's Knoxville campus has decided to defer to the administration to handle after discussions with top officials, said Candace White, Faculty Senate president.

"We didn't want it to become a political issue. It's not Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative. It's about a political agenda," White said.

The bill is similar to legislation proposed in at least 20 states and based on ideals backed by Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based group founded by conservative activist David Horowitz, the Associated Press reported in February.

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NAMES IN THE POLITICAL NEWS: Gov. Phil Bredesen announced a round of appointments he has made to 19 of the state's boards and commissions. Local and area appointments are: Governor's Citizens Corps Advisory Council, Allan Watson, Madisonville; Governor's Council on Greenways and Trails, William P. Magoon, Ooltewah; Petroleum Underground Storage Tanks Board, Jon G. Roach, Knoxville; Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council, June M. Barrett, Johnson City.

Georgiana Vines is retired News Sentinel associate editor. She may be reached at 865-577-6612 or