Conservative Collegians Tell Legislators of Bias on Campus · 18 December 2003

Filed under: Press Coverage

Conservative Collegians Tell Legislators of Bias on Campus
By Chris Frates--Denver Post, 12/19/03

Conservative college students from around the state told legislators Thursday they have been discriminated against and ostracized from their campus communities because of their political beliefs.

The students said they have been made to feel uncomfortable in classrooms, have had trouble bringing conservative speakers to campus, and have even had work downgraded because, an instructor said, it showed a political bias.

State Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, organized the informal bipartisan committee at the state Capitol to listen to the concerns. He has led an investigation into whether the state's 29 colleges and universities have policies that protect diversity of thought.

Kelly Maher, a student co-president at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said the presentation she did on higher education was marked down 10 points because her instructor said it was biased.

Maher said her instructor was concerned that when she listed the contact information for El Paso County elected officials, she didn't include any Democrats. After Maher took the matter to a dean, the grade was changed and her instructor was reprimanded, she said.

"As a Republican and a Christian, and dang proud of it, I have been discriminated against in the classroom," Maher told the panel.

The hearing was the latest development in Andrews' plan to encourage or require state schools to hire more conservative faculty. After the hearing, Andrews said it's not clear whether he will propose legislation to solve the problem.

Last month, Andrews announced he had asked the state's college presidents to explain the policies each institution has to ensure no student is subject to discrimination "on account of his or her political or religious beliefs."

Andrews said he has received the policies and was encouraged by them. The hearing, he said, was to see if the policies are working.

George Culpepper, a junior at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said he was disturbed after the adviser to the Political Science Association, Oneida Meranto, accused the Auraria College Republicans of working to get her dismissed.

According to Culpepper, Meranto said, "Republicans need to withdraw from the Political Science Association." This disturbed the student because the association is nonpartisan, he said.

Meranto also was Culpepper's professor. She sent him an e-mail calling him unfair and unethical, Culpepper said. He said he felt threatened by her and withdrew from her class.

Meranto said in an interview later that Culpepper misquoted her. She said she expressed concerns about the alliance the Republicans had formed with the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank, which she said was trying to get liberal professors fired.

Meranto said she had been the target of a similar campaign in 1995 when fliers with her picture on them were passed out calling her a racist and a sexist.

She said Culpepper dropped her class because he hadn't done enough of the work and knew he couldn't pass. Meranto also said she did call him unethical and unfair after he said in the school paper that the Republicans started a petition to save the basketball team. The Political Science Association and another group had done that work.

Many of the 20 or so students who testified Thursday said that, for the most part, professors don't push their political points of view. Most also said their political views didn't affect their grades.

Maher, the CU-Colorado Springs student, said that overall she thinks the school's faculty is well rounded and represents both ends of the political spectrum.

Not everyone was pleased with the hearing. Rep. Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said committees usually start with a neutral presentation of facts and include all interested parties, not just the aggrieved.

"Committees hear from a wide variety of people," Madden said. "It's really impossible to make a decision when there's not a fair and balanced approach."

Metro State student Joel Tagert called the hearing an "ideological crusade." He said the legislature's time would be better spent figuring out how to better fund higher education, which has faced massive budget cuts.

Letter from Student George Culpepper
Responding to the Denver Post:

December 19, 2003
Raymond Kieft
Interim President, MSCD

Dr. Kieft:

This letter is in response to the Denver Post article dated December 19, 2003 about the hearing held by Senator John Andrews. In particular, I am concerned about the comments by Dr. Oneida Meranto to the Denver Post. I was at the hearing because I was asked by State Senator John Andrews to testify about the situation regarding the Auraria College Republicans (ACR) and the Political Science Association. I know you are aware of this situation.

Dr. Meranto responded to the issues raised in the hearing. As a faculty member employed by the College and the State of Colorado, she:

• Intentionally and falsely represented my academic performance
• Violated my privacy rights
• Violated the requirement of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
• Slandered and defamed my reputation, academic prowess, and scholastic capability.

At yesterday's hearing, I spoke in reference to Dr. Meranto accusing the ACR's of working closely with the Independence Institute to oust her as a professor. Never before, until this incident with Dr. Meranto, had the ACR's worked with this organization or had any ties with them. In fact, I had a good relationship with Dr. Meranto while attending her Latin American Politics class before this incident occurred.

I am deeply disturbed that Dr. Meranto publicly stated that the reason why I withdrew from her class was "because he hadn't done enough of the work and knew he couldn't pass." Not only is this a deliberate and abject violation of my student rights for privacy, these allegations are COMPLETELY false. Further, since Dr. Meranto knew, or should have known about my privacy rights, and my academic performance, I believe these are deliberate attempts to slander and defame my reputation as an undergraduate scholar. I have enclosed a copy of my Final Grades as evidence to dispute her arguments. During the semester to which she claims I would not pass, I maintained a B average in her class up until the point I stopped attending due to her calling me unfair and unethical. I also was able to maintain a 3.4 Grade Point Average overall, which reflects my true academic abilities at Metro State.

According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, schools must have written permission from the student in order to release any information from a student's education record and ensure that the consent is signed and dated as well as states the purpose of the disclosure. FERPA describes schools as Administrators, Faculty, and other individuals employed by the school. Dr. Meranto, as a professor, violated this Federal Act by publicly disclosing information about my grade, performance and ability to do the work. Furthermore, her information to the Denver Post was completely inaccurate and contrary to my academic record. I believe Dr. Meranto has tarnished my reputation to the public with her slanderous comments in regards to my academic performance. These allegations could have a negative impact on the public's perception of my ability, character and reputation as an academic achiever.

I request a formal investigation into this matter, and appropriate actions taken. This is a serious issue, and should be dealt with as such. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

George G. Culpepper, Jr.
gculpepp@mscd.edu

CC: Department of Education
Governor Bill Owens
Senator John Andrews
The Denver Post
Rocky Mountain News
Independence Institute
Tara Tull, Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences
Robert Hazan, Chair, Political Science Department