Magazine article Insight on the News

Students' Rights versus Academe's Leftward Tilt. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Students' Rights versus Academe's Leftward Tilt. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

If professors were the only Americans eligible to vote, we might have avoided the Florida presidential-election debacle. A new survey commissioned by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture found that, among Ivy League faculty, some 84 percent voted for Al Gore, while only 9 percent voted for George W. Bush. This is surprising, but only because Ralph Nader did not capture more support.

This poll also revealed that the overwhelming percentage of faculty (unlike the majority of Americans) oppose tax cuts, missile defense and school vouchers. A prior survey by North-western University law professor Jim Lindgren found that some 80 percent of law professors describe themselves as being "Democrat" or "leaning Democrat."

However, attempts to demonize or terminate radical professors usually are unproductive. A far more constructive approach, and one which cannot so easily be dismissed as interfering with academic freedom, is to focus not on professors' views but on students' rights.

As Congress considers a "patients' bill of rights," state legislatures should enact a "students' bill of rights." These would (at least at public universities) ensure that students, like professors, enjoy academic freedom. Private universities should be encouraged to adopt a similar declaration, particularly if they accept government funds.

The students' bill of rights would consist of five provisions. First, all students should have the opportunity to fill out confidential end-of-class evaluations. Furthermore, these evaluations should ask not only whether the professor is effective, but also whether he uses his position as a soapbox for a political agenda.

Second, students should be informed at the beginning of every class that they can file a grievance with the ombudsman if they feel they are marked down solely because they do not share the professor's viewpoint on a controversial issue. Students should be assured that such complaints will be treated confidentially and will not be held against them.

Third, students have the right to balanced curricula. Thus, professors should be encouraged, where practical, to present different viewpoints and include readings fairly reflecting these viewpoints.

This applies to issues where there is a substantial disagreement among reputable authorities. For example, a professor teaching about segregation need not assign David Duke's book, but a professor teaching global warming would be remiss not to include the work of skeptics. Indeed, it must be recognized that, as the captive audience of professors, students are denied a fully enlightened education if they receive only one side of an issue. …

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