Lawmakers Consider Charges of Political Bias on Campus

Academe, July/August 2004 | Go to article overview

Lawmakers Consider Charges of Political Bias on Campus


Most state legislatures have not responded positively to the urgings of conservative groups to enact laws guaranteeing representation of conservative viewpoints on college and university campuses. In March, the sponsor of a bill to create an "academic bill of rights" in Colorado withdrew his legislation and instead accepted a voluntary agreement among higher education leaders in the state to implement grievance procedures to "ensure [that] political diversity is explicitly recognized and protected" on campuses. In California, a similar bill was tabled. In Georgia, after consulting with faculty, bill sponsors put forward a modified resolution that the legislature then adopted.

In Colorado, the debate over the issue was more robust and public than in other states. Association leaders in the new Colorado AAUP conference worked with university presidents and administrators to present a fuller picture of campus life and to persuade legislators that existing grievance mechanisms were sufficient to the task of considering allegations of political bias in grading and teaching. The voluntary agreement, memorialized in a nonbinding resolution, reiterated the commitment of the four major public Colorado institutions-the University of Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University, and Metropolitan State College of Denver-to academic freedom and intellectual diversity.

Legislators in different states have responded in different ways to the well-funded movement led by conservative columnist David Horowitz to ensure that conservative political viewpoints are represented on campuses. Horowitz is promoting legislation that calls on state universities and colleges to ensure that "curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas." The legislative template requires colleges and universities to establish a grievance process for students who believe that they have suffered discrimination based on their political views.

Although state legislatures have no authority over the professional associations to which faculty belong, Horowitz's suggested legislation includes an admonition that "disciplinary and professional societies should maintain a position of neutrality with respect to accepted knowledge in their fields." The AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure issued a statement earlier this year sharply criticizing the stated purpose of such legislation. The statement is available on the Association's Web site.

The Web site of Students for Academic Freedom, which reports that the group has 130 chapters nationwide, has attempted to make the case for legislative or other authoritative intervention in hiring, book selection, and teaching practices. It has done so by encouraging students to conduct surveys aiming to prove a left-wing bias in the faculty. Relying on detailed instructions provided by Horowitz on the Web site, the students limit the survey to humanities and social science disciplines, specifically economics, English, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology. …

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Lawmakers Consider Charges of Political Bias on Campus
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