Bill of rights for college students stirring debate · 18 February 2005

Associated Press - 02/19/05

CHATTANOOGA - A move to create a bill of rights for college students, protecting them from political or religious ''indoctrination'' by faculty members, is part of a larger nationwide push by a conservative group.

Bills filed in the state House and Senate are similar to legislation proposed in at least 20 states and based on ideals backed by Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based student network founded by conservative activist David Horowitz.

It's intended to ''uphold the presence of multisided academic debate on our campuses,'' said Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, a sponsor of the House bill.

''Most campuses are very liberal, and professors are ashamedly not very open-minded toward our point of view,'' he said. ''When somebody speaks up, a lot of times it ends up costing the student their grade.''

The American Association of University Professors has said it opposes Horowitz's bill of rights, and University of Tennessee President John Petersen said he doesn't believe the legislation is necessary.

Although no action has been taken on either bill, the issue has become a hot topic among faculty in the UT system.

The bill stipulates that students should 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.''

It also calls for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to adopt a grievance procedure to enforce the rights and says academic institutions should remain neutral on political or religious issues.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee said it opposes the legislation.

''This so-called academic bill of rights is truly a misnomer, as it really is an academic bill of restrictions,'' said Hedy Weinberg, director of the state ACLU. ''There would be a chilling effect on freedom of inquiry on Tennessee's public university campuses.''

Petersen said he has not seen the legislation but is not aware of any discrimination based on opinions on campus.

Track it

The proposed legislation that would enact a ''bill of rights'' for college students is numbered as Senate Bill 1117 and House Bill 0432. Track bills as they move through the General Assembly online at http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/billLookup.asp.

Contacting key players

• Senate sponsor Raymond Finney, R-Maryville

Mail: 302 War Memorial Building, Nashville, Tenn. 37243-0208

Phone: 741-2427

E-mail: sen.raymond.finney@legislature.state.tn.us

• House sponsor Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville

Mail: 113 War Memorial Building, Nashville, Tenn. 37243

Phone: 741-2287

E-mail: rep.stacey.campfield@legislature.state.tn.us

• To contact your lawmaker or any other member of the General Assembly, go to Tennessean.com and type LAWMAKER into the keyword search box.

Talk to us

How would a bill of rights for college students affect you? Tell us at politics@Tennessean.com.

On the Web

• Students for Academic Freedom

www.studentsforacademicfreedom. org/

• American Association of University Professors

www.aaup.org/