Think about your favorite professor. Do you know the political
ideology of that teacher? Did you discuss controversial topics or
anything in that your teacher expressed an opinion?
Now imagine all of your schooling without any of that. Imagine a
class without discussion, a class in which you are not allowed to
discuss any issue that sounds controversial. This is what school
would be like if the Academic Bill of Rights being proposed in the
Colorado legislature passes.
This probably sounds like a good thing for some, but for myself
and others it is scary. I can think of a million things I never
would have learned had there been no discussion in my
The bill, introduced Wednesday, addresses professor and
university neutrality on political and religious issues. According
to the Denver Post, “the proposed academic bill of rights is aimed
at protecting conservative students who say they are targets of
harassment and discrimination by left-leaning faculty because of
their political beliefs.”
A draft of the bill essentially says that students academic
freedom will be infringed on by professors if they introduce
controversial matter into the classroom that is substantially
unrelated to the subject of study. How can you have a political
science or an ethics class without controversial subjects? And so
the argument might go, that the matter may be related to the
subject of study. But what is “substantially” related and who
If a political science class wanted to discuss stem-cell
research, arguably a controversial matter, could it be argued that
this violates some students’ rights because the topic is not a
matter of political science, but of technology?
I agree with Sergio Gonzales, one of three student body leaders
at the University of Colorado-Denver, when he told the Denver Post,
“Having the legislature say that controversial material not covered
in the course syllabus should not be introduced is extremely
dangerous. Higher education is meant to expand people’s minds and
challenge their ways of thinking.”
To understand what is going on in the world, some classes simply
require discussion about controversial topics. If an event such as
Sept. 11, 2001, was to happen again and this bill was to pass, no
discussion would be able to occur in class. When the presidential
election happens in November no class will be able to even talk
about the election, for fear that the professor might accidentally
interject their opinion and thus lose their job.
There is also the argument this bill is needed to preserve the
right to free speech of students. What then will protect the right
of free speech of professors? Professors are American citizens just
as much as students are, and it should be a two-way road.
Professors should not be able to impose their views on students or
grade them differently because of what they think, but professors
have just as much right as anybody else to say what they think.
A professor’s ideology shouldn’t play into what goes on in a
classroom. If a teacher is grading students differently because of
their political ideology then there is a problem and it should be
addressed. But the students taking the issue to the dean of the
college should address it on a case-by-case basis.
And how is it going to be determined if a teacher is not
treating different opinions fairly? Is it always going to be a
student’s opinion versus a professor’s opinion? This opens the door
to people taking advantage of the system. If a student gets a grade
in a class that they deserved but did not like, they might go to
whoever makes the decision, say they are Republican and that they
feel they have been discriminated against. Thus a teacher will get
in trouble for something they didn’t do, but because a student
didn’t work as hard as they should have.
If a professor is simply expressing a view to promote discussion
in a class then there is no problem. Providing the professor isn’t
spending organic chemistry talking about why Howard Dean let go his
campaign manager. In that case, the discussion is out of place and
the teacher should know that. But to tell all professors that they
cannot express a view or have a discussion about a controversial
subject hurts everybody’s education.
This bill is also a step toward eliminating teachers right to
privacy. When hiring a teacher they going to be asked their
political ideology and that will then be necessary as part of the
hiring decision. Good teachers will be scared away for fear that
what they think politically will count for more than what they know
and what they can teach.
Before a decision is made, everyone needs to step back and look
at all the consequences this bill may have. Legislators need to
look at all sides of the issue and make sure they are considering
possible outcomes and what this could mean to the quality of
education for students in Colorado in the future.
Colleen is the managing editor for The Collegian. She will
graduate this May with degrees in political science and