Tags: We're | Changing | The | Face | Higher | Education | Colorado

We're Changing The Face of Higher Education in Colorado

Monday, 13 September 2004 12:00 AM

From the moment we met with legislators, our efforts in Colorado were subjected to an all-out attack from the political left, whose partisans were entrenched in the faculty organizations of the public universities, the Colorado media (http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org) and the Colorado Democratic Party. The head of the faculty senate at Denver’s Metro State College called for an investigation of the “secret” meetings I allegedly had with state legislators and the governor – elected representatives of the people of Colorado. The Democrats' Senate Minority Leader, Joan Fitz-Gerald, denounced the bill as “affirmative action for conservative Republicans, to get them into universities,” and warned: “There is something chilling and troubling about a movement like this. They’re going to create a climate of fear in our universities, fear of being the professor who says the wrong thing.”

In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights we were proposing did just the opposite. It explicitly forbid the hiring (or firing) of professors (conservative or liberal) on the basis of their political opinions. What it did not sanction was the abuse of classrooms and the use of grades to indoctrinate students in the political prejudices of their professors — something the American Association of University Professors has been on record as opposing for more than half a century.

A bitter political argument ensued. At the request of Colorado Senate President John Andrews, a legislative hearing (http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/archive/February%202004/COhearingtranscripts020604.htm) was held in December of 2003 on a proposed bill to incorporate provisions of the Academic Bill of Rights in a Senate resolution. Many students and faculty members came forward to share their personal experiences of discrimination and harassment on campus because of their political or religious views. Among the evidence presented at this December hearing was testimony from a student at the University of Northern Colorado who told legislators that a required essay topic on her criminology mid-term exam was: “Explain why George Bush is a war criminal.” When she submitted an essay explaining why Saddam Hussein was a war criminal instead, she was given an “F.”

Another legislative hearing was held in the Colorado House in February to support similar legislation introduced by Representative Shawn Mitchell. At one point a student at Metro State testified that his teacher had thrown him out of the course he was taking, stating, “I don’t want your right wing views in my classroom.” The student told legislators that he hoped that passage of the Academic Bill of Rights would put a “chill” on this type of abusive behavior. As the student stepped away from the microphone, he was immediately confronted by a man who was subsequently identified as the head of the philosophy department at Metro State, the school the student attended. In front of over 100 witnesses, the professor jabbed his finger at the student and said in a loud voice: “I got my Ph.D. at Harvard. I’ll see your f---ing ass in court. Then we’ll see a chilling effect.”

Representative Keith King, a member of the legislative committee who witnessed the nose-to-nose confrontation, called the professor out on his inappropriate behavior, declaring: “Sir, you are the very reason we need this bill.” Representative Shawn Mitchell, the primary sponsor of the House resolution, observed, “If he behaves that way in a hearing room, in front of legislators and the press, imagine how powerful he feels in his own classroom.”

After the hearing, Shawn Mitchell’s resolution (House Bill 04-1315, passed the Education Committee in a party-line vote of 6-5.)

The hearings and impending legislation were sufficient to convince university administrators that intellectual diversity faced serious problems on their campuses. After the Education Committee vote was announced, and passage of the bill by the Colorado House appeared likely, Representative Mitchell was approached by President Hoffman and the presidents of Colorado’s other major public universities to see if he would be willing to withdraw the bill if they would voluntarily adopt those provisions of the Academic Bill of Rights their regulations did not already cover. Mitchell agreed. The result was a Memorandum of Understanding (http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/reports/COmemorandumofunderstanding.htm), signed in March of 2004, in which the universities pledged to provide protections to students of all political viewpoints, emphasizing that “Colorado’s institutions of higher education are committed to valuing and respecting diversity, including respect for diverse political viewpoints.” Subsequently, the Colorado legislature as a whole overwhelmingly adopted Senate Joint Resolution 04-033, commending the university presidents for their leadership and willingness to revise campus policies and procedures to provide these needed protections, and requesting that the administrators regularly report to the legislature on their progress.

To anyone familiar with the state of American college campuses today, where the suppression and harassment of conservative viewpoints is routine, this was a momentous victory — one that might well mark the beginning of a change in American higher education itself. All this was provisional, however, on whether the university presidents would put into practice what they had agreed to.

Colorado legislators were determined to see that they would. Senate President John Andrews called the presidents of each of the major state universities before a joint legislative committee at the opening of the fall school term to see what had been accomplished. The results were impressive.

President Elizabeth Hoffman of Colorado University reported that a task force of students, faculty, and administrators had been appointed to incorporate protections and support for political diversity into the codes and policies of the entire CU system.

Over the summer, the faculty senate of the Colorado University Law School adopted a new binding Rule on Political and Religious Non-Discrimination which, among other things, adopts this crucial provision of the Academic Bill of Rights: “Students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.”

Law School Dean Lorenzo Trujillo further demonstrated his determination to enforce the new code of non-discrimination on the basis of political views by swiftly disciplining a property law professor who in the first week of class had told his students, “Everyone knows that the ‘R’ in Republican stands for ‘racist,’” and called a student who challenged his statement a “Nazi.” Dean Trujillo is also actively inviting conservative speakers to an upcoming conference on international law, something one might think would be taken for granted at an educational institution but unfortunately is not.

The president of Colorado State University reported that the Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses had revised their policies to protect students from “discrimination or harassment on the basis … of religion, creed [or] political beliefs.” In addition they had provided instructions to students on how to use campus grievance procedures in the event of a violation of the new policies. These guidelines have already been published in the 2004-2006 Course Catalogue, and have been incorporated into presentations given to each student during orientation.

The Memorandum of Understanding and the Senate Joint Resolution have been published on the webpage of the president (http://www.president.colostate.edu/index.asp?page=academic_freedeom) along with a letter in which CSU President Penley emphasizes his personal “commitment to a campus environment that respects the rights of students and faculty to express diverse, and at times, unpopular opinions, [since] that is at the heart of what it means to be a great university.”

In terms of today’s college campuses, this is a revolution in the making, and an idea whose time has come.


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From the moment we met with legislators, our efforts in Colorado were subjected to an all-out attack from the political left, whose partisans were entrenched in the faculty organizations of the public universities, the Colorado media...
Monday, 13 September 2004 12:00 AM
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