Bill Would Protect College Faculty's Speech · 19 January 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

Bill Would Protect College Faculty's Speech

By Chris Frates--The Denver Post--01/15/05

A leading Democratic senator is pushing legislation to protect college faculty members who discuss their political or religious views in the classroom.

Democratic Sen. Bob Hagedorn of Aurora said Friday that he filed the bill because he's worried that last year's push to protect conservative college students will stifle free and open discussion on university campuses.

"What we don't need in the 21st century are McCarthy-era witch hunts. Neither students nor faculty members should be intimidated in any manner from expressing his or her right to free speech on our college campuses," he said.

Last year, then-Rep. Shawn Mitchell, a Broomfield Republican, pushed legislation to protect the political views of conservative college students, several of whom said they had been discriminated against.

Mitchell shelved his bill, called the Academic Bill of Rights, in favor of a memorandum of understanding between the legislature and college presidents that policies would be created to ensure students weren't punished for their political views.

Hagedorn, an instructor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said he's been concerned that the rhetoric surrounding the Academic Bill of Rights has "empowered folks to go after liberal professors."

The legislation would require each school's board of governors to adopt policies to ensure "professors, researchers and students alike are allowed free exercise of their right to listen critically and to participate in the examination of political and religious discourse within the academic community."

Democratic Rep. Angie Paccione, who is co-sponsoring Hagedorn's legislation, said the bill is needed to reverse the "negative climate" and stifling of good professors. Paccione is a staffer at Colorado State University.

George Culpepper, who was a leading advocate of Mitchell's legislation, questioned why a professor should share their views in the classroom.

Culpepper was a conservative student who has told lawmakers he had been discriminated against because of his political views.

"The higher-ed professor is being paid by taxpayer dollars to be bound by the book, not to offer an opinion," he said Friday.

But CSU education professor Bill Timpson disagreed.

"If we bind faculty to the textbooks, Galileo, for instance, would have never opened his mouth, and who knows how long it would have taken to recognize that the Earth was not the center of the universe," he said. "If we just deliver the text, why have universities? Just have books."

Timpson said he knows professors who have toned down their lectures since Mitchell's legislation.

Mitchell, the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, is now a state senator.

While he has not read Hagedorn's legislation, he said most of it sounds "reasonable" but could be "taken to the extreme."

"Professors can do whatever they want to students, and students have no recourse. That's absurd, and I will propose amendments to make sure that is not the intent or effect of the legislation," he said.

Staff writer Chris Frates can be reached at 303-820-1633 or cfrates@denverpost.com.


Read David Horowitz's response.