Response to AAUP · 10 February 2005

Filed under: Ohio, Replies to Critics

To the Associated Press:

As the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, I would like to draw attention to the several mischaracterizations of the Ohio Academic Bill of Rights legislation and errors made in your story ("Lawmakers, worried profs, push liberalism, want diverse views required," 02/10/05)

First, the article states that "similar legislation failed in…Colorado last year." This is far from the truth. The Colorado bill actually passed that state's House Education Committee and was well on its way to becoming law when the sponsor of that bill, Rep. Shawn Mitchell, agreed to withdraw it in exchange for the commitment of Colorado's university leaders to sign a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to institute the key principles of the Academic Bill of Rights in their respective educational institutions. The Colorado legislature then passed a joint resolution commending the university presidents who signed the Memorandum and establishing cooperation between the universities and the legislature to ensure that the terms of the Memorandum are being met. We consider these actions to have resulted in a great victory for academic freedom in Colorado.

Turning to the Ohio legislation, the article quotes Case Western Professor Joe White who claims that "the enforcement could only be random and biased" and states that "We're not supposed to teach for comfort." It also cites members of the American Association of University Professors as stating that the legislation would stifle classroom debate and that it would be problematic for "people from outside of the university to somehow start monitoring what goes on in the classroom." All of these allegations are untrue.

Ohio's universities already have complicated bureaucracies, enforced by legislation, devoted to ensuring that students are not discriminated against on the basis of race or culture. Is this enforcement necessarily "random and biased"? And if opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights are concerned about legislative interference, why have they not raised any objection to state regulations concerning racial and cultural discrimination and affirmative action policies?

Rather than hindering debate, the Ohio bill would stimulate intellectual discussion, by protecting students from abridgements of free speech in their college classrooms and by ensuring that "students have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study." By removing the constraints on students who censor their comments in class for fear of lower grades or harsh reprisals, the Academic Bill of Rights will encourage critical thought and a higher level of classroom debate.

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom